Any physical illness is challenging, but brain and spinal cord injuries can fundamentally alter everything about your life. Not only do these injuries have the capacity to change how your body processes emotions, regulates thoughts, and manages pain; the stress of living with a serious illness—and the uncertainty about the future that often accompanies these illnesses—can wreak havoc on your mental health. Disability discrimination, difficulty securing employment, and financial distress all further complicate matters.

Sadly, our society continues to maintain a strict dichotomy between mental and physical health, instructing people that physical health problems warrant medical intervention, but mental health issues are shameful—and perhaps even the fault of the person who struggles with these issues. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mental and physical health are inextricably linked. Research has consistently demonstrated that mental health problems can slow the process of healing from physical injuries. There is no reason to suffer in silence or shame. Mental health care is an important part of the process of recovering from spinal cord and brain injuries.

Mental health professionals must be licensed by the state in which they practice. A person can't call herself a therapist just because she knows a lot about human psychology. Instead, the minimum requirement to provide mental health care in all states is a master's degree.

Beyond this minimal requirement, mental health practitioners come in three general varieties:

  • Therapists, counselors, and psychotherapists have master's degrees in fields related to human psychology or counseling. They must meet strict state licensing requirements that include continuing mental health education. Every state has its own licensing scheme, and the licenses for different mental health providers may vary slightly. For instance, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) specializes in social work, while a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) has specialized training in marriage and family therapy. Practically speaking, most master's-level therapists are equipped to treat similar issues, regardless of their specific license.
  • Psychologists are similar to therapists and counselors. Indeed, they often refer to themselves as therapists or counselors. But they must have a doctoral degree in addition to a master's degree. Many psychologists specialize in specific mental health issues, such as addiction or chronic pain. In most cases, a psychologist's specialty is the same topic on which he or she authored a dissertation. Psychologists are sometimes referred to as “doctor,” but they are not medical doctors.
  • Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in psychiatric health. Though any medical doctor can prescribe psychiatric drugs, a psychiatrist is the most qualified to do so. Psychiatrists often partner with other mental health providers to offer a continuum of care. Though some psychiatrists provide therapy and counseling, you should only seek such care from a psychiatrist if he or she is also a licensed therapist.

Some questions to consider asking a mental health provider include:

  • What is your license?
  • Tell me about your training. In which issues do you specialize?
  • Have you treated people with brain or spinal cord injuries before?
  • What specific therapeutic approaches do you use?

Mental Health Provider Directories