Different Types of Treatment Professionals

The great advantage to residential treatment is that you get an enormous amount of professional expertise concentrated in one place.  While a robust team of diverse specialties is great for your child’s treatment, it can be confusing to know who does what.  The following list will at least give you a sense of who’s who on the treatment team.


Psychotherapists are clinicians who specialize in delivering individual, group, and family therapy directly to clients.  Training for psychotherapists varies widely and may include a master’s degree and one of a variety of licenses (e.g. LMFT, LPC, LCSW, etc.).  Clinical training for psychotherapists may involve specialization in areas such as social work, family systems, or addictions. In a program setting, psychotherapists are in charge of case management, delivery of therapy, and family/professional communication.

Addictions Counselor

Addictions counselors focus on providing support, counseling, and resources for clients struggling with drugs, alcohol, and other addictive things or activities.  Training varies widely from certification (E.G. CDAC) to graduate studies with a variety of orientations including more traditional approaches such as 12-step recovery, and newer approaches such as SMART Recovery.   Depending on the program’s emphasis, addictions counselors may serve either a primary or supportive therapeutic role.


A mentor is a more practically oriented part of the treatment team, offering real-life advisement, support, and relationship.  Mentoring is often a part of the post-treatment plan and may occur in the young person’s “real life” home or school setting. Mentors may or may not have formal psycho-therapeutic training.

Educational Consultant

An educational consultant is a placement and planning professional who helps families find the right school program for their child or adolescent, and navigate the treatment process.  In a therapeutic situation, the “special needs educational consultant” often has a background in treatment, including a master’s degree and/or a Ph.D.

Direct Care Staff

Direct-care employees are generally the people who will spend the most time with your child during treatment.  These are usually program-trained, but unlicensed, employees charged with supervision, activities and recreation, safety management, and mentoring/counseling. Some have bachelor’s or master’s degrees and certifications in recreational therapy or other direct-care specialties.  A direct-care team may include dorm staff, activities staff, night staff, and etcetera.


A psychologist is generally a Ph.D. or Psy.D.-level, licensed clinician.  Psychologists may specialize in assessments or may practice psychotherapy.  Often the psychologist’s role is to provide clinical supervision and training for the clinical team, broad case management, and program management.  A psychologist is not licensed to manage medication.


The psychiatrist is a medically trained (MD) mental health professional who is trained in psychotherapy (with a medical and psychodynamic orientation) and licensed to manage medication.  The role of a psychiatrist in treatment is usually limited to questions of medication management (including prescribing, monitoring, and adjusting), complex psychiatric and medical assessments, and psychiatric-crisis management.

Advanced Nurse Practitioner

An advanced nurse practitioner has medical and often psychiatric training.  An advanced nurse practitioner with psychiatric training and can offer traditional nursing services as well as certain psychotropic-medication management and psychotherapeutic services.