Is a psychotherapist qualified to diagnose serious mental disorders?

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John Lehnhoff, Ph.D. John Lehnhoff, Ph.D.
Clinical Consultant and Educator
Alegent Creighton Health Psychiatric Associates

Q:  My mother has been referred for a pyschiatric evaluation, however, the doctor she is scheduled to see is a psychotherapist, and not a psychiatrist.

She has symptoms of Tourette's Syndrome, schizotypal personality disorder, severe OCD, ADD, and anxiety and we are hoping to get an official diagnosis. Can a psychotherapist address these issues? Thank you!! Wendy

A:  Thank you for your question about diagnosis.

You indicate your mother has been referred to a "doctor" who is a "psychotherapist". If that practitioner is a licensed PhD psychologist, diagnosis of serious mental disorders is within the so called "scope of practice" of licensed doctoral psychologists in most if not all states. However, in most states psychologists cannot prescribe medications, and your mother is likely to benefit from medicines if she if affected by serious mental disorders. So, she still may need to see a psychiatrist for medication evaluation and treatment. Furthermore, Tourette's syndrome assessment often includes examination and recommendations by a neurologist.

Psychotherapy is a vital component of treatment of mental disorders in combination with recommended medicines and self help tools.

For information about the scope of practice of mental health professionals in your mother's state, contact the state health department licensing division.