Your Ecology of Care: Understanding Who's Who

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Healthcare Specialists and Specializations


Excerpts from the Occupational Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor (2018)

Role: LCSW/SWs - Eating Disorder (ED) Program Development

Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. Clinical social workers (LCSW) also diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.

Social workers work in a variety of settings, including mental health clinics, schools, child welfare and human service agencies, hospitals, settlement houses, community development corporations, and private practices. They generally work full time and often have schedules to accommodate evenings, weekends, and holidays.

Role: Specialist/Counselor

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors advise people who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, mental health issues, or other mental or behavioral problems. They provide treatment and support to help clients recover from addiction or modify problem behaviors.

Counseling focuses on natural stresses and issues with life, like grief, depression, and needing someone to talk to. That doesn't mean counselors cannot deal with more difficult issues, but that tends to be the domain of psychologists. Psychologists tend to conduct therapy that focuses on severe psychological issues, like schizophrenia, personality disorders, and serious mental illnesses.

Mental health counseling can be broken down into a couple of different aspects. The primary areas mental health counselors deal with include: mental disorders, preventative measures, and who the clients are. Mental disorders are recorded behavioral and cognitive conditions marked by stress or difficulty functioning. These are issues that have been taken to the next level. Mental health counselors use preventative measures to make sure problems don't get bigger than they need to be.


Role: Nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their family members.

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) provide basic nursing care. They work under the direction of registered nurses and doctors.

Nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, also referred to as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), coordinate patient care and may provide primary and specialty healthcare. The scope of practice varies from state to state.

Nursing assistants, sometimes called nursing aides, help provide basic care for patients in hospitals and residents of long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes. Orderlies transport patients and clean treatment areas.

Role: Primary Care/Medical Physician

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses. Physicians examine patients; take medical histories; prescribe medications; and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests. They counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive healthcare. Surgeons operate on patients to treat injuries, such as broken bones; diseases, such as cancerous tumors; and deformities, such as cleft palates.

Roles: Psychologist/Psychotherapist/Psychiatrist

  • Psychologist/Psychotherapist role includes but is not limited to

    • Gather and maintain patient information and records, including social or medical history obtained from patients, relatives, or other professionals.

    • Design individualized care plans, using a variety of treatments. Collaborate with physicians, psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, or other professionals to discuss treatment plans and progress.

    • Analyze and evaluate patient data or test findings to diagnose nature or extent of mental disorder.

    • Review and evaluate treatment procedures and outcomes of other psychologists, therapists, or other medical professionals.

    • Counsel outpatients or other patients during office visits.

    • Advise or inform guardians, relatives, or significant others of patients' conditions or treatment.

    • Teach, take continuing education classes, attend conferences or seminars, or conduct research and publish findings to increase understanding of mental, emotional, or behavioral states or disorders.

    • Prepare and submit case reports or summaries to government or mental health agencies.

  • Psychiatrist's role includes but is not limited to 

    • Design individualized care plans, using a variety of treatments. Collaborate with physicians, psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, or other professionals to discuss treatment plans and progress.

    • Analyze and evaluate patient data or test findings to diagnose nature or extent of mental disorder

    • Prescribe, direct, or administer psychotherapeutic treatments and medications to treat mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders.

    • Examine or conduct laboratory or diagnostic tests on patients to provide information on general physical condition or mental disorder.

    • Review and evaluate treatment procedures and outcomes of other psychiatrists or medical professionals.

    • Prepare and submit case reports or summaries to government or mental health agencies.


Psychologists study cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how individuals relate to one another and their environments. They use their findings to help improve processes and behaviors.


Some psychologists work independently, conducting research, consulting with clients, or working with patients. Others work as part of a healthcare team, collaborating with physicians and social workers, or in school settings, working with students, teachers, parents, and other educators. Those in private practice often work evenings and weekends to accommodate clients.

Role: Registered Dietician/ Nutritionist

Dieticians and nutritionists are experts in the use of food and nutrition to promote health and manage disease. They advise people on what to eat to lead a healthy lifestyle or achieve a specific health-related goal.


Complementary and Alternative Practitioners

Excerpt from Cultivating an Interprofessional Collaborative Ecology of Care for Older Women Living with Eating Disorders (Talbott, 2018):


The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is organizationally aligned under the Department of Health and Human Services. The mission of the NCCIH is to “define, through rigorous scientific investigation, the usefulness and safety of complementary and integrative health interventions and their roles in improving health and healthcare” (NCCIH, 2018b, para. 2). First, integrative medicine brings together conventional—aka traditional or allopathic—and complementary approaches in a coordinated practice and approach. For example, 10 of the most common complementary (i.e., non-mainstream practice used together with conventional medicine, it is considered “complementary”) health approaches among adults (NCCIH, 2018a) includes: natural products, deep breathing, yoga, Tai Chi or Qi Gong, chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, meditation, massage, progressive relaxation, guided imagery, and special diets. Second, an approach is determined to be an alternative practice when used in place of conventional medicine. The practices generally identified as alternative include acupressure, acupuncture, aromatherapy, Ayurveda Medicine, balneotherapy, Reiki, naturopathy, homeopathy, and functional medicine. Another perspective views the spectrum of integrative and complementary and alternative practices (CAPs) as holistic practices. Holistic practices are,


A form of healing that considers the whole person -- body, mind, spirit, and emotions --

in the quest for optimal health and wellness. According to the holistic medicine philosophy,

one can achieve optimal health -- the primary goal of holistic medicine practice -- by gaining

proper balance in life. (“What is Holistic Medicine?” 2018, para. 1)

The spectrum of practices are grouped by the NCCIH as follows:


Alternative Medical Systems: [examples] Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda

Mind-Body Interventions:  This grouping includes behavioral, psychological, social, and spiritual approaches; this would include cancer support groups and relaxation classes

Biologically Based Therapies: Herbal medicines and aromatherapy

Manipulative and Body-based Methods: Massage therapy, chiropractic

Energy Therapies: Includes electromagnetic, ultrasonic, thermal, subtle energy; includes healing touch and Reiki

(Talbott, 2018, pp 30-31)

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