What to know in choosing a therapist
Choosing a therapist can be a daunting task. I believe that highlighting the differences between various mental health practitioners can help you make a more informed decision about your therapist selection.
Knowledge is power; and nowhere is that more important than when it comes to your mental health.
First it is important to know that the terms “therapist” or “psychotherapist” are not legally regulated terms. This means that literally anyone can call him or herself a “therapist.” While many mental health practitioners may refer to themselves as therapists, each practitioner has a specific legally ascribed title that he or she received through specific training and state licensure requirements.
Below is a brief description of various mental health practitioners, their rough educational requirements and scopes of practice.
I. Masters Level: (MA/MS) Masters level clinicians complete generally around 60 credits post bachelors, which usually translates to 2 years of full-time graduate training after a bachelors degree.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC): These practitioners are trained to provide mental health counseling.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW): These practitioners provide mental health counseling as well as case management for those needing social services.
II. Doctoral Level: (Psy.D., Ph.D., M.D.) Doctoral level clinicians are usually licensed as Clinical or Counseling Psychologists. These programs are roughly 120 credits post-bachelors and take anywhere between 4-6 years of fulltime graduate work to complete.
Psychologists can either have a Doctorate of Psychology (Psy.D.) or a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) with a specific designation in counseling or clinical psychology. Psychologists receive the most extensive training in the practice of psychotherapy. They also have training for various psycho-diagnostic and vocational assessments.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors that go through medical school and specialize in psychiatry during their residency. These practitioners generally handle the prescription and monitoring of psychotropic medication, however, they also may practice psychotherapy. Often psychiatrists collaborate with other mental health professionals to provide comprehensive interdisciplinary treatment for clients.