If you have never been to therapy before, you probably know that it can be very challenging to decide who to see about your mental health. There are different types of mental health professionals. Their job titles and specialties can vary by state, and it all can seem so confusing to figure out who does what.
So if you are struggling to cope with your emotions and understand your thoughts and behaviors, what type of mental health provider is right for you? Should you see a counselor, a therapist, or a social worker?
In this article, we’ll talk about different types of mental health care professionals to help you understand the differences in their education, training, licensure, areas of expertise, and services they offer.
What psychotherapy is and who is in
Psychotherapy or talk therapy is a general term for treating mental health disorders and emotional difficulties using verbal and psychological techniques. Psychotherapy can help you eliminate or control troubling symptoms and learn to respond to challenging situations using healthy coping skills. Psychotherapy may not cure your condition on its own, but it can give you the power to cope and feel better.
Psychotherapy is also known as therapy or counseling. These terms are often used interchangeably, although some people make a small distinction between them. Counseling typically refers to a short-term treatment that targets a specific symptom or situation, and therapy is a longer-term treatment that helps gain more insight into a person’s problem.
Psychotherapist (or just therapist) is a general term rather than a job title or indication of education, training, or licensure. Different types of mental health professionals can provide psychotherapy, including clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, licensed professional clinical counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, and psychiatric nurses.
Types of mental health professionals
As you see, there are several types of mental health professionals who can help you make a positive change and find tactics to achieve your life goals. All of them are competent to offer psychotherapy, but there are some differences in their education and training. Let’s go through a list of specialists and focus on their areas of expertise.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who graduated medical school with MD (Doctor of Medicine) or DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) degree and were trained to diagnose and treat psychiatric disorders during a four-year residency. They have expertise to differentiate mental health problems from other underlying medical conditions that can have psychiatric symptoms. Psychiatrists are licensed to prescribe and monitor medication and provide or assign therapy.
Psychologists hold a doctoral degree in clinical psychology (PhD or PsyD) and are trained to use clinical interviews, psychological evaluations, and tests to evaluate a person’s mental health. They can diagnose and treat different mental health disorders, providing individual and group therapy. Their training typically includes four to six years of academic preparation, which is followed by one to two years of full-time work with patients under supervision and licensing examinations.
Psychologists are licensed in the state where they practice. Since they are not medical doctors, generally they can’t prescribe medication. Those who are licensed to do so (in some states) are required to get additional training in psychopharmacology.
Clinical Social Workers
Licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) must hold a master’s degree in social work (MSW), and some have a doctorate in social work (DSW or PhD). They are trained to evaluate a person’s mental health and provide therapeutic techniques to treat mental illnesses and promote emotional well-being. They also get training in advocacy services and case management in the hospital setting. Clinical social workers typically put in 3,000 hours of work experience before attaining a professional license. They can provide assessment, diagnosis, counseling, and a range of other services, depending on their licensing and training, although they are not licensed to prescribe medication.
Licensed counselors and therapists use different titles depending on their area of expertise, for example, LCPC (Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor), LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor), or LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist). Licensing requirements vary from state to state, but most specialists have at least a master’s degree in psychology, counseling psychology, family therapy, or other mental health-related fields and two to three years of clinical experience under supervision. They can provide diagnosis and counseling for a wide range of mental health concerns but are not licensed to prescribe medication.
Psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, licensed professional counselors can all help evaluate and diagnose mental health conditions, develop treatment plans, and offer psychotherapy. Most mental health providers treat a range of conditions, but they can also specialize in working with people of certain age groups (e.g., children, adolescents, older adults) or address certain issues (e.g. depression, eating disorders, or trauma).
Their credentials (e.g., PhD or MSW) tell you that the therapist has completed a basic course of study and has a degree granted by an academic institution. And a license tells you that the mental health professional has passed an examination administered by their state and can practice.
But this info can’t tell you about whether a therapist will be a good fit for you, and finding the right match is crucial to establishing a good relationship and getting the most out of therapy. That’s why at Calmerry, we do our best to help you connect with the mental health professional who suits your specific needs and can help you achieve your goals.