When you think of the job title “Therapist,” what do you envision? You may think about what type of education and experience these persons may have? What is their specialty, beliefs, level of expertise? You may also be curious and at sometimes confused. What are these credentials and lettering abbreviations after their name stand for? What they mean in terms of your level of care? Who is more likely to help me? These are all important questions to answer when selecting a good therapist. Terms "therapist" and "counselor" create a professional umbrella that includes several types of practitioners with different levels of training and professional credentialing. These people can also be different in how they approach their clients and involve themselves in the therapeutic process.
"Therapist, counselor, psychotherapist" are interchangeable terms that commonly refer to the same thing: provision of psychotherapy and mental health counseling. For example, psychologists and counselors are both mental health practitioners. Individuals in both fields are state licensed. They often have overlapping duties. However, there are distinctions, both in their training and their scope of practice. The lines and distinctions can sometimes blur, causing you to feel confused and not knowing which direction to go.
Whatever you do, please do not base your expectations of therapy or a therapist on what you see in the movies and TV shows. There have been a few studies that have been done that have indicated portrayals of psychotherapy in film that have been thought to influence the viewer’s expectations, attitudes, and intentions to seek therapy. There are arguments that a first impression of psychology generally comes from the silver screen and that many of the preconceptions and misconceptions that clients bring to therapy result from the images of mental illness, therapists, and therapy portrayed in the media. Some state it would not be exaggerating to say that licensed mental health providers have never been portrayed accurately in film and television.
Psychiatrists are trained medical doctors. They have the ability to prescribe medications, and they spend much of their time with patients on medication management as a course of treatment. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (an M.D. or D.O) who specializes in mental health, including substance abuse disorders. Psychiatrists are qualified to assess both the mental and physical aspects of psychological problems. People seek psychiatric help for many reasons. Psychiatry is a branch of medicine that specializes in treating patients who suffer from mental, emotional or behavioral disorders. Psychiatrists also tend to spend less time than other mental health professionals in counseling clients.
Clinical psychology is the largest branch of psychology. It refers to the treatment of patients who are suffering from psychological problems or disorders. Psychologists focus extensively on psychotherapy which usually involves counseling. Psychologists focus extensively on psychotherapy and treating emotional and mental suffering in patients via behavioral intervention. The majority of psychologist’s specialize in psychotherapy counseling. Clinical psychology is similar to counseling psychology. The main difference is that clinical psychologists normally treat patients who suffer from more serious disorders than counseling psychologists do; such as, bipolar disorder and/or schizophrenia. Psychologists are also qualified to conduct psychological testing, which is critical in assessing a person’s mental state and determining the most effective course of treatment. There is often a greater emphasis on psychopathology. Psychologists are more frequently involved in research than other mental health professionals.
Clinical Social Worker
Social workers are the nation's largest providers of mental health and therapy services. Clinical social work is a specialty practice area of social work which focuses on the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness, emotional, and other behavioral disturbances. Clinical social workers practice a type of mental health therapy that is strength based, meaning that they work with the client to find out what strong natural skills and talents they possess that can be used as a launching point to tackle issues causing hardship in the individual’s life. The social work framework for mental health therapy is very holistic, it will take into account not only the individual client’s emotional and psychological makeup, but also societal and environmental factors that can impact the well-being of the client. Social workers are also very passionate about advocacy.
Clinical Professional Counselor
One would see a professional counselor if you needed therapy for a mental health or substance abuse problem of moderate severity. Professional counselors typically see patients in clinical practice, diagnosing and treating people who are having adjustment problems, moderate depression or family crisis. The practice of professional counseling includes, but is not limited to, the diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional disorders, including addictive disorders; psychoeducational techniques aimed at the prevention of such disorders; consultation to individuals, couples, families, groups, and organizations.
Here are some of the abbreviated credentials for the jobs described above:
- LPC – Licensed professional counselor
- LSW – Licensed social worker
- LCSW – Licensed clinical social worker
- PhD – Completed a Doctorate program
- PsyD – Completed a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology
- MA or MS – Completed a Masters Degree
- MD – Completed a doctoral degree in medicine
Hope understanding these terms a bit better will help you find a "therapist" that is a best match to facilitate mental health recovery for you or your loved ones.