What Do All Those Letters Mean?

So, your doctor, psychiatrist, friend suggested you see a therapist. Easy right? Not really. Finding a therapist can be a daunting task, especially for someone who is struggling with anxiety, depression or any other issue that led to having to find a therapist in the first place. Don't worry, here are a few tips in finding the right therapist for you.  Most therapist basically adhere to the same therapeutic framework, so choosing any of the following licensed therapist would most likely be appropriate.  Mental health professionals who hold a license in their field of practice have to adhere to the standards of that licensing board. Some licenses have stricter guidelines to practice than others, but most adhere to roughly the same standard of values, conduct, ethics, etc. The following is a  brief description of the most prevalent types of therapists. 

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

Licensed Clinical Social Worker has at least a master's degree in social work and training to be able to evaluate, diagnose and treat mental illnesses. In addition to psychotherapy, social workers can provide case management and hospital discharge planning as well as work as an advocate for patients and their family. Social Workers have a social work degree at both the Bachelors and Masters levels with 3+ years of post-education experience and supervision before he/she can take the clinical licensing exam.  

Social workers are sensitive to cultural and ethnic diversity and strive to end discrimination, oppression, poverty, and other forms of social injustice. These activities may be in the form of direct practice (private practice or agency work), advocacy, social and political action, policy development and implementation, education, and research and evaluation. Social workers seek to help empower client(s) to address their own needs through self-determination.  

Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)

Licensed Professional Counselors are master’s-degreed mental health service providers, trained to work with individuals, families, and groups in treating mental, behavioral, and emotional problems and disorders.  LPCs possess master’s or doctoral degrees in counseling from a national or regionally-accredited institution of higher education, including an internship and coursework on human behavior and development, effective counseling strategies, ethical practice, and other core knowledge areas.  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; and research into more effective therapeutic treatment modalities.

Psychiatrist (PsyD)

Psychiatrists are medical doctors, who have the license and authority to write prescriptions.  Many mental disorders -- such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, or bipolar disorder -- can be treated effectively with specific drugs. If you are working with a psychiatrist, a lot of the treatment may be focused on medication management, and not necessarily psychotherapy. Sometimes medication alone is enough to treat the mental illness. Sometimes a combination of medication and psychotherapy or counseling is needed. If that is the case, the psychiatrist may provide therapy, or she/he may refer you to a counselor or psychotherapist.

Psychologist (PhD, PsyD, or EdD)

Psychologists have a doctoral degree in psychology, which is the study of the mind and behaviors. Graduate school provides a psychologist an education in evaluating and treating mental and emotional disorders. After completing graduate school, a clinical psychologist completes an internship that lasts two to three years and provides further training in treatment methods, psychological theory, and behavioral therapy.

Licensed psychologists are qualified to do counseling and psychotherapy, perform psychological testing, and provide treatment for mental disorders. They are not, though, medical doctors. That means that, with the exception of a few states, psychologists cannot write prescriptions or perform medical procedures. Often a psychologist will work in association with a psychiatrist or other medical doctor who provides the medical treatment for mental illness while the psychologist provides the psychotherapy.

Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)

Mental Health Counselors are mental health professionals who have a master's degree (MA) in psychology, counseling, or a related field. In order to be licensed, the professional counselor also needs two additional years' experience working with a qualified mental health professional after graduate school. A mental health counselor is qualified to evaluate and treat mental problems by providing counseling or psychotherapy.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists are a highly experienced group of practitioners, with an average of 13 years of clinical practice in the field of marriage and family therapy. They evaluate and treat mental and emotional disorders, other health and behavioral problems, and address a wide array of relationship issues within the context of the family system.

MFTs have graduate training (a Master's or Doctoral degree) in marriage and family therapy and at least two years of clinical experience. Marriage and family therapists are recognized as a "core" mental health profession, along with psychiatry, psychology, social work and psychiatric nursing.

Certified Life Coach (ACC, PCC, MCC) (Certification; No Licensure)

A life coach is someone who can help you identify strengths and weaknesses and overcome obstacles holding you back.  A Life Coach helps an individual identify a goal and then they develop a plan to achieve the goal(s) set.   Life coaching focuses on what's happening right now, what a person wants next, and how that gap can be bridged.  Life Coaching is about helping people to identify the obstacles that keep getting in their way, assisting them with finding motivation, and pinpointing any resistance to change. 

Life coaches are required to complete a certified life coach training program, which are available through accredited organizations. Prospective life coaches may log 100 to 2,500 hours of coaching, depending on the level of certification sought.  Associate Certified Coach (100 hours);  Professional Certified Coach (750 hours) and Master Certified Coach (2500 hours)