The process of choosing a therapist is a personal one but it can be confusing with so many options. LPC, LMFT, LCSW...What is this alphabet soup? What's the difference between a counselor and a therapist? Do I need a psychologist or a psychiatrist?
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has received specific training in treating mental health disorders. Some provide counselin, however many psychiatrists manage their clients' medication needs while the client participates in counseling through another provider.
A psychologist has a doctoral degree in psychology. Psychologists are trained to provide therapy and administer psychological testing. Generally when a court orders that an evaluation be completed, it is performed by a psychologist. A psychologist does not prescribe medication.
Master's Level Counselor or Therapist
This is where things get confusing. Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW), Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC), and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) generally have similar roles. Each is licensed by the state board to provide mental health services and must abide by professional and ethical standards. However, each provider's unique education and experience shape the areas of expertise. For example, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist is likely to have experience working from a family systems model but may have unique expertise working individually with a specific population. A Licensed Clinical Social Worker may have additional training in client advocacy but can be an expert in providing family therapy. School counselors usually have a master's degree in counseling or education but may specialize in academic counseling rather than mental health. If you are seeking counseling from a school counselor, be sure to ask about areas of expertise and any limitations on the service that can be provided.
Counseling interns are professionals who have completed their master's degrees but have not yet met the requirements to become licensed. In order to provide services, they must be registered with the state board and receive ongoing supervision by a licensed professional. Although interns are generally less experienced than licensed professionals, they have to abide by the same professional and ethical standards. Sometimes interns are able to provide services at a lower fee than that of licensed professionals.
What is the difference between counseling and therapy?
Most of the time these terms are used interchangeably. Traditionally, counseling was considered short-term and advice-driven, while psychotherapy was more focused on analyzing thoughts and experiences. In reality, each counselor/therapist has his or her own approach to helping clients, which likely involves a combination of approaches.
Before scheduling the first session, many counselors will offer a brief consultation to gather identifying information and ask questions about your counseling needs. This is a good opportunity for you to have a conversation with the counselor to explore whether this person is a good fit for you. After all, you are not just hiring a professional to provide a service. You are also choosing whether to enter into an important therapeutic relationship.
Simone D'Amore is a Licensed Professional Counselor practicing in Beaverton, Oregon.