Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Marriage and Family Therapist, Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Clinical Social Workers and Nurse Practitioner...

What's the difference and what's right for me?

Professionals who provide psychotherapy include psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, licensed professional clinical counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists, pastoral counselors and psychiatric nurse practitioners. Of that group, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers are the most common. All of these professionals are trained to offer psychotherapy, but there are differences in their education and training.

Psychiatrist

(MD)

Psychiatrists attend medical school and earn an MD (doctor of medicine) or DO (doctor of osteopathic medicine) degree. They can go on for additional, specialized training in psychiatry during a residency (an additional three to four years). Training for psychiatrists focuses primarily on biological aspects of mental illness. Because of their medical training, psychiatrists can prescribe medications, and their work with clients may include talk therapy combined with medications.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

(LMFT)

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) are mental health professionals trained in psychotherapy and family systems, and licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couples and family systems. 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.

Marriage and Family Therapists broaden the traditional emphasis on the individual to attend to the nature and role of individuals in primary relationship networks such as marriage and the family. MFTs take a holistic perspective to health care; they are concerned with the overall, long-term well-being of individuals and their families. 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.

Psychologist

(PhD)

Psychologists attend graduate school in psychology. The American Psychological Association recognizes the doctoral degree as the minimum educational requirement for psychologists; these degrees include the PhD (doctor of philosophy), PsyD (doctor of psychology), or EdD (doctor of education). Some states allow people with master's degrees in psychology to use the term “psychologist.” Graduate training focuses on all aspects of human behavior, with an emphasis on research and scientific methods. Training for the PhD, PsyD, and EdD typically includes four to six years of academic preparation, followed by one to two years of full-time supervised work with patients and licensing examinations. Psychologists in some states can prescribe psychiatric medications with additional training, although this is not the case in most states.

Licensed Professional Counselor

(LPC)

Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) is a designation for mental health counseling practitioners who hold a master’s degree in counseling and have met other requirements for licensing in their state. Unlike social work, where there is a division between practitioners who provide individual and/or group therapy and practitioners who do not, psychotherapeutic counseling is central to the field of counseling and most states require all types of mental health counselors to be fully licensed. Similarly, mental health counselors are generally only permitted to provide clinical services under formal supervision during their training, after which they must apply for a state license.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

(LCSW)

Social workers attend graduate school in social work, earning an MSW (master of social work) or LCSW (licensed clinical social worker) degree. Training typically includes two years of coursework and practical experience working at agencies in the community. The primary goal in clinical counseling is to help individuals, couples, and/or families overcome specific behavioral and mental health challenges using the tools of psychotherapy and other counseling methods. Licensing in clinical social work is required by states for social workers who provide clinical counseling services independently and are thus not subject to the direction and/or supervision of an LCSW. In general, social workers can provide clinical counseling services even if they are not licensed, as long as they do so under the supervision of an LCSW. Psychotherapeutic counseling is just one of many tools employed by social workers, who are trained to focus on the social, economic, and environmental factors that affect the mental and physical wellbeing of their clients. In addition, social workers are trained to help individuals, families, and communities obtain social services through welfare agencies, government assistance programs, healthcare providers, and networks and institutions that fall beyond the general purview of mental health counseling.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

(NP)

Psychiatric Mental-Health Nurse Practitioners, also known as Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners, are nurse practitioners that specialize in the treatment of mental health. They assess and diagnose patients suffering from mental illnesses, disorders, and substance abuse problems. They are involved in psychotherapy, can prescribe medication, educate patients and families about their diagnosis, and manage their treatment plans.

They focus on helping individuals cope with different psychiatric disorders and illnesses as well as help people with substance abuse disorders.

Credentials (e.g., MD, PhD, MFT, LPC or LCSW) tell you the therapist has completed a basic course of study and has been granted a degree by an academic institution. A license tells you the therapist has passed an examination administered by the state. But that tells you little about how good the therapist is. It's important to interview potential therapists and learn about their credentials, experience and approach to psychotherapy and then judge for yourself how comfortable you feel with the person.