Individual, marriage, family, and child therapy in Redding, California

 

Family, the key to mental health Common questions about mental health and psychology

The different types of mental health professionals

 

When I was a newly minted Ph.D. intern, I worked in a large county mental health facility in San Jose, CA. One day during lunch, my supervisor’s supervisor, a psychiatrist of national prominence, introduced me to a frail old lady. “This is Mary, my therapist,” he said, with pride.

I reached out my hand to greet her and said, “Nice to meet you Doctor.”

She smiled. “I’m not a doctor, I was barely smart enough to get a Masters degree.”

Later, I learned that Mary had been a therapist for over 30 years. When I sheepishly asked, “Why do ‘doctors’ go to a ‘master’s level therapist?’ my lunch companion explained, “Mary knows most of the secrets of most of the therapists in this town. She specializes in marriage counseling for head bloated medical and legal professions. She knows her stuff and doesn’t pull any punches.”

What I have learned and confirmed over the years, is that the academic accomplishments of a mental health professional are only part of the skill-set of a gifted psychotherapist.

The therapist must fit for you

In a moment, I am going to define the academic training of a psychotherapist. There are many types of mental health professionals. Their training is very important, but it is not as important as finding the correct therapist for your particular personality and needs. For example, there are therapists that are mostly interested in diagnosing mental illness, but they are not skilled at treating it. Other therapists are amazing in helping with women's issues, or child behavioral problems, but are uncomfortable with dealing with the elderly.

Name spaghetti

All the initials you see after a therapist’s name tend to indicate the academic or types of certification the therapist holds. It doesn’t tell you much about what skills they may or may not have. I call it name spaghetti. You find out the skills of a therapist by asking others in your community about them, or by talking directly to the therapist, if possible. (Read more about: How to find a therapist.)

By convention, the highest degree or certification earned is placed after the name, such as: Mary Q. Professional, Ph.D. Over the years, as therapists have begun competing more and more for attention in the Yellow Pages and on the Internet, some psychotherapists are choosing to put a list of initials after their name. Under each type of therapist, I have defined the more common initials for you.

The major types of therapists

There is some overlap between the types of mental health professionals, here are the basic categories:

Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists are mental health professionals that hold either a medical doctor (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) degree. In addition, they have four or more years of specialized training in mental health diagnosis and treatment. Psychiatrists are trained to prescribe medications. Most psychiatrists focus on the diagnosis and psychotropic (drug) treatment of mental health disorders. Some psychiatrists offer psychotherapy (non drug treatment of mental health disorders).

Psychiatrists are licensed by each state to practice medicine. Psychiatrists can specialize further into subspecialties such as: child, adolescent, or geriatric mental health treatment.

Psychologist

Psychologists hold a doctoral degree in either clinical, educational, counseling, or research psychology. The most common degrees are:

• Ph.D. = Doctor of Philosophy (originally philosophiae doctor)

• Psy.D. = Doctor of Psychology

• Ed.D. = Doctor of Education

Psychologists tend to have at least 3 years of graduate school training, have written a dissertation (done original research), and 2 years of internship training.

Psychologists are licensed by each state to practice psychology. Psychologists can specialize further into subspecialties such as: child, adolescent, or geriatric mental health treatment.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

A Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) tends to have at least two years of graduate school training in the assessment and treatment of mental health disorders, and two years of internship training.

Social workers are licensed by mosts states to practice social work (case management, clinical assessment, and psychotherapy). Common degrees are:

• M.A. = Master of Arts (originally Magister Artium)

• M.S. = Master of Science (originally Magister Scientiae)

• M.S.W. = Master of Social Work

• M.S.S.W = Master of Science in Social Work

• D.S.W. = Doctor of Social Work

• Ph.D. = Doctor of Philosophy (originally philosophiae doctor)

Licensed social workers in most states are called:

• L.C.S.W. = Licensed Clinical Social Worker

• L.I.C.S.W. = Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker

Social workers can specialize further into subspecialties such as: child, adolescent, or geriatric mental health treatment.

Marriage and Family Therapists

A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) tends to have at least two years of graduate school training in the assessment and treatment of mental health disorders, and two years of internship training.

Marriage and Family Therapists are licensed by most states to practice psychotherapy.

Common degrees are:

• M.A. = Master of Arts (originally Magister Artium)

• M.S. = Master of Science (originally Magister Scientiae)

• M.S.M.F.T. = Master of Arts in Marriage & Family Therapy

• Ph.D. = Doctor of Philosophy (originally philosophiae doctor)

• Psy.D. = Doctor of Psychology

• D.M.F.T. = Doctor of Marriage and Family Therapy

Licensed MFT’s in most states are called: Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists

Marriage and Family Therapist can specialize further into subspecialties such as: child, adolescent, or geriatric mental health treatment.

Licensed Professional Counselor

Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) tend to have at least a master's degree in psychology, or a related mental health field, and two years of supervised experience. They must pass the National Counselor Examination (NCE) and/or the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE). LPC’s diagnose and treat mental health disorders, and many have additional training in treating addictive disorders. LPC’s are licensed in all 50 states.

Licensed Professional Counselors can specialize further into subspecialties such as: child, adolescent, or geriatric mental health treatment.

Psychiatric or Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNP) holds a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN) and has also completed a Masters of Science in nursing (MSN). Many earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. PMHNP’s tend to work in psychiatric or community mental health facilities. They assess, diagnose, and treat mental health disorders. In most states PMHNP can prescribe medication.

Peer counseling

Individuals who have gone through their own recovery following trauma, mental health issues, or alcohol and drug issues, may choose to earn certification in helping others with similar problems or issues. When dealing with chemical dependence or mental health issues, those in need often it helpful to be able to talk with someone who has “been there”. Frequently, peer counselors are certified by the state. Most peer counselors work within established organizations such as veterans hospitals, county mental health clinics, or drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities.

Religious counseling/pastoral care

Many religious organizations offer low cost or no cost pastoral counseling to their members. The counseling services will be based in faith. Many larger institutions have counseling services for members and their families conducted by licensed mental health practitioners. Smaller congregations may have a network of sliding scale referral counselors.

Pastoral counselors do not have to be licensed by the state. Many religious organizations have established ethical rules of conduct for pastoral care. Many churches call their practitioners, Lay Counselors.

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