There are several different types of professionals who offer valuable services in the mental health arena. There is no hard formula for determining which professional will best meet your specific needs since issues such as rapport, specialization and fees need to be considered. Nonetheless, it is important to understand the differences between these professionals and their associated credentials in order to make an informed choice about whose services to seek out depending on your specific mental health needs.
- Psychiatrist (MD): A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who does minimal or no therapy, but this is the only professional from the list below who can prescribe medication. So, if you believe that your condition will be helped by medication, this is the professional you need. However, it is always best to have therapy along with the medication, so you may want to keep reading.
- Psychologist (Ph.D. or Psy.D.): In addition to having a doctorate degree, the pursuit of which involved extensive study in theory as well as many hours of clinical practice, psychologists are also licensed by the state in which they practice. Psychologists do talk therapy, but their approach and how they conduct treatment can differ greatly. Therefore, when beginning a relationship with a psychologist, the client should ask about clinical orientation and approach to treatment. In addition to talk therapy, psychologists can perform psychological testing. Psychological testing is used to clarify diagnoses, help in treatment planning, determine school accommodations and is used in various forensic cases. Testing often, but not always, culminates in a report for the client or the referral source.
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW): These are Masters-level professionals, who had explicit training in clinical practice. They are also licensed by the state. Social workers who hold an LCSW completed additional clinical training after obtaining a Masters in Social Work (MSW). They also fulfilled all of the licensing requirements in their state. LCSWs do talk therapy as well but do not do psychological testing.
- Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC): This is the most general category and does not denote anything about the practitioner’s training or practice. Obtaining an LPC provides the practitioner with a license, which carries benefits such as being able to bill insurance companies for service. However, because the license does not provide any information, it is critical for a client to ask what the LPC’s credentials are since they can vary substantially.