Are you having serious relationship difficulty and struggling to find out who the right person is to turn to? There are so many different types of therapists out there and most people have no idea who to go to if they need help. Odds are that if you ever saw a therapist, you just called him/her a “shrink” and left it at that. But did you know that there are different types of therapists who are trained in and specialize in very different and specific areas? Here’s the 411 on how to decide who to look for when the need arises.
These are typically going to be the most expensive, because they’ve gone through med school and have the ability to prescribe medicine for mental health concerns. In fact, that’s their specialty – prescribing! (Which is why seeing a psychiatrist for psychotropic medications is often a better decision than seeing your family doctor). Most psychiatrists don’t do therapy or counseling because it’s not their specialty.**
Psychologists don’t have the ability to prescribe medicine, but they have been trained on how to diagnose mental health disorders and perform psychological assessments. Psychologists must have a PhD to practice and their focus might have been research or clinical practice (psychotherapy), depending on their interest. You might seek out a psychologist if you are struggling with OCD, a personality disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or other mental health problems along that same vein.
Marriage and Family Therapists
As the name suggests, MFTs specialize in family and relationship dynamics. They must have a master’s degree and over 1,000 hours of clinical experience to practice, but many have a PhD as well. If you have a child you are concerned about (any age), a family issue, or a marital issue, an MFT is a great person to see because they’re trained in psychotherapy models for all age groups and specifically focus on how to address systems (families, parent-child relationships, marriages, etc.) to help the client. MFTs see many of the same clients psychologists see, but focus much more on how the system contributes to the distress (i.e. if a husband is depressed, maybe his marriage is contributing to his depression, so improving his marriage would help).
Clinical Social Worker
CSWs must have a master’s degree to practice and their field is the most broad of all the mental health professions. They can do anything from human resources work, to being a case-worker, to individual psychotherapy. Their career choices vary widely, so the specialty of any given CSW largely depends on their interest. Social workers’ training also focuses on the specifics of the legal system more than the other mental health professions, so they are most prepared to handle crisis situations that may occur.
Licensed Professional Counselor
LPCs are similar to CSWs and MFTs in that they have the ability to provide individual and group therapy to those in need of mental health services. They must have a master’s degree to practice, but their focus is less defined than some of the other mental health professions. They are trained in psychotherapy techniques, but usually have very limited training in research, assessment, and theory. They typically choose to work within whatever specialty or population interests them.
There are many counselors who practice without a professional title. Be wary of who you decide to go to, and make sure you know their credentials. For example, many religious leaders offer therapeutic services, but if they have no professional training, it might not always be in your best interest to see them for help. They will usually have referrals available if you want to see someone with a license.
**Note-All of the above counselors and therapists work in conjunction with psychiatrists to ensure that if their patients need medication, they will have it available to them.**
Remember: A mental health professional is like a medical professional – if you don’t agree with what a doctor says, most people get a 2nd opinion. Likewise, if you don’t feel like your therapist is helping, you can try to find someone else who is a better fit for your needs. The most important thing is that you find someone who can give you the help you need!