|| Types of Mental Health Professionals
by Renu K. Aldrich
October 28, 2011
The following should not be considered professional advice. Please consult with mental health professionals for personal recommendations.
Finding the right kind of mental health professional for support in the journey of recovery is crucial. It is beneficial to understand different theories that professionals might utilize and have a clear picture of the type of training they have – and that means being able to translate the letters after their names!
Let's take a look at a few of the various types of mental health professionals. Please note that the following is an overview and details vary from state to state. One of the most important things to look for is the “L” signifying that someone has been licensed and is regulated by the state in addition to the ethical guidelines of the applicable professional association. While many of the following types of counselors might be licensed to work with a wide array of populations and disorders, it is important to find out if specific professionals have the necessary experience and training to work with traumatized individuals and to treat related disorders, such as dissociation or PTSD.
Marriage & Family Therapists
Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) are mental health professionals with training in psychotherapy who are licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders and behavioral issues. Working on an individual, couple, group or family basis within the context of relationships, MFTs are trained in a variety of therapeutic approaches that include systems-based techniques in either a private or public setting. MFTs help people explore recovery including how family and relationships either now or in the past affect a person's ability to lead a healthy, satisfying life. They are also skilled at helping parents and children as well as different types of families and groups. Licensing requirements include supervised clinical experience and successful completion of a state board-certified exam. An MFTi is someone who has completed his or her education and is an intern under direct supervision working on obtaining licensure.
For more information : American Association of Marriage & Family Therapists
Counseling & Mental Health Professionals
Licensed counselors operate under a number of names depending upon the state, including Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCC) and Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), and may also be credentialed as a National Certified Counselor (NCC). Licensed professional counselors provide therapy for a variety of mental, emotional and behavioral problems and have educational requirements somewhat similar to MFTs, but the licensing process and exams are different in most, though not all, states. While LPCs also work with individuals, families, groups and organizations in public or private settings as MFTs do, they may place more emphasis on providing counseling with regards to lifestyle and careers. LPCCs have additional clinical experience than LPCs and may have advanced academic credentials and training to work with specific populations than LPCs. Many professionals these days obtain dual licensure as MFTs and LPCCs because of the crossover qualifications. LMHCs can be similar to LPCCs or LPCs depending on the state's criteria. LPCis are interns working under direct supervision towards licensure. While a growing number of health plans are including MFTs, more offer benefits with LPCs in their in-network plans.
For more information : American Counseling Association; American Mental Health Counselors Association
Creative Arts Therapists
Some states offer specific licenses for therapists trained to provide psychotherapy to individuals, groups and families with an emphasis on using the creative and expressive arts, including art, dance and movement, poetry and narrative, psychodrama, drama and photography. Licensed Professional Arts Therapists (LPATs) or Licensed Creative Arts Therapists (LCATs) can provide a mixture of talk and artistic therapies depending on the customized needs of individual clients, families, groups and institutions in either public or private settings. Some traumatized individuals are able to more safely handle emotions and connect with abusive memories through these types of therapies, which can indirectly approach these issues while at the same time engaging with the part of the brain most affected by abuse. This type of therapy also can be effective for those who are stuck in traditional talk therapy or who are drawn to cultivating self-expression in different ways. LPATs receive graduate training and are required to have supervised clinical experience and complete an examination process for licensure. Some therapists have additional national board certifications such as Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC) or Registered Art Therapist-Board Certified (ATR-BC) to indicate advanced training in distinct areas of the creative arts.
For more information : American Art Therapy Association; International Expressive Arts Therapists Association; American Music Therapy Association
Social Workers can provide an array of services from traditional psychotherapy to more advocacy regarding health and welfare needs contingent upon their specific training and license. Social workers are trained to work with individuals, families, groups and institutions in both public and private settings, and can also administer social programs. In some states, they are the predominant providers of psychotherapists within insurance programs. States vary greatly on the names within the social work field – and the same title can mean something different depending on the state. A Licensed Social Worker (LSW) can be someone with a bachelor's degree and is entry-level or someone with a master's degree level of training and is a supervisor. Some states have additional licensing: a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) or Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW) indicates someone with training at the graduate level; Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) is a higher license and grants the ability to diagnose and treat a variety of mental impairments. If a state has a Licensed Certified Social Worker (also called LCSW in those areas), they are able to work with individual clients when designated as Licensed Certified Social Worker-Clinical (LCSW-C).
For more information : National Association of Social Workers
There are numerous types of doctors in the mental health field:
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (MD) specialized in the study, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness and emotional disorders, and who has the ability to prescribe medication. Today, many psychiatrists are no longer providing therapeutic services and can work in conjunction with a patient's psychotherapist to offer pharmacological support so it is important to determine what the individual doctor provides to patients. Doctors are more easily reimbursed by health insurance. Education includes pre-med in undergraduate study, medical school, a post-graduate residency in psychiatry, and continuing medical education courses to retain board certification. In addition to obtaining a physician's license by the state, psychiatrists need a federal narcotics license. Some specialize for the forensic (criminal), geriatric or adolescent populations.
For more information : American Psychiatric Association
There are several types of mental health professionals who hold a Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D./ D.Phil.), which is named after the Greek word for wisdom rather than the field of philosophy. Clinical psychologists are both scientists trained to conduct research and practitioners skilled in providing psychotherapy; counseling psychologists focus on providing therapy to less severely mentally ill populations; and organizational psychologists work with institutions and companies to increase productivity and healthy work systems. Social workers with doctorates are sometimes designated as DSW. Some Ph.D. programs are clinical in nature, offering the ability for the person to become licensed to work with individuals and groups in public and private settings. Other programs under Applied Psychology focus on research. Doctorate programs are advanced degrees typically requiring a written dissertation. Due to the variances among Ph.D.s, it is important to ask individuals for clarification regarding their scope and ability to practice psychotherapy, including whether they are licensed.
A Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) is an advanced clinical degree with emphasis in practicing psychotherapy using behavioral science rather than conducting research. It is typically easier to get reimbursed by health insurance for services from a therapist with a doctorate.
For more information : American Psychological Association
An alternative to the traditional therapy route, life coaches use skillful conversations, questions, and exploration to support and give feedback that facilitates learning, change, awareness and action. Survivors at a more advanced level of recovery may benefit from working with a coach when they are ready to transform thoughts, give up old patterns of behavior, and develop action-oriented plans for making changes that are measurable and sustainable. A Professional Certified Coach (PCC) has been accredited by a training program. Since this field does not have licensure, it's important to find out what qualifications a person has for offering their services as a coach, including education, experience or applicable prior careers. Some may focus on life or career coaching rather than assessment of personal needs.
For more information : International Coach Federation; International Association of Coaching
Finding the right helping professional to work with takes work, but today the lines between professionals may not be as narrowly defined as the credentials might suggest. For example, an MFT might have some training to provide some expressive arts therapeutic techniques. While this can serve as a brief reference guide, specific questions should be asked of the individual therapist during and after the initial consultation regarding personal circumstances. Here are additional resources to research the many other types of mental health professionals that exist:
Types of therapists: Psychology Today
Listing of other types of mental health professionals: Find Counseling