Sometimes people seek out a mental health professional when they’re in “panic” mode. They are of course, less inclined to understand the necessity for counseling when everything’s fine, so they wait until there is a crisis before they take any action. By that time, they are often so emotionally wrapped-up in the situation that they don’t bother to look at the training or credentials and see the first mental health provider they find.
The general public generally does not realize that there are more than a dozen mental health professional designations with many variations. Educational level, clinical skills and training can vary greatly among these professionals and can make a difference in the effectiveness of therapy and best match for you or your family member. Because people often do not understand that a psychologist is different from a mental health counselor or a social worker, many mental health professionals are often lumped into one giant “psychology-ball”.
Below is a list of some of the most sought-after mental health professionals and a description of each:
Licensed psychologists are the only mental health professionals required to hold a doctorate degree and conduct research, clinical, counseling or educational psychology. Psychologists with doctoral degrees (meaning a Ph.D., Psy.D. or Ed.D.) receive one of the highest levels of education of all healthcare professionals and spending an average of seven years in education and training after they receive their undergraduate degrees. Licensed psychologists have the training and clinical skills to help patients deal with mental health issues and disorders. Under their care, patients learn to cope more effectively with life issues and mental health problems such as learning to deal with stressful situations, addictions, death of a family member, and help them conquer fears and break through barriers. They also receive extensive training in psychological and psycho-educational testing and assessment.
Psychiatrists attend medical school as part of their training and are able to prescribe medication as part of their treatment approach. Psychiatrists help to treat mental illness by combining psychotherapy and medication. In many cases, medication is prescribed to correct chemical imbalances that cause or contribute to emotional issues. A few of the specialized areas in psychiatry include: addiction, adult, adolescent and children, forensic, geriatric, neuropsychiatry, and organizational.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor (L.M.H.C.):
An L.M.H.C. practices mental health counseling, which is a strengths-based and psycho-educational discipline. The main differentiation from other mental health fields is its emphasis on prevention and developmental theory, as well as its holistic approach. L.M.H.C.s often work closely with other mental health specialists such as psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, psychiatric nurses, and school counselors. Keep in mind, that although L.M.H.C.s may diagnose as well as treat mental illness, the range of practice for mental health counselors is subject to change from state to state.
Licensed Clinical Social Workers (L.C.S.W.):
An L.C.S.W. usually has completed a Masters in Social Work and practices psychotherapy. They help patients with a variety of mental health and daily problems in order to improve overall functioning. In addition to satisfying thousands of hours of clinical experience working in a variety of settings, they study mental health theory, growth and development, sociology and practice human behavioral/social environment, psychology research methods.
One of the most important aspects of choosing the most appropriate mental health professional is to recognize the symptoms and signs that are manifested. It’s critical for a patient to receive a thorough diagnostic evaluation (as well as a physical), to determine what type of therapy would be best, not just for a short time, but for long term results.
In addition to understanding the differences between mental health professionals, one should consider asking the below questions when inquiring:
- What is the therapist or psychologist’s counseling philosophy?
- Do you feel comfortable and at ease after the first time you meet?
- What is the mental health professional’s approach to working with clients?
- Will this be a long or short term treatment — or how long will this last?
- What is the atmosphere of the therapist’s office?
- What is the background of the mental health provider/how long has he or she been in practice?
- Is the mental health professional competent, professional and knowledgeable?
Dr. Wendy Rice, Psy.D. founder of the Rice Psychology Group, is a Licensed Psychologist who has significant experience working with children, adolescents, and adults in private practice. In addition to diagnostic interviews, assessments and testing, she was the first to pioneer the use of Brain Train software for Cognitive Training in Tampa, Florida. Because of her extensive experience and insight on a variety of psychological, social and learning issues, she understands that psychotherapy is not “one size fits all”, but rather that it is imperative to recognize the distinctive requirements for each individual patient.