How To Choose A Therapist So That It’s Not A Headache!
Making sense of all the letters
Trying to figure out how to choose a therapist can be exhausting! If you’ve never looked for one, it can be downright overwhelming. For example, you may have noticed the “alphabet soup” after their names. So many letters! Browsing through your insurance company’s list of preferred providers, or searching through Psychology Today, you’ll find LPCs, LMFTs, Ph. D.s, LCDCs and more. What do those letters mean? And why does it matter?
The truth is, it may not matter. It depends on what you need.
Degree vs. License vs. Certification: How to find a qualified therapist that’s right for you
First, let’s start with education. Mental health professionals must be educated in mental health. That seems obvious, right? However, the terms “counselor,” “therapist” and “doctor” are used in various fields other than mental health. For example, a church or college counselor may or may not have received mental health training and supervision. It depends. So, if you have anxiety or depression, it helps to know what to look for.
Master’s degree counselors
Most mental health professionals must earn at least a Master’s degree in a mental health field. This means 4 years of undergraduate work followed by at least 2 years of education specifically in the field of mental health.
Most often you’ll see MEd, MS or MA behind their names. This means they earned a Master of Education, Master of Science or Master of Arts degree. These professionals are qualified counselors and therapists, but are not “doctors” and should not be referred to (or refer to themselves) in this way.
Some counselors and therapists have gone a step further and earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree (PhD). This degree adds another two to four years of education beyond the Master’s degree. Where the Master’s education was a broad focus on mental health, the PhD goes deeper into a specific area of study.
Social workers, counselors and therapists can choose to earn a PhD, but it’s not required.
Counselors with a PhD are referred to as “Doctor.” Because they have the title of doctor, people often ask if a PhD can prescribe medication. However, a Doctor of Philosophy is, as they say, “not that kind of doctor.” For that you need a medical doctor.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (MD or DO) who specializes in mental health as opposed to pediatrics or internal medicine. They’re able to prescribe psychiatric medication for mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorder.
While any medical doctor can prescribe psychiatric medication, a psychiatrist is specially trained to understand the way the brain is affected by these medications. They know what to ask and how to assess whether or not a medication is right for you and your symptoms. Some people see their GP or internist for anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication, but you wouldn’t see a psychiatrist for antibiotics, right? That’s important to think about if you need medication for a mental health condition.
In addition to their degrees, counselors and therapists must have a license to provide mental health services. Two common licenses you will see in Texas are LPC and LMFT.
Licensed Professional Counselors
A licensed professional counselor will have LPC listed after their degree or their name. Licensed professional counselors have passed an exam demonstrating their knowledge and have acquired (in Texas) 3000 hours of supervised experience.
These counselors are qualified to provide general counseling, meaning they may not have a specialty. However, they may specialize in a particular issue such as trauma, or in a particular population such as children.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, or LMFTs, have passed an exam demonstrating their knowledge and have acquired (in Texas) 3000 hours of supervised experience. Because they specialize in Marriage and Family, 750 of those hours are specifically with couples or families.
These therapists can provide general counseling. Like LPCs, some specialize in a particular population such as couples, or a particular issue such as sexual addiction.
The Counseling Spot offers experienced marriage and family therapists in Dallas & San Antonio to help you improve your relationship. Click here to learn more about our services.
How To Choose A Therapist That Has Specialized Training and Certifications For Your Needs
Once licensed, counselors and therapists may be trained, certified or registered in a variety of specialties. There’s an endless list of available certifications, each with its own acronym or initials. That information would really make your head spin! Therefore, we will discuss just a few.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a specialized treatment for trauma and PTSD. Therapists and counselors must complete Level 2 supervised EMDR training before they can offer this service. They may also choose to be certified in this technique, but certification is not required.
Registered Play Therapists (RPT) have received extra hours of supervision in play therapy and see children as young as 3 years of age. The RPT designation is not required for providing play therapy. Some therapists and counselors who provide play therapy have had all the requisite training and supervised experience, but have chosen not to pursue registration.
A Certified Humanistic Sandtray Therapist (CHST) is trained and supervised in using sandtray therapy. Sandtray therapy is used with clients of all ages as well as couples and families. It’s used for issues like grief, trauma, and life changes or transitions. This certification is not required in order to provide sandtray therapy.
Clear as mud?
Yes, it’s a lot of mumbo-jumbo when trying to learn how to choose a therapist. We didn’t even discuss Licensed Social Workers (LMSW/LCSW), Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselors (LCDC) or Psychologist (Ph. D./Psy. D.). There are dozens more certifications as well.
All of these professionals are highly qualified, but some specialize in areas that may be important to you.
How to choose a therapist depends on your needs and your personality. The best way to choose a therapist is to learn about them. Read about them. Meet with them. Ask questions. See if they work with people similar to you. Notice how you feel while you talk to them. Notice how you feel after you talk to them. Are you more at ease? Do you feel like this is a person you can really open up to?
It’s important to be knowledgeable about your therapist’s credentials. However, what really matters is whether you want to sit across from that person for an hour a week, sharing your heart and spilling your guts. If not, keep looking. We at the Counseling Spot focus on helping people in Dallas and San Antonio by providing the best therapists in Dallas and San Antonio. Contact us today to make an appointment!