Fortunately, the mental health field doesn’t have the number of obscure specializations as the medical field does. There are only a few primary types of helpers with varying degrees of education and a different emphasis on what kinds of problems they help with. This chapter explores these roles.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors. Psychiatrists will make a diagnosis after meeting with patients and most likely prescribe medication. Although they’re able to, psychiatrists typically aren’t in the business of conducting lengthy, ongoing psychotherapy with patients. Rather, they’ll check in with patients and alter their prescriptions as they see fit, depending on how their patient is doing. Psychiatrists’ training is mainly grounded in biology, including genetics and neuroscience. As medical doctors, they can order laboratory tests as well as various psychological assessments. Dr. Frasier Crane on the popular TV shows Cheers and Frasier was a psychiatrist.
Psychologists aren’t medical doctors, but they have advanced degrees. Most states require psychologists to have a PhD, PsyD, or similar doctoral-level education. This level of education will typically include a lengthy residency at a mental health facility or in private practice. Psychologists can order and interpret psychological assessments. Many psychologists also conduct regular psychotherapy sessions with patients. Professor Xavier in the X-Men franchise was both a psychologist and a psychiatrist.
Licensed counselors typically have a master’s-level education. They cannot prescribe medication. They can give many but not all assessments. Licensed counselors typically are highly trained clinical therapists; conducting therapy is their primary responsibility. Many people with the title “psychotherapist” are licensed counselors. Depending on the state, LPC or LPCC after someone’s name means they are a licensed counselor. Deanna Troi was the counselor on the USS Enterprise-D on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Most career counselors have the same education level and credentials as other counselors. The difference is that career counselors focus on helping people develop their careers rather than on the broader realm of problems. Career counselors will use assessments and models oriented toward their clients’ career decisions. In addition, career counselors are keenly aware that there are many factors that can be barriers to someone choosing a career, such as personal relationships and culture. A trained career counselor will not only need to help someone find out what they want to do but also help them deal with all of the other life factors so that they can succeed. Many career counselors are licensed counselors or psychologists.
In the past, addictions counselors didn’t need higher education to work in treatment clinics; this type of counselor typically was formerly addicted to a substance and skilled in working with those in recovery. Now, many counselors who deal with drug and alcohol use have a license known as an LADC, or licensed alcohol and drug counselor. LADC typically requires a bachelor’s-level education—some may have more education, though. It’s not unusual for an addictions counselor to be a licensed professional counselor as well. This dual training means the professional has been trained to do general counseling as well as deal specifically with issues relating to substance use.
Social work requires a master’s-level education dealing with issues involving mental and emotional health. Social workers deal frequently with those of low socio-economic status and typically are part of a broader network of helping organizations. If you see LCSW after someone’s name, this means they’re a licensed social worker. Many times, social workers are involved in the public school system, trying to help children who are living in family situations that may be particularly troubled. They also might be employed in homeless shelters and related organizations. Paige Matthews, played by Rose McGowan on the TV show Charmed, became a social worker.
A licensed family therapist holds a master’s-level degree. They’ve been trained in the particular theories, models, and skills to conduct family therapy. Family therapists will typically have LMFT after their name, depending on what state they’re practicing in. Family Therapy with Dr. Jenn on VH-1 depicts a family therapist.
“Psychotherapist” can be thought of as a generic term and isn’t protected by a licensing board in most states. The term implies that someone is trained in counseling, psychology, and the field’s theories and models. It’s not unusual for licensed counselors to refer to themselves as psychotherapists.
Life Coaches or Coaches
The title “coach” doesn’t imply any particular training or licensing. Life coaching isn’t governed by a professional state licensing board like those that govern psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed counselors, social workers, and marriage and family therapists. Anyone can call themselves a life coach. This doesn’t mean the person can’t be helpful—just be wary since no professional training or testing is required to be a life coach.
to be a licensed professional counselor as well as a licensed alcohol and drug counselor. This dual training means the professional has been trained to do general counseling as well as deal specifically with issues relating to addiction.
Difference between therapist and counselor
Both therapist and counselor are terms that are interchangeable when talking about psychotherapy. Most states have licensed versions of these roles that are defined by state law. Therapist and counselor of generic terms that point to these licensed professionals who deliver psychotherapy.