Ever wondered what type of mental health professional is right for you? This simple guide explains the differences among psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage and family therapists (LMFT), counselors, social workers and more.
Some of the most common questions I get are: How do you know what type of mental health professional is right for you? How are you different than a psychologist or a counselor or an LCSW?
And I understand why. Navigating all the different titles and licenses can be very confusing for someone who is new to therapy — especially when you have specific needs like medication management or psychological testing.
That’s why I created this quick guide, to help you figure out what type of mental professional is right for you. First, let’s cover the basics.
The mental health community is generally broken down into three main categories:
- Professionals who can prescribe medication, such as psychiatrists and general practitioners
- Professionals who specialize in assessment, such as psychologists
- All other professionals, who cannot prescribe medication but instead provide specialized types of therapy
Once you’ve decided whether or not you need medication management, you can dive into the specifics. For example, different mental health professionals have different specialties (i.e. relationships, case management, etc.), as well as sub-specialties (i.e. EMDR, play therapy, art therapy, etc.). Just as you wouldn’t see a foot doctor for a heart problem, it’s important to know which type of mental health professional is best for your needs.
So let’s take a look at each type of mental health professional to see how they differ.
A psychiatrist is a licensed medical doctor who specializes in medication management. They can diagnose, prescribe medication and monitor medication. Though they are licensed to provide therapy, some psychiatrists do and some don’t. Those who don’t provide therapy generally focus on medication management.
- Education/License: Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), State license
- Specialty: Medication management, Diagnosis of mental and emotional illnesses
- A Good Fit: If you want to talk to a mental health professional about medication
A psychologist specializes in neuropsychological testing and evaluation. Like psychiatrists, some psychologists offer therapy while others don’t. Psychologists are most often found in a school setting or a clinical setting.
- Education/License: Advanced degree in psychology, State license
- Specialty: Testing and evaluations
- A Good Fit: If you need services from a school or institution that requires formal evaluation
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT)
A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) works with individuals, couples or groups and generally focuses on relationships. An LMFT is required to have experience with a wide array of relationship dynamics.
- Education/License: Advanced degree in psychology, Special education and training, State license
- Specialty: Relationship-based therapy
- A Good Fit: If you’re looking for couples therapy, family therapy or to improve your relationship with yourself
Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Education/License: Advanced degree in social work, State license
- Specialty: Case management and advocacy
- A Good Fit: If you’re experiencing special life circumstances, such as adopting a child or being diagnosed with a terminal illness
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
- Education/License: Advanced degree in psychology, State license
- Specialty: Outpatient therapy
- A Good Fit: If you need help coping with a specific event or life circumstance
Other Professionals & Specialties
It’s important to remember that this isn’t a comprehensive list. Nurses and nurse practitioners, for example, can specialize in mental health, and some professionals are even more specialized, such as certified alcohol and drug abuse counselors or pastoral counselors. Eye Movement and Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), for example, is another specialty that is recommended for the treatment of trauma.
What Type Of Mental Health Professional Is Right For You?
With so many options, how do you choose? Well if you need medication or testing and evaluation, then that narrows your search. If your primary need is therapy or counseling, however, you have a little more flexibility.
Once you find the type of mental health professional who checks all your boxes, the most important thing is to find someone you connect with. Over and over again, research has shown the therapeutic relationship is more important than the area of interest or specialty. In fact, it’s the number one factor that drives quality progress for the patient.
This is especially important for parents to remember when finding the best match for their child. Your child’s therapist needs to be someone who they can trust, as well.
If it doesn’t work out the first time, it’s very important to try again with another therapist or mental health professional. There is someone out there for you, especially with so many options in today’s mental health community.
What Type Of Therapist Am I?
I am an LMFT who specializes in EMDR, trauma, kids and teen therapy, and medical illness. I completed my advanced degree in psychology, as well as 3,000 hours of supervised practice, to complete my licensure. Because of my personal experience with EMDR, I then decided to complete an additional certification to specialize in EMDR.
So what does all this mean? Put simply, I specialize in helping people process traumatic memories and alleviate various symptoms that can stem from trauma — especially when other forms of therapy don’t work.
Hopefully, after reading through this guide, you can now confidently answer the question: “What type of mental health professional is right for you?”
About Your Santa Clarita Therapist
Wondering what type of mental health professional is right for you? Kristina de Bree is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) in the state of California and an EMDRIA certified Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapist with a private practice in Valencia. She focuses on helping individuals build, mend and develop healthy relationships and authentic connections with others and with themselves, and as a Valencia EMDR therapist, she is specially qualified to treat trauma, kids and teens, performance enhancement and medical illness, right here in Santa Clarita. Kristina believes that the core of every working relationship should be built on trust, authenticity and quality. She brings a deep value and care for the patient experience, believing that change is made through relationships that are trusting, caring and safe.