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  • Writer's pictureDaisy Chow, LMHC, NCC

The Journey of Finding a Therapist

Looking for a therapist can be daunting. How do you choose? With all the different acronyms it can get confusing. So what is the difference between an LMHC, LCSW, LCAT, LMFT, Psychologist (PhD )and a Psychiatrist? These professions are usually grouped together under psychotherapists and many think we are all the same but we are not. Our education and training are completely different. Here are what the acronyms stand for:

LMHC - Licensed Mental Health Counselor - requires a Masters in Counseling. In addition to basic psychology courses we are trained on how to counsel people. Some courses we are required to take are Intro to Counseling, Intervention Strategies, Family Counseling and Group Counseling.

LCSW - Licensed Certified Social Worker - requires a Masters in Social Work. Required courses include History and Philosophy of Social Work and Social Welfare, Human Behavior in the Social Environment and American Racism and Social Work Practice. Social Workers start off as LMSWs (Licensed Master Social Worker) and accumulate hours to become certified.

LCAT - Licensed Creative Arts Therapist - requires a Masters in Creative Arts Therapy. These therapists are trained to provide therapy using art and/or music. Basic psychology courses are required as well as specialized courses in art and/or music.

LMFT - Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist - requires a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy. Some courses required are Theories of Family Systems, The Family Life Cycle, Dysfunctional Family Processes and Couples Counseling.

PhD or PsyD - Psychologists - requires a Doctorate in Psychology. The difference between the PhD and the PsyD is that the PsyD does not require a dissertation. Required courses include psychology courses and research.

Psychiatrist - a psychiatrist is a medical doctor and specializes in mental health. Only a psychiatrist can prescribe medication (or nurse practitioner who works under a psychiatrist). There are some psychiatrists who also provide psychotherapy.

All of these mental health professions require internship and/or field placement post graduation. Many require around 3000 hours to complete the internship. Passing the state licensure exam is also required to become credentialed.

So what should you look for after learning about the differences?

Connection is key - you have to feel comfortable with your therapist.

Communication style - do you need someone to just listen or someone who is more interactive?

Accessibility - routine sessions are important in making progress. Find a location close to home or work

If you are trying therapy for the first time don't give up if you don't like the first therapist you go to. Therapists have different personalities so don't assume every therapist will be like your first experience. Ask for referrals or check out reviews online.

I hope this post helps in your decision!

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