Choosing a Therapist
So you have decided you want to "do" some therapy, but you don't know where to start when it comes to picking the right therapist. It might stress you out further if you happened to know that scientific research has shown that the MOST important aspect of mental health therapy is the RELATIONSHIP between the therapist and the client.
On top of that, your insurance may not even cover mental health benefits, or you don't even HAVE insurance! With money becoming increasingly rare, you don't want to waste money on treatment that doesn't work.
But how do you find the right therapist?
Different types of practicioners
The first order of business is to learn some psychological lingo. Most people aren't aware of the differences between different mental health providers. The bottom line is, how long did they have to go to school?
Psychiatrists had to go to both college and medical school. They are medical doctors who specialize in psychological disorders. They are the only mental health providers who can prescribe and manage psychotropic medications. In Texas there is a shortage of these wonderful folks, which usually means they ONLY prescribe and manage medications. Only rare examples of this species do what most people think of as "therapy." So if you need medication, you will probably have to go to a psychiatrist and go to another kind of mental health provider for therapy.
Clinical psychologists went to college, then got a master's degree, and then got a PhD. This is also a lot of schooling! They are usually specialized and good at their specialties. They are also fairly rare specimens out there. But they did not go to medical school, so don't expect them to be able to prescribe, manage, dispense, or in any way deal with psychotropic medications.
Licensed professional counselors have a college degree and a master's degree, usually both in psychology or a related field. So you will see LPCs who have a master's in psychology, or counseling, but there will be others whose graduate degree is in education, for example. (See list of abbreviations below.)
Licensed clinical social workers have a slightly different path than LPCs, but are educated to approximately the same level. They have a college degree, and a master's degree in social work. This may sound different, but it's quite similar in practice.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists have a college degree and a master's degree, which is geared toward, you guessed it, marriage and family therapy. They are also quite similar to LPCs but their focus is a bit different and begins during graduate school.
Types of therapy
Don't get too bogged down in what kind of therapy you want or should have. No type of therapy or school of thought has been shown to be more beneficial than the others, although several are better at treating certain disorders. Just make sure that the therapy you are getting is what I call PACE: Positively oriented, Accepting, Concise, and Effective.
Super Simple guide to abbreviations and acronyms in the field of psychology
(This is not an exhaustive list of psychology related acronyms. You can find that here.)
CCTP -- Certified Clinical Trauma Professional
LCSW -- Licensed Clinical Social Worker
LPC -- Licensed Professional Counselor
MA -- Master of Arts
MEd -- Master of Education
Does your therapist really need to be an "expert?"
Mental health therapists are usually pressured to choose a specific type of problem to treat, or a certain method, in order to appear to be an "expert." If you are a couple seeking a counselor, you are more likely to want a “couple’s counselor.” If you are seeking help for an eating disorder, you will probably look for someone who treats those disorders exclusively.
But is this the smartest way to go?
Psychology is relatively simple
Psychological theories, while there are many out there, and more all the time, are relatively simple. In the process of earning their licenses, mental health practitioners become quite knowledgeable about ALL of them. Most, if not all, theories and modalities of treatment can also be applied across the board, to millions of people, in thousands of situations.
For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works roughly the same way whether presented individually, in a group, for a couple, as a treatment for anxiety, for depression, or for addiction.
People are complicated
No two people are alike, and that is particularly obvious in the therapy office. Seldom will a client have only one, neat, diagnosable mental problem. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) spends almost 1,000 pages trying to differentiate between mental health disorders, and address combinations of disorders. And add to that, the fact that certain approaches work better for certain disorders.
Any therapist will confirm that the best approach for each client is unique to that person. We tailor-make each treatment plan, each treatment modality, and continue to fine-tune it throughout the treatment process.
Just as experiencing many different cultures creates a rich blend of life experience, so an experienced, knowledgeable therapist with the ability to treat varied individuals and diverse problems is the best one for the job!
More to see
Don't forget to check out the Hot Topics page! It's got some really interesting information.