Mental Health – Deciphering the Options
As a person ventures into the field of mental health resources they will be met with a plethora of titles, abbreviations, and specialty areas. Let’s move through this landscape in order to provide some clarity on the suitable options.
Psychiatrist – a psychiatrist is a medical doctor (MD or DO) that chose as their specialty field of study psychological ‘disorders/diseases’. When a patient meets with a psychiatrist they will be leaving the office with a prescription for some type of pharmaceutical medication to address the diagnosis the psychiatrist will provide, even if the patient doesn’t request for one. Their model is one of asking questions about, and listening to, information on a patient's thoughts, feelings, emotions, behaviors, and then matching those to one or more official disorders outlined in a manual titled the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). The mode of treatment will be medications that have been approved by the FDA to treat the specific disorders diagnosed. A psychiatrist will not typically provide counseling or talk therapy. They may spend some time during each visit asking questions about changes, side effects, while evaluating the efficacy of the medications, also referred to as ‘medication management’.
Psychologist – a psychologist usually holds a doctorate degree, has passed state boards, and is licensed to practice in a state. A psychologist can practice many roles within their profession including counseling, therapy, teaching, psychological testing, expert witnessing. With their intense background in psychology this professional is suited to ‘deep dives’ into complex patient situations involving abuse, neglect, manipulation, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress.
Licensed Professional Counselor – A LPC will hold a minimum of a master’s degree, has passed a state approved proficiency exam, and has been licensed by a state. LPC’s typically only practice counseling and therapy for patients. This professional will engage in individual, couples, and family counseling. They can be a solid resource for all age groups challenged with anxiety, depression, relationship strife, family discord, child, and teen challenges. Think of LPC’s as ‘generalists’ in the areas of life’s various levels of stressors, and how a patient can address them by ‘getting out what is held inside’.
Licensed Marital and Family Therapist – A LMFT will hold a minimum of a master’s degree, has passed a state approved proficiency exam, and has been licensed by a state. LMFT’s have specific training in marriage dynamics and how the family unit is directly affected. LMFT’s are a good option for married couples that are vexed by continuous levels of conflict.
Licensed Social Worker – A LSW will hold a master’s degree in social work, has passed a state approved proficiency exam, and has been licensed by a state. LSW’s can work in agencies that provide services to families dealing with various levels of dysfunction. LSW’s can also provide individual, couples, and family counseling. LSW’s have a solid foundation of family dynamics, and therefore can also be effective with children and youth counseling.
Certified Life Coach – a life coach does not have any specific requirements to become certified beyond a high school diploma. They are not licensed or sanctioned by the state. The certification is private, in that the corporation that trains the person to become a life coach will typically issue ‘certification’; therefore, life coaches are not sanctioned by a state board that monitors the practices of the certification process, or the practice methods of the life coach. Life coaches are not by definition mental health practitioners, and cannot by law, claim to be so. Their work may be most effective for adults interested in exploring career challenges and personal circumstances.
Therapist or Counselor, what is the difference?
The answers vary. It may come down to the ‘style’ in which the professional delivers to the patient. A Therapist may engage in ‘deeper dives’ of family of origin issues, childhood traumas, and deep psychological stress. A Counselor may deliver to the ‘decisions at hand’ that a patient needs to make, and to the family and relationship ‘systems’ that need to be addressed.
When a person reaches out to a new mental health resource is it perfectly reasonable and encouraged to meet with the professional to determine the model of delivery, level of experience, and the practitioner’s philosophy, in order for the patient to decide if the relationship will be a ‘right fit’.
Integrated Counseling Services offers remote and in office sessions for individual counseling, couples counseling, marriage counseling, family counseling, co-parenting counseling, teen counseling, adolescent counseling, and child counseling.
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