I get this question a lot! With so many various types of mental health professionals. Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Marriage and Family Therapists, Clinical Social Workers, Licensed Professional Counselors and Substance Abuse Counselors. It can get pretty confusing when choosing the right type of provider for you . There are quite a few options when it comes to a professional that can provide therapy. It should be noted that ONLY a Psychiatrist or another MD can provide medication. Many people find that working with both a Psychiatrist for medication and an MFT, LCSW or Psychologist for therapy is a helpful combination.
Ryokan College provides a concise description of an MFT:
“Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) are relationship specialists who are trained to assess, diagnose, and treat individuals, couples, children, and families. MFTs must obtain a Master’s degree in a qualifying subject, such as Counseling Psychology before becoming licensed. Much like a psychologist, a MFT must complete 3,000+ hours of supervised experience before they can sit for their licensure exams. A therapist’s role is to help patients clarify goals and feelings in order to solve problems in relationships or other situations in their lives. Therapists provide support and guidance, while helping patients make effective decisions. MFTs receive extensive training in counseling using a variety of therapeutic orientations.” (http://www.ryokan.edu/hot-topics/psychologist-vs-mft-vs-lpcc/)
Psychologists have a doctorate degree in Psychology. They also have additional training in assessments and testing. Licensed Clinical Social Workers and Licensed Professional Counselor’s also must have Master’s level degrees and must complete thousands of hours of supervised experience before getting licensed (like MFTs). LCSWs tend to have a community based focus and you’ll find many of them working in organizations like mental health centers and hospitals. Substance Abuse counselors have varying degrees of education (ranging from AA degrees to Master’s level) and they specifically work with individuals on substance use issues.
There is so much to know about each field. I would be doing a disservice by claiming that this is all you need to know. My hope is that this post gives you a glimpse into the fascinating and large (and sometimes confusing) world of psychology and behavioral health. I encourage you to Google any of these professions that stand out to you!
No matter what type of professional you seek, ALWAYS make sure they are registered with their appropriate agency. You can do this by going to https://www.breeze.ca.gov. All you have to know is the provider’s name. There are individuals out there that claim to be “therapists” or “counselors”. If they can’t provide to you a valid licensing or registration number (that is verifiable) approach with caution! They may have little to no education or experience, and because they don’t answer to a licensing board, you may have no recourse should they provide sub par or downright dangerous services.