When looking for someone to help you overcome whatever is holding you back from leading a productive life full of positive, loving relationships, it is beneficial to understand the differences between Psychiatrists (M.D.s), Psychologists (Ph.D.s &, Psy.D.s), and Licensed Psychotherapists (LCSWs, LMFTs, & LPCCs).
Psychiatrists are the only therapists who can prescribe medication (the military, three states and Guam make an exception for this and permit trained psychologists to prescribe certain medications for the “treatment of mental health disorders“). Pharmaceuticals such as anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication only fall within the scope of of practice of medical doctors. None of the other therapists can prescribe or counsel you on pharmaceuticals.
Psychologists fall into two categories: research psychologists — Ph.D.s who primarily conduct studies at universities — and clinical psychologists Psy.D.s (and some Ph.D.s also) who did graduate level work for 3–5 years and wrote doctoral dissertations on their particular areas of interest.
On the Master of Arts degree (MA) level there are Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs), Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors, (LPCCs) and Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs).
LMFTs focus on individuals, couples, and families whose problems regard their relationships.
LPCCs also work with individuals, couples, and families but are distinct from LMFTs because we can work also work with clients regarding individual issues such as Career Counseling. So if you wish to speak to someone regarding Career Counseling then you should look for an LPCC.
LCSWs are similar to LMFTs working with individuals, families, or groups on relationship issues but most often in social settings such as schools and clinics. However, some LCSWs also work in private practices.
Differences in the scopes of practice of LMFTs, LPCCs, LCSWs as well as LEPs (Licensed Educational Psychologists) can be found on the your state government’s website. For example, for the state of California here is our Board of Behavioral Sciences’ website.
There is no “one size fits all” regarding therapy or counseling. For many of my clients it is about having a confidential, authentic, honest, empowering, emotionally supportive relationship in which you can explore new possibilities, get fresh perspectives regarding old patterns, and support adjusting to new situations; for others it is about being inspired to make healthier choices; for others it is about just feeling heard — knowing that it is alright to think or feel whatever you are experiencing; and for others it is about having specific problem-solving strategies such as those of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy); and for others it is about having a directive moral responsibility to answer to — someone who is not going to hesitate to say, “Seems like your addiction is adversely effecting your life — doesn’t it?”
There are thousands of licensed professionals in your community available to help you. Do not be afraid to shop around to find a therapist who is going to meet you where you are at and provide the services, tools, advice, direction and emotional support that is going to help you overcome whatever is holding you back from leading a productive life full of positive, loving relationships and thriving in whatever fields that you are passionate about.