Doctor, PhD, psychotherapist, counselor - when searching for a mental health professional, how do you know who to choose? There are so many choices out there, and how are you supposed to know the difference between the myriad letters that follow people's names? Take me for instance - Kathy Hawkins, MA, LPC, LAC, ADS. What does all that even mean? I hope to clarify all of this for you so you can make an informed decision now and for your future therapist needs. And just a heads up, the clarity isn't really all that clear unfortunately, but bear with me.
Psychiatrist (MD) - these are medical doctors that specialize in mental health. They went to medical school. They can prescribe medication. These days they do a lot of medication management and not a lot of therapy, except for the ones that do.
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (NP) - they went to nursing school. They can prescribe medication. They do a lot of medication management and not a lot of therapy, except for the ones that do.
Clinical Psychologist (PhD) - this is a doctor of philosophy in clinical psychology. These people did not go to medical school. They got their PhD. Testing and research are their jam, although, some still do therapy too. They cannot prescribe medication.
PhD - this is a doctor of philosophy of something. Just because a therapist has a PhD, doesn't mean it's in psychology, so always look into what the PhD is in. I could be Kathy Hawkins, PhD, LPC, LAC, ADS and you might think I'm a psychologist and you might be wrong. I could have a PhD in Geophysics, which doesn't have a lot to do with psychology, and still be a therapist because of the LPC, LAC part. A geophysicist might do therapy, but that would be illegal.
LPC - this is me, a licensed professional counselor. You have to have a masters degree for this one. We work with individuals, couples, families, adults, kids, whatever. We do therapy. We don't prescribe medication.
LPCC - this is a licensed professional counselor candidate. They are working towards licensure but aren't quite there yet. They do therapy. They do not prescribe medication.
LCSW - this is a licensed clinical social worker. You have to have a masters degree for this. You can have a PhD in clinical social work too, but that doesn't make you a clinical psychologist. Social workers often work for agencies and coordinate care for people including mental health and physical health, and they get people hooked up with resources like shelter, food stamps, domestic violence help, etc. They orchestrate it all. AND, they can still do therapy too. They do not prescribe medication.
LMFT - this is a licensed marriage and family therapist. They work with couples and families and anything resembling a relationship. They also work with individuals. They do therapy. They do not prescribe medication.
CAC I, II, III, LAC - this is certified or licensed addictions counselor and there are 4 different levels. I'm a licensed addictions counselor. To be a LAC, you have to have a masters degree. To be certified, you don't need a masters degree. This is a specialization for addiction issues.
L.Ac - this is a licensed acupuncturist. Not to be confused with LAC, which has a big C and not a little c. Acupuncturists poke you with needles. They went to traditional Chinese medical school. They don't prescribe western medications, but some prescribe herbs. They aren't therapists, but often do therapy because Chinese medicine doesn't separate the mind from the body.
ADS - this is an acupuncture detox specialist. Me again. This is not an acupuncturist but a person that is certified in auricular or ear acupuncture. So I'm certified to poke you with 5 needles in each ear. Auricular acupuncture is good for general well-being. It's very relaxing and can help with cravings. You have to be a licensed professional of some sort (see all of the above) to be able to train and get certified in auricular acupuncture. Not all ADS' do therapy.
COACH- a person that helps someone get from point A to point B in a very directive way. This differs from therapy, but that's a different blog post. A therapist can also be a coach, but a coach doesn't have to have a counseling background, and there are not very many requirements to be a coach. In fact, anyone can call themselves a coach if they want to. There are coaching certifications, but they aren't regulated, so be careful about choosing a coach.
BARTENDER- a person that listens to people's problems. They may or may not have a masters degree or a PhD, but they usually aren't licensed. They prescribe cocktails but do not prescribe medication.
BARBER/HAIRSTYLIST - see above. They are licensed to be a barber or hairstylist. No prescribing of booze or drugs. But hopefully you'll look good when you leave.
That's a lot of confusing information. This certainly doesn't cover everything about each designated credential, but it covers the highlights.
Some important things to consider when looking for a therapist are:
· What are your goals? What are you looking to find out and/or accomplish?
· Do you need to see someone who prescribes medications?
· Do you need any testing done?
· Do you need a specialist?
DO YOUR HOMEWORK AND MAKE AN INFORMED DECISION.
SHOP AROUND AND ASK A LOT OF QUESTIONS.
I hope this helped. Let me know if I can help in any other way.