How To Choose Mental Health Providers

How to choose mental health providers

 I often meet people who do not understand all the different terminologies of mental health providers and what they offer.  This is a good cheat sheet. Many states have different accreditations, licenses, etc.

The following titles are mental health providers in many different ways and may have individual specialties. They all have slightly different training, experience, backgrounds, and even education.  The state of illinois, and many states, have stringent requirements to become a therapist.

  1. We must complete a Master’s degree in the field of Counseling, Social Work, or Marriage and Family Therapy.  These programs provide extensive training and experiential training, doing practice. A mental health provider can have one of these degrees but work within an agency, hospital, or school and not provide therapy in the private sector. 

2. Then one graduates with at least 48 hours, registers to take the test for initial licensing in Illinois – meaning you may practice under supervision of an experienced, fully licensed individual, or work in an agency.  

3. After 2 years of full time practice and supervision to get fully licensed as a therapist. This requires taking a state administered clinical licensing test. When we pass, we can work on our own, able to bill insurance companies or medicaid for your services.

4.  So for Illinois, a social worker who just graduates and takes the first licensing test for Illinois is an LSW or a counselor is a LPC.  So now we must work 2 years being taught by experience and supervision how to do therapy. We then take a 2nd difficult test in Illinois and if we pass and our supervision is signed off by a supervisor, we will become a LCSW or an LCPC.

Then We Become Licensed Clinical Counselors  and Social Workers

5.  Our title now changes from  Licensed Social Worker or Licensed Professional Counselor to Licensed CLINICAL Social Worker and Licensed CLINICAL Professional Counselor.  We have now graduated to being independent, and being seen as able to bill insurance companies. Also, we do not need someone supervising us. We have learned, and experienced many situations by this time. This can all be very expensive.  

How To Choose Mental Health Providers

6.  Marriage and Family Therapists must go through the same process and become LMFT’s.  Again, some individuals may have further education and may have doctorates, but these are usually PH.D’s, or Ed.D’s, not MD’s.

7.  After achieving clinical status, all of the above individuals must achieve/attend various amounts of continuous learning through continuing education.   

8. I must do so every 2 years, turn in proof of my continuing education, and pay a fee to the state of Illinois to renew my license.  

9. If there have been charges against an individual providing therapy, this may go against their license and they may not achieve a renewed license.  You can usually check on individuals by checking the professional regulation department of the state. There are those individuals who do unethical behavior, take advantage of individuals, etc.

10.  If you  do not trust your therapist, you will not be able to go far, and in going to therapy, you do not have to put all the power in their lap.  But decide if you do not like the therapist because you are being challenged in a therapeutic way, or an unhealthy way. It is easy to not like good therapy, because it is hard. Do an interview ahead, write down your questions, feel comfortable with your therapist.  

11. Choosing who to work with is often a comfort level decision, sometimes a referral from someone else, sometimes someone on your insurance provider list.  You should be able to interview someone before you start working with them. If you don’t feel comfortable that you will be able to trust them, perhaps you should change therapists.  The titles don’t always matter. Looking at someone’s specialty, experience, answers to your questions helps.

What Does A Psychiatrist Do?

 A psychiatrist (in most cases) offers medication prescriptions, diagnoses.  They will continue working with a person after

Psychiatrists are seldom therapy mental health providers
Psychiatrists Have Medical Degrees and Usually But Not Always Do Not Do Therapy

Psychiatrist Is Usually About Medication Prescription

an original intake appoint where they asses the need, the diagnosis, and then they continue meeting with the person to assess success of medication, perhaps make changes, and as time goes by, will often make new discoveries about behaviors or changes needing to be made.  Usually the intake appointment is the longest and after that, many appointments are about medication management. A psychiatrist is a doctor. They are an MD and can prescribe medication.

Psychologists as Mental Health Providers

A Psychologist is has a number of variations.  It is best you make a phone call and find out their specialty.  There are:      *school psychologists who are involved in academic testing to determine a student’s need for academic services.  Their training is usually very specific for a school setting and not about therapy. They usually have a master’s degree, although this may vary by state.  

*Some psychologists in the private setting who may do psychological testing for families, individuals, children as requested and then share those results with courts, etc.  For some, that is all they do.

*But there are other psychologists who may do testing, but also do therapy. *Some psychologists are interested in research.

Again, don’t assume – call them if interested.  Some of they may have master’s degrees and some may have doctorates. This usually doesn’t determine their ability to do therapy. That is an academic doctorate so they cannot provide medication subscription. A psychiatrist is the ONLY one with an M.D.  

Again, a psychiatrist USUALLY does not do ongoing therapy, charges more per hour because they are an MD, and are there to provide medication prescriptions.  But some may still do therapy. And psychologists often provide testing, but many also provide therapy.

Individuals trained for the school setting in psychology, social work, and counseling, often do NOT have the mental health licensing and training to provide therapy.  But some, like myself, are trained in both.  

Even as I write this, I realize it is confusing.  I will add a diagram to Pinterest in the future.