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  • Sam DiFranco

What Type of Mental Health Professional Do I Need?

This is a brief article meant to inform you of the different levels and types of mental health counselors. Many people who go to counseling are not aware of the specific criteria that mental health counselors have to meet, or the training that therapists are required to receive.

When you search for a counseling center you are essentially looking for someone who will provide you with therapy, or sometimes medication, to help with life’s stressors or even a severe mental health issue. But with all the titles and different types of practitioners, who will meet your specific needs? Below is a brief synopsis of education level and general duties of mental health professionals that might help you with your search.

Psychiatrist- A psychiatrist is a medical doctor that has specialized in psychological disorders. He/she is able to prescribe medication such as anti-depressants and mood regulators to those people suffering from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental health diagnoses. A psychiatrist may or may not provide psychotherapy, but is more interested in monitoring and regulating symptomology. General practitioners are also able to prescribe medications for anxiety and depression, but are not specialists in the field and therefore may not provide an accurate diagnosis.

Psychologist- A psychologist is also a mental health professional. There are several different types of psychologists, so for the sake of this article we will talk specifically about clinical and counseling psychologists. These professionals provide mental health assessments and diagnoses, along with counseling and therapy. Psychologists operated under a doctorate degree, and receive sufficient training to provide services to clients. However, a large number of psychologists are in the teaching and research professions as that is what is emphasized in PhD and PsyD programs.

Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC)- These professionals operate at the very least with a master’s degree. LMHCs specialize in mental health counseling and psychotherapy and have recieved at least 2 years of experience prior to becoming licensed. Different states may have different names for this professional such as Licensed Professional Counselor or LPC, but the work emphasis is the same. Counselors provide services that are based on developmental theories and evidence based practice. They help with issues such as depression, anxiety, phase of life issues, grief and loss, family issues, divorce, marriage counseling, troubled teens, and just about any life stressor you can think of. Severe mental health disorders can be treated by an LMHC, however it is usually done in conjunction with a psychiatrist and medication management.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)- These professionals are also required to have at least a master’s degree, however the program emphasis is more geared towards marriage and family dynamics. The same licensure rules apply (which may be different by state) as with the LMHC. LMFTs are able to see individuals too however as they still have sufficient training in mental health counseling.

Registered Mental Health Counseling Interns- This group of professionals have a master’s degree and are completing their training before becoming licensed professionals. A registered intern must recieve at least two years of experience and conduct 1500 hours of therapy, under the supervision of a qualified licensed professional. LMFT and LMHC licensure both have this requirement. Registered interns often work from a lower payment scale due to their level of experience. Interns- Each LMHC, LMFT, or psychologist, must receive a sufficient amount of training prior to graduating. Interns are able to provide mental health counseling services to clients under the supervision of a licensed professional. Since these professionals are still involved in their advanced degree programs, they are still learning and may have a little less experience than some others. Interns also work under a sliding scale fee due to their experience level. If you are searching for a counselor, it may be important to do some additional research on the benefits and costs of seeing each of the professionals listed above. For some people who are unable to afford licensed professionals, a mental health intern is a great alternative. Or, maybe you are looking for a seasoned professional who takes your insurance. In this case a licensed professional may fit your needs more accurately. Or maybe you feel that medication will help you best, which you would then seek the help of a psychiatrist. In any case, it is important to match up with the best possible professional for your particular needs. For more information on mental health professionals and counseling services, visit our website at

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