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Tips for Choosing a Psychotherapist:
Deciphering the Degrees

By considering a prospective therapist's credentials along with the particular license they possess, you may be able to determine the amount and kind of academic training and experience they have had.

Doctors of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Psychology (Psy.D.), or Education (Ed.D.) have usually completed four or more years of graduate school and are all eligible for licensing. However, only those who have been licensed can call themselves psychologists. There are many Ph.D.'s from other related or unrelated academic fields who still practice therapy without being licensed or clinically trained. Psychologists can also specialize in a wide variety of non-clinical practice areas, including statistical research, industrial psychology, diagnostic testing and evaluations.

Licensed Social Workers (LCSW), Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT), and Professional Counselors (LPC) usually have at least two years of graduate school and have earned a Masters' Degree (some may have doctoral degrees).

Licensed Social Workers often have other credentials: B.S.W. (Bachelor's of Social Work), M.S.W. (Master's of Social Work), A.C.S.W. (Academy of Certified Social Workers; a 2 yr post graduate national credential), BCD (Board Certified Diplomate; 5 yr post graduate credential) or DCSW (Diplomate of Clinical Social Work; 5 yr post graduate credential). Social workers are also trained to specialize in a variety of areas in addition to clinical practice including community organization and development, and administrative management.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors have other Master's degrees such as: M.A. (Master of Arts), M.S. (Master of Science) or M.Ed. (Master of Education). Marriage and Family Therapists have specialized training in the area of family systems while Professional Counselors may have a variety of more generalized training in the area of psychology and counseling.

Other Practicing Professionals

There are many other professionals who may practice forms of psychotherapy. The list includes: Pastoral Counselors: M.Div. (Master of Divinity), or Th.D. (Doctor of Theology); Psychiatric Nurses: R.N. (Registered Nurse) or M.S.N. (Masters of Science in Nursing); and Alcohol Counselors: C.A.C. I, II, or III (Certified Addiction Counselors). Psychiatrists: M.D. (Medical Doctors); Psychoanalysts: (anyone trained or practicing Freudian or analytic styled psychodynamic approach); Hypnotherapists: anyone trained or practicing hypnosis); Sex Therapists: (anyone trained or practicing sex therapy).

Summing It All Up

A highly recommended, experienced and licensed therapist may have the right credentials, with a wall covered with prestigious diplomas and certificates, and still not be very effective in helping you. As ironic, an unknown unlicensed therapist with a limited amount of experience may be just the right match for you. Some people have a natural ability to listen and communicate well with others. This factor alone can sometimes make all the difference in being helped. In the long run, the theoretical practice style or technique one uses may not make much difference at all. Most likely, the ideal therapist for you has a healthy balance of:

Professional credentials and training
A natural ability to communicate
A long history of having helped many others effectively with caring and respect

The Impact of Managed Health Care on Psychotherapy

Recent economic and political priorities towards national health care reform, demand that psychotherapy be brief, symptom relieving and cost effective. Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO's) and managed health care organizations that regulate and limit the practice of health care in a competitive market may eliminate the affordability of mental health care for many people. Most health insurance companies that provide mental health benefits for "mental and nervous disorders" now contract with independent managed health care organizations to allocate, monitor and regulate mental health care treatment and insurance benefits.

What this means is that a managed health care organization could limit and control the amount and kind of therapy treatment seemingly available to you in your health benefits plan. It is important to understand that while you may be going to a competent therapist, your insurance company, as regulated through managed health care, may not cover the style and length of treatment that you or your therapist feel is warranted. You may be forced to make a decision about whether you and your therapist are willing to continue ongoing treatment even when your insurance benefits are discontinued. You may therefore want to ask your therapist how they would handle your fees, should you find that your therapy is no longer covered by your insurance plan. 

Best Wishes on Your Journey

I hope this article has been helpful in giving you a better understanding about what it takes to find a good therapist. You deserve to have caring, effective, professional help that is also affordable. Everyone does. You also have a right to be satisfied with the service you receive. You are ultimately responsible for the direction your life takes. The decisions you make today, influences where your life leads into tomorrow. Selecting a therapist who can guide you along the way for a part of your journey, may insure that you arrive safely at your chosen destination. Good luck in your life's journey! May you find the help you are seeking and continue to live your life with health and well being.

Barry Erdman

Licensed family, marriage, mental, Therapist
licensed family therapist
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