There can be many variables, moving pieces, and motivations that help you decide to start therapy. But once you’ve reached this decision, what happens next?
Today we’re going to map out how by identifying your needs or goals you can clarify what kind of mental health professional you will be looking for. Before we dive in, let’s quickly review the different types of mental health clinicians since with all the acronyms and “psychos” thrown in, it’s easy to get a little lost…
A mental health professional primer
Psychiatric Nurse, CRNP: Can prescribe medication. Cannot provide therapy.
LCPC (or LPC, depending on your state): Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. Also known as a psychotherapist. Can provide therapy. Cannot prescribe medication.
LCSW: Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Can provide therapy. Cannot prescribe medication. (Difference between LCSW and LCPC is education, training, certification requirements.)
LMFT: Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Can provide therapy, specializes in couples and families. Cannot prescribe medication.
Psychiatrist, PhD: Provides psychiatric evaluation. Can prescribe medication. Typically does not conduct therapy.
Psychologist, Phd or PsyD: Can provide therapy and psychological assessment/evaluation. Cannot prescribe medication.
Matching your needs to your therapist
Maybe you are well-aware of what your goals are for therapy. Maybe you’re not quite sure (and this is OK. see part 1.) Whether you have a sense of what you want to work through or not, take a moment to write, draw, or talk out what is going on in your life right now, what you notice happening outside of you and what’s going on inside. For example…
“I have just moved and started a new job. I am having trouble finding my footing and connecting to a community.”
“Life is the same as it’s been for the last five years (hey-o) but I now wake up feeling tense and on edge with racing thoughts.”
“I just received the invitation to my 15 year high school reunion and it’s brought up some painful memories that I can’t seem to escape.”
By writing or talking this out, you will get a clearer sense of what you’re experiencing right now and a few hints as to what you need your therapist’s areas of focus or specializations to be. If you have just gone through a personal, relational or professional, you might want to find someone who focuses on life transitions. If you are experiencing new thoughts or feelings that are causing you distress, you may want someone who specializes in mood disorders like anxiety or depression. If you are wanting to enter therapy with your partner, you will need to find an LMFT or a therapist with training in relationship or marriage counseling. And if you have persistent painful memories or flashbacks, a trauma expert could be your best fit.
Next time we’ll talk logistics: contacting a mental health professional, location, payment…all the good stuff.