What is a psychotherapist?

If you need help with depression, anxiety, trauma or interpersonal problems, you should be looking fora psychotherapist.  In looking for a therapist, you should know that therapists must have one of several types of education and a corresponding license. Anyone calling themselves a psychotherapist must be trained at a Master’s level or above, in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, social work, or mental health counseling. Psychotherapists can be licensed clinical psychologists (Ph.Ds or Psy.Ds), psychiatrists (MDs), licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs), or licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs). Practitioners with these degrees and licenses have been trained at a graduate level according to national standards set by their professional organizations. In order to practice in their respective fields, they must have been examined and certified by their professional state (and sometimes national) licensing boards.

Psychotherapists from one of these categories have been trained to recognize and treat a range of psychological problems. Some psychotherapists are generalists, meaning that they are skilled at treating an array of issues and may be trained in more than one therapy approach. Generalists often have big ‘toolkits’ to pull from, and can tailor interventions according to the unique needs of each patient. Others have a specialization, preferring to practice within a narrower spectrum or ‘niche,’ and using a specific approach. This doesn’t mean that generalists are less skilled or knowledgeable than specialists, or that they don’t have a specialty (and conversely, specialists are often quite capable of treating issues outside of their specialty).

For example, I am a generalist who specializes in relationship problems, trauma and emotion regulation, but I also have a lot of experience working with people who have problems with depression, anxiety and life transitions. Generalists like me often refer out people who present with particular types of problems that are better treated by someone who specializes. These problems can include certain types of eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, addiction and specific types of trauma, among others.

It’s important to note that on its own, a PhD, PsyD, MSW or MHC and a license does not make for a competent, ethical therapist. However, these degrees represent thousands of hours of intensively supervised clinical training and coursework and if you want good therapy, you should work with one of these types of clinicians. 

Please see the Resources section of my Blog page for great ways to find a therapist.