How to choose a counselor

So many different credentials, all those initials. How do I make sense of them? How do I know which type of counselor or therapist is best for me?

Mental and behavioral health care comes under many labels, many brands, so to speak. LPs, LPCs, LMFTs, LCSWs, LMHCs, just to name a few. If you are struggling to make a choice about which direction to go, know this: It really doesn’t matter much. You likely won’t notice the difference once we are in the room together. Though we may have different approaches to the work, any one of us can do pretty much anything another of us can do.

With one exception — prescribing medication.

If you want or need medical management of symptoms, you will need to see a medical doctor. Options here include your primary care physician or a psychiatrist. Appointments with these folks will likely be brief, around 15-20 minutes, and more costly. An initial consult with a psychiatrist might run $300 or more. (Your insurance will help you cover some, or maybe a lot, of this cost.)

But if you don’t want or need medication, what might matter most to you is how well you click with your counselor. How well she “gets” you. You must feel comfortable speaking and sharing very personal information. You must trust him. You need to feel he or she is skilled in their craft, and knowledgable.

Aside from that, you might not notice much difference between a psychologist, social worker, clinical mental health counselor, or marriage and family therapist. Yes, each of these professionals has a different training, or “speciality.” LPCs focus on people as individuals acting independently, LMFTs view the individual as affecting and being affected by their family and other social systems, and social workers often incorporate available community resources. But each of us share a common background in education and training, and each of us can be helpful, though we might go about it in different ways. Common topics of study for each profession include fun stuff like…

  • Human growth and development
  • Assessment and diagnosis
  • Counseling techniques
  • Crisis intervention
  • Psychopathology
  • Substance Abuse
  • Multiculturalism
  • Ethics

But when you sit in a chair across from one of us, you’ll likely notice more difference in us as people than as professionals with different types of training. Ultimately, the healing relationship is about human connection, not where you went to school or what you studied.

The bottom line is… go with someone you feel comfortable talking to. Sharing with. Trusting. That’s important for our work together to be successful.

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