Straight Up Guide to Mental Health Professionals
These guides were born out of Noah and Christine’s frustration with overly complicated and jargon-filled articles, newsletters, books, and therapy websites. Our mission is to create clear and practical guides in order to learn, grow from challenges, and lead more meaningful and impactful lives.
When we first began looking at graduate schools in psychology, we remember being confused as to what the various titles, degrees, and licenses all meant. This is the article we wish we could have read at that time. The mental health field and the various labels of mental health practitioners are organized around the amount of education and degree earned, as well as the license is given on a state level.
This is someone who went to medical school and then specialized in mental health. They typically go to medical school for four years, and then attend residency for an additional four years. Psychiatrists primarily treat their patients through medication and their sessions are centered around diagnosis, medication, and medication management. Some psychiatrists can do therapy, but this tends not to be the focus of their practice. Having gone to medical school, they often to view things through a biological lens.
Education: 4 years of medical school, and 4 years of residency.
License/Title: MD, Doctor of Medicine
These are doctoral-level clinicians, either with a Psy.D. or Ph.D. at the end of their name. Psy.D.. (Doctor of Psychology) programs tend to be more clinically-oriented, meaning that they focus on the treatment of patients. Ph.D (Doctor of Philosophy) programs tend to focus more on research. Psychologists have training in assessment, which is the art and science of testing, and most have to write dissertations. Psychologists practice from a variety of different orientations, or styles, that vary greatly.
Education: 4-6 years of graduate training plus 1-2 years of internship.
License/Title: Psy.D. or Ph.D., both are referred to as Psychologist.
A therapist is a master’s level clinician, or MFT, who specializes in treating couples and families. They have a different license than psychologists, and do not have training in assessment. They are trained in what is referred to as “Family Systems” – meaning that they can treat the family and its interlocking parts as well as individuals.
Education: 1-2 years of graduate training plus 1-2 years of internship.
License/Title: MFT, Marriage and Family Therapist
Licensed social workers or LCSWs, who have a master’s degree in social work. They tend to specialize in case management and in helping people access services through various agencies, but many have branched out into doing therapy.
Education: Two years of graduate training plus 1-2 years of supervised experienced.
License/Title: LCSW, Licensed Social Worker
This is a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, social worker or other mental health professionals who has undergone additional training in psychoanalytic psychotherapy, which is the type that Freud and Jung practiced. These programs are often five years in length but the states have not officially provided the license or sanction.
Education: 5+ years of post-graduate training.
License/Title: Can call themselves “psychoanalyst,” but not an official license.
These are practitioners who use behavior analysis to treat people. They frequently work with people with autism, but not exclusively. They use positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement (desirable consequences), and positive and negative punishment (undesirable consequences) to increase and decrease the frequency of a behavior.
Education: Two years of graduate training.
License/Title: ABA or BCBA
These are certified drug counselors who work primarily with the substance abuse population. They tend to recover themselves, but it does not require.
Education: Varies greatly by state.
License/Title: CADC (Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor)
Life Coaches have varying amounts of training but no specific degree or license. It can be effective for motivating people, holding them accountable, and even working on specific behaviors. However, they don’t have adequate training to treat most mental health issues.
Education: None required
All things being equal, more training is probably better than less training. However, it is not the only thing important in finding a mental health professional. Years of experience count for something, as does the amount of personal work that a person has done. There is a great deal of variation in the quality of mental health professionals, and it is a personal decision for each individual.
Christine Izquierdo and Noah Laracy are the co-founders of Straight Up Treatment, an anxiety disorder specialty treatment center. Straight Up Treatment utilizes a variety of cognitive-behavioral approaches to treat anxiety based conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Social and Performance Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Depression, and Generalized Anxiety.
You can learn more about them here.
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