Therapist vs. Psychiatrist Plus Great Questions to Ask a New Provider

question-38595_960_720What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a therapist? What does LCSW or LPC stand for? If questions like these sound familiar, read below for more information about the different types of counselors available to help families in need as well as some great questions to ask a new provider. Are there any other questions you would add to the list?

Different kinds of counselors based on license type:

LCSW stands for licensed clinical social worker. LCSWs have Master’s level education in Social Work which typically focuses on the client in their environment. LCSW’s counseling can be considered a holistic approach, focusing on a strength-based perspective. The LCSW will assess the client, looking at internal and external strengths, and utilize these during treatment. The LCSW will also helping the client connect to community resources as needed. They can provide individual, family, couples and group counseling modalities. Many specialize in specific areas.

LPC stands for licensed professional counselor. LPCs have Master’s level education in Counseling. LPC’s focus on the individual client and can employ a wide variety of methodologies during treatment. Often therapy starts with rapport building, then goal setting and ultimately behavior changes. While focusing on the individual, the LPC will help the client to better understand how she can affect change to reduce/alleviate stress. LPCs can provide individual, family, couples and group counseling modalities. Many specialize in specific areas.

Ph.D./Psy.D. – Psychologists can may have a Master’s degree but most have a doctoral degree. Ph.D’.s typically focus on research and testing while Psy.D.’s tend to work more in clinical/therapy settings. Psy.D’s often focus on a specific theory while providing care. They can provide individual, family, couples and group counseling modalities. Many specialize in specific areas.

M.D./D.O – Psychiatry – M.D. stands for Medical Doctor while D.O. stands for Doctor of Osteopathy. Both are medical physicians with very similar academic requirements. The main difference is that D.O.’s receive an additional training in hands-on manipulation of the muscle-skeletal systems. Either license can practice psychiatry after completing specific training and successful passing examinations. Psychiatrists specialize in medication to treat mental health and substance use disorders. They can use counseling as a treatment modality but more and more rely on other professions (LCSW, LPC, Psychologist) for this. They focus on psychotropic medication initiation and symptom management. Often times, clients seek medication initiation and management from their Primary Care Physicians (PCP) or OB/GYN’s. Both specialties are qualified to prescribe psychotropic medication. It is recommended that the client have an open conversation with her OBGYN or PCP about psychotropic medication management. Based on her unique symptoms and the physician’s level of experience, it could be recommended that she see a psychiatrist for more specialized care.

Getting the most out of your experience:

Each therapist is going to bring his or her unique set of skills and experiences to the table. Do not hesitate to advocate for yourself and ask questions like:

  • How long have you been in practice?
  • What is your area of expertise?
  • Do you help people with concerns like mine?
  • What kinds of treatments do you offer? Individual, groups, family, etc.
  • What theory do you work from? And, can you explain that a bit to me?
  • Do you focus on past events, or more on current issues?
  • Will my family participate in counseling or only me?
  • Can I bring my baby to the session?
  • Do you take insurance? Do you have a sliding scale (cost based on your income)?
  • What are your hours?
  • What is your cancellation policy? Do I have to pay for sessions I miss?
  • In an emergency, how can I reach you?
  • Most important is how you feel about the counselor. A good counselor will make you feel comfortable
  • and know which approach to pick based on your unique situation. While finding the right match is most
  • important, it can take a few sessions to figure this out. Don’t expect to always know immediately if
  • someone is going to work. It’s often recommended to try a counselor at least twice before deciding on a
  • match or not. Some counselors offer an intake appointment, either on the phone or in person. This is
  • usually a 30 minute conversation to get to know one another a bit and see if you’d like to work with
  • each other. And if they don’t advertise this service, don’t be afraid to ask for it. It’s about advocating for
  • you, and this is a reasonable request.
  • Some questions to ask yourself after meeting with the counselor:
  • Do I like this person?
  • Do I feel comfortable with this person?
  • Do I think the counselor understands my concerns and is on the same page about the next steps?
  • Do I feel confident the counselor knows how to help me heal?

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