Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
In the field of mental health, you will come across many titles for professionals. It can be confusing to understand what the differences are. Here is a quick primer to walk you through the different types of helping professionals in the mental health field.
Social Workers- We typically have a Master’s Degree followed by a few years of supervision with a mandatory test to obtain a license. Each state has different standards for Social Workers and it is a good idea to check what a license means in your state. In my state, Maryland, in order to have my clinical license I needed to complete my Master’s in Social Work, then have a minimum of two years and 1500 hours of supervised work time. After that I needed to pass my licensure exam. In my state there are also Social Workers that have other certifications that mean they do not have as much training or experience, and or that they declined to take or did not pass the licensing exam meaning they still must be supervised by someone trained to supervise Social Workers. The lens Clinical social workers use when working with clients is typically to look at a person in the context of their environment to see what environmental stressors a client has and to work with a client to see how we can help them better manage within the system they live in. Social Workers do not prescribe medication
Psychologists have a doctoral degree. They also are required to take an exam following their degree and need to be supervised during and after school for a period of time before practicing without being supervised. Psychologists tend to look at patients (Social Workers call them clients, psychologists call them patients) through more of a medical model i.e.- in what ways is this person not functioning? What are the symptoms…let’s treat the symptoms. Psychologists do not prescribe medication.
Professional Counselors have varying ways to describe themselves, Licensed Family Counselors, or Licensed Marriage and Family Counselors. Like Social Workers, Professional Counselors have Master’s Degrees with supervision and testing following their Graduate Degrees, however their Master’s is in Counseling rather than Social Work and they are more likely to be trained in methods akin to a Psychologist, and/or have specific training for their license such as specialization in Marriage and Family work rather than working with individuals. They do not prescribe medication.
Pastoral Counselors have a Master’s or Doctoral degree in Pastoral Counseling. They come to counseling with a spiritual perspective often related to a specific religion and will bring in religious and mental health elements into their work with a client. They do not prescribe medication.
Psychiatrists are trained medical doctors. Psychiatrists have been through a full medical training with all the tests involved with becoming a doctor but, just as a Pediatrician specializes in working with children, Psychiatrists specialized in mental health. They most definitely tend to see patients through the medical model and do prescribe medication. Psychiatrists often meet with patients for about 30 minutes and do medication monitoring. I would highly recommend that anyone seeing a Psychiatrist also see a Psychologist or Social Worker as it is unlikely you will be getting any talk therapy with a Psychiatrist.
Mental health providers may be found in many different places, schools, hospitals, and in private practice. They may provide individual, group, couples or family therapy, or a combienation of all of those. No one group of practitioners has been found to be more successful in treatment than any other group. However, there is one factor that increases the effectiveness of treatment across mental health provider types. It will probably come as no big surprise that regardless of training background or methodology, the strength of the relationship between a client/patient and the provider is the number one predictor for success in treatment. So, if you see someone a few times, and the chemistry is just not there, it is probably time to switch to another provider.
- Finding the right counselor/therapist for you and your family (help4yourfamily.com)
- How to know when you or your child need a therapist (help4yourfamily.com)
Kate Oliver, LCSW-C (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) has been a clinician working with traumatized and attachment-disturbed children for the last thirteen years. She is co-owner of A Healing Place, a successful private practice in Columbia, Maryland, since 2007.
Kate earned her BA from Goucher College in 1997 and her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Maryland in Baltimore in 2000. Kate first worked with the Sexual Trauma, Treatment, Advocacy and Recovery Center (STTAR Center) working with abused and neglected children in Columbia, Maryland. While working for the STTAR Center, Kate found that while some children responded to traditional child therapy practices, there were a significant number of children who showed little or no improvement in their overall emotional well-being. Kate sought out specialized training to learn more about attachment, the bond between parents and children, and found that by using attachment-based strategies built upon research by John Bowlby, and Mary Ainsworth, and models that foster parent/child attachment, even the most challenging children and their parents, saw major, life-changing shifts, not only for the children she was working with, but the parents as well.
After the STTAR Center, Kate accepted a position with Tamar’s Children, a program that took pregnant, incarcerated women from prison to a treatment facility that worked on teaching the women to bond with and attach to their babies, while also helping the women to heal their own broken attachments, and history of trauma and addiction. Kate was quickly promoted to Clinical Director of Tamar’s Children. The program was internationally recognized for having a successful, evidence-based practice using an attachment-based model. From working with some of the most severely disenfranchised parents, Kate received important information about how to help all parents maintain a happy, healthy relationship with their children with little or no additional financial investment for the parents.
In 2007, Kate co-founded A Healing Place, a mental health private group practice in Columbia, Maryland, where she focuses on working with families with children who have a history of trauma and/or attachment disturbances. A board certified supervisor, Kate has been an invited presenter to teach continuing education courses for other social workers and psychologists. In her courses, Kate teaches attachment-building techniques and presents about her sub-specialty, working with families headed by gay and lesbian parents.
Kate is a former board member for the organization COLAGE, a non-profit group that works toward community building for people with gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender parents. She is currently a member of Attachment Disorders Maryland, a group that works to educate parents and professionals about working with children with attachment related issues.
Kate lives in Columbia, Maryland is the mother of two amazing daughters, the partner to a fantastic husband, and the daughter of one mother and two gay dads. She loves to read any book that crosses her path, write (of course), and she recently started dancing again, a passion she has had since her youth.
- This is your brain on attachment
- Last Chance for Two Great Opportunities
- Mother’s Retreat Weekend- It’s Really Happening!
- Stopping the Parent Shame and Blame Game
- Making Peace With Your Inner Critic
- Putting together something fun for you!
- Quick Jobs for Kids
- Staying Strong as a Couple
- Letting Go of the Parent You Thought You Would Be
- Add a Little Awe to Your Life
- Upcoming Trainings
- Older Kids with Bathroom Issues: Why Does it Happen? How Can You Help? Part 2
- attachment disorder
- blog awards and recognition
- child development
- Groups/ trainings
- health insurance
- help for parents
- keeping children safe
- mental health
- parent support/ self improvement
- relationship issues
- resources/ book reviews
- social services
- thinking about therapy?