help4yourfamily

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Who’s Who in the World of Mental Health

Mental Health Awareness Ribbon

Mental Health Awareness Ribbon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

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May 25, 2012 - Posted by | thinking about therapy? | , , , , , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. Reblogged this on A Little Local Color.

    Comment by kenyatta2009 | May 25, 2012 | Reply

  2. Kate, great distinctions. I was wondering if you could talk about the specifics of attachment disorders. I am assuming that you deal with a range of issues stretching from one pole to the opposite pole.

    Comment by queenoffamilosity | May 25, 2012 | Reply

    • Ask and you shall receive. Give me a week’s turnover time. Also, is there any aspect in particular you would like me to focus on? An age range? Symptoms? Contributing factors? Behavioral challenges? An overview of the spectrum of attachment? Thanks for asking 🙂

      Comment by help4yourfamily | May 25, 2012 | Reply

      • Oh, wonderful! Maybe an overview of the spectrum of attachment and contributing factors.

        Comment by queenoffamilosity | May 25, 2012

  3. I am actually going to post this next Wednesday instead of Friday as I originally planned so that I can participate in Blogging for LGBT Families day 🙂 Stay tuned!

    Comment by help4yourfamily | May 30, 2012 | Reply


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