Choosing the Right Therapist

Seeking mental health or chemical dependency (CD) counseling can be a challenge, especially if you have never had therapy and do not know where to start. The prospect of parading one’s problems in front of a stranger does not seem comforting unless you have done some research and can feel confident that the counselor is well trained, reputable and is a good match for you. This article will help you understand the differences between some of the clinical professionals in the field, and will discuss how to pick an individual that meets your needs. Please remember that agents, through E4 Health, Inc., are available to provide assessment, brief treatment and referrals to specific professionals if long term care is needed or wanted.

To start, it is important to clarify the various options available to someone who is looking for mental health or CD treatment. In some states, anybody can say they are a “counselor” and can see clients. This does not mean they are licensed or credentialed so it is always important to ask if the person you are seeing is either licensed/credentialed or licensed/credentialed eligible (meaning they are practicing under the close supervision of a licensed/credentialed professional). Listed below are five of the mental health professionals in the field.

Psychiatrist—A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has completed four years of medical school plus a typical four-year residency in psychiatry. A psychiatrist can prescribe medication and can do talk therapy, although many only do medication management. Look for someone who is licensed by the Board of Medicine in your state.

  • Mary has been feeling anxious for several months following a promotion at work, the recent purchase of a new house and the death of her dog. She is having trouble sleeping, her stomach is in knots and she is having heart palpitations. Mary’s first task is to see her family doctor who can rule out any medical problems. Mary’s doctor can prescribe an anti-anxiety medication if there are no complications, but Mary may want to consider seeing a psychiatrist. A family doctor is a generalist while a psychiatrist specializes in mood disorders. 

Psychologist—Doctoral level psychologists (Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D) have completed three to four years of course work, a year of internship and have written a doctoral dissertation. They are trained to do

psychotherapy and may also be researchers. Once licensed, psychologists can practice independently and can provide therapy and psychological testing.

Social Worker—Master’s level social workers have completed two years of course work, which includes two to three days of supervised internship during the training. They are trained to do individual, family and group therapy. Once licensed, social workers can practice independently and can provide therapy. A social worker may also have a Ph.D. or D.S.W., meaning they have been trained at the doctorate level.

Professional Counselor—Master’s levels counselors have completed two years of course work, which includes practical experience in the field. They, too, are trained to do individual, family and group work. Once licensed or credentialed, they can practice independently and can provide therapy.

Psychiatric Nurse—Psychiatric nurses are Master’s prepared in psychiatric mental health nursing. After a specific number of hours of advanced practice under supervision, they can sit for their certification exam. They are trained to do individual, family and group therapy. Once certified, they can practice independently and can provide therapy.

Mark and his wife Erica have been having marital problems for the past two years. Both are interested in working on the relationship but feel they need help learning how to communicate better and figuring out how to have fun with one another again. Mark and Erica may do well seeing someone specializing in family or couples therapy. This may be a social worker, a professional counselor or a psychiatric nurse. The trick is to find someone who has this area of expertise. Below are some hints that could assist this couple, or you, in their search for a therapist. 

First, E4 Health, Inc. is a good place to start. The benefit you have through E4 Health, which is free and confidential, may be enough to solve the problem or issue at hand. If additional mental health intervention is needed, we have knowledge about your insurance benefits and the resources available to you. We will help match you up with a good therapist.

Word of mouth is another good way of locating someone. If a friend or family member has had a positive experience with a particular therapist, it is worth a phone call to that clinician. If you are seeking therapy for a child, the school principal, pediatrician or counselor can be helpful.

It is important to remember that you are a consumer in this process. It is okay to get several names and call the therapist to see if, over the phone, it sounds like he or she has the training and expertise to meet your needs, and is easy to talk to. If it sounds good, make an appointment for a face-to-face visit. This does not mean you have to begin therapy with this person; it can merely be an opportunity for you to get more information and/or confirmation that the match is a solid one.

Seeking therapy can be scary. The more informed you are about your options, the more you will get out of your counseling experience. Call us for a consultation on your current needs.


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