Navigating the Mental Health System

I often hear laypeople with limited experience within the mental health system admit a level of confusion when it comes to who provides therapeutic services.  The aim of this blog is attempt clarify who provides therapeutic services and what type of services, in general, are provided by each.

To start, I am a licensed psychologist in the state of New Jersey.  To become a licensed psychologist, one must obtain a doctorate in psychology which can take anywhere from 4 to 8 years after one receives a bachelor’s degree.  Following the awarding of the doctoral degree in psychology, on must accrue approximately 1750 hours of supervised post-doctoral training (which is approximately two years).  Following the accumulation of these hours, one must sit for and take the Examination for the Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP), prepare a written case for the State Board of Psychological Examiners, and pass the Oral Examination.  Licensed psychologists provide a myriad of services to their clients such as individual therapy, family therapy, group therapy, psychological assessment, behavioral consultation, program planning and evaluation, and forensic consultation.  Licensed psychologists typically have a Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D.

A licensed clinical social worker can also provide psychotherapy to individuals in a private practice.  To become a licensed clinical social worker or L.C.S.W., one must obtain a Masters Degree in Social Work, which typically takes two years, obtain a proscribed number of supervised clinical hours, and pass a state administered licensing exam. L.C.S.W.’s typically provide individual and/or family therapy to a variety of clients with a variety of needs.  The number of L.C.S.W.’s continues to grow, because it takes only 2 years after finishing one’s Bachelor’s Degree, rather than the 4-8 years of training it takes to become a licensed psychologist.

A licensed professional counselor (L.P.C.) has obtained at least a Masters Degree in Counseling or Psychology, which typically takes two years and must pass a state licensing exam.  L.P.C.’s provide individual, group, and family therapy.

A licensed marriage and family therapist has obtained a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (2-3 years of training) and must pass a state licensing exam to practice.  A licensed marriage and family therapist typically treats either parts or the whole family during sessions.

Finally, a Psychiatrist has received their medical degree (M.D.).  This means they have completed medical school with a specialization in psychiatry.  A psychiatrist is typically Board Certified, which means that they have received specialized training after they finished medical school in psychiatry.  The role of the psychiatrist has shifted greatly over the past 20 years.  Currently, very few psychiatrists provide ongoing psychotherapy.  Most psychiatrists are seen to evaluate and monitor the need for psychotropic medication.

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