What is the difference between a Psychologist, Psychiatrist, LMFT, LMSW, and LPCC?

When seeking help for your child and family, it is important to understand the choices you have. There are many helping professionals, some are licensed and some are not. When you choose a licensed professional, you are choosing someone who is bound by laws, held to ethical standards, and is required to obtain on-going training in current research and clinical practices. Qualifications and requirements vary for each professional license and can be different depending on the state/area the person is licensed in. Below is some general information about various licensed mental health professionals commonly found in the State of California. This information is meant to be used as a general guide. For further information, questions, or updates to these standards, please feel free to contact us.

Psychologists A psychologist is a clinician who holds a Doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D.) or a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (Ph.D.). These clinicians have spent at least 5 years of graduate work studying psychology, then complete 1-2 years of internship, and then another 1-2 years of supervised clinical work experience before qualifying for the right to sit for the licensing examination. A psychologist does not prescribe medication. Instead, they provide psychotherapy through their in-depth knowledge of psychological theory, therapy, research, and diagnostic testing. Psychologists may specialize in psychological testing and are the only group of clinicians trained to do so. Psychological testing requires years of training that involves not only how to administer the tests, but also how to score and integrate the test information with clinical interviews, background information, knowledge of personality theory, human development, and research. The title “psychologist” can only be used by someone who has completed the above training and has then passed both national and state licensing examinations. Informally, a psychologist may be referred to as a “therapist,” “counselor,” or “clinician.” However, these are more general terms that can be used by other mental health professionals who are not formally trained and licensed psychologists.

Psychiatrists A psychiatrist is a Medical Doctor (M.D.) who has graduated from a medical school. A psychiatrist’s training focuses on general medicine while in medical school. They will then go on to 3-4 years of residency where they will specialize in psychiatry. For the most part, psychiatrists complete psychiatric evaluations for the purpose of determining if an individual would be appropriate for treatment with medications. If so determined, the psychiatrist prescribes the medications and then tracks the patient for medication management. Medication management includes initially following the patient closely until they are stabilized with the proper dosage and then usually once every 1-3 months for maintenance.

Social Workers Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW’s) hold Masters Degrees. Their training typically consists of two years of graduate school and 1-2 years of internship. LCSW’s assess, diagnose, intervene and treat individuals, families and groups with psychosocial problems. They also work to connect individuals with community resources. LCSW’s must pass national and state examinations before obtaining their license in California.

Mental Health Counselors (LPCC’s and LMFT’s) Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCC’s) and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT’s) hold Masters Degrees. Often they have completed two years of graduate training and 1-2 years of work experience under supervision. LPCC’s and LMFT’s provide counseling to individuals, families and groups. They, too, must pass two examinations, clinical and laws & ethics, before obtaining their license in California.

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