How do I find the Right Therapist?: The Difference Between Various Mental Health Providers

If you have been trying to find the right therapist for your needs, you have likely run into a lot of acronyms that look like a bunch of gibberish. Have you asked yourself, “What’s the difference between an LPCC, LCSW, LMFT, PsyD, PhD, MD, or PMHNP??” What you didn’t realize are those little letters behind someone’s name can tell you everything you need to know about the education a mental health professional has and what their specialty and training is in. Let me explain what those little letters mean, and why it is so important to be able to distinguish them in order to find the right mental health professional for you.

therapist office, right therapist, waiting room

What if they don’t have any letters behind their name?

You may have come across a lot of Instagram pages giving out amazing mental health advice from someone who calls themselves a “Mental Health Advocate” or a “Coach”. These accounts can be positive additions to your IG feed, but they shouldn’t be relied upon for professional mental health treatment. Mental health advocates and coaches have good intentions, but are not legally allowed to diagnose or treat any mental health conditions. If you are looking for someone who will provide direct advice and personal anecdotes about how to cope with stress in your life, these individuals may just be a good fit. However, if you want to have a professional assist with your mental health management and treatment, keep reading.

What’s the difference between Licensed Professionals like LPCCs, LCSWs, and LMFTs?

Each of these acronyms stand for a different licensed mental health provider with at least a Masters level education in their perspective fields. They also distinguish between those that have passed their perspective licensing board examinations and those who are still associates (AMFT, APCC, ASW, etc.). Counseling, Social Work, and Marriage & Family Therapy are all closely related fields with slight variances on how they approach treating clients’ needs.

A LPCC stands for a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, and their education focuses on treating mental health illnesses in individuals. They often treat co-occuring substance use and mental health diagnoses, and focus their treatment around the individual and their unique needs. LPCCs often provide individual therapy or group therapy treatments.

LCSW is short for Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Licensed Clinical Social Workers can identify and implement a treatment plan that incorporates multiple community supports. These professionals can diagnose and treat individuals or families, and are great at navigating community systems and seeing how larger systems impact a family dynamic.

As a LMFT myself, I know a great deal about the treatment I can provide as a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. LMFTs hold at least a Masters degree specializing in marriage & family therapy, and can recognize the impact family of origin and larger societal constructs can have on an individual. LMFTs do a great deal of studying how relationships form, interact, and influence each individual involved, and utilize this knowledge to assist in the treatment of both individual’s mental health and couple’s/family’s mental health needs. We work with individuals, couples, and families on navigating life’s stressors, childhood trauma, parent-child relationships, pre-marital or pre-natal counseling, and often specialize in couples counseling. LMFTs can diagnose using the DSM-5 and often times collaborate with other healthcare professionals to make sure you are getting the most well-rounded treatment for your unique needs.

What’s the difference between a PhD and PsyD?

This is a question that I hear a lot, and actually has a very important distinction between the two. A PhD stands for a Doctorate of Philosophy, while a PsyD stands for a Doctorate of Psychology. It is important to distinguish what the PhD is in (such as Psychology, Marriage & Family Therapy, Theology, etc.) due to the fact that one may have a PhD, but not be licensed to practice in a certain state. For example, someone may go through 4 years of additional schooling to get a Doctorate of Philosophy in Theology, but not be licensed as an LPCC or LMFT, and be unable to diagnose and treat mental health illnesses. So when you see “PhD” behind someone’s name, do some additional digging to decipher if they also have other credentials to meet your specific needs.

A PsyD distinction means someone has done the research and/or additional clinical work to attain a doctorate of psychology. They often have an extensive knowledge of mental health diagnoses and pharmacological needs of clients, and have studied in depth how the mind works. However, it is important to note that the presence of the acronym PsyD does not mean a practitioner can prescribe medication for mental health needs. Depending on the state you live in, a PsyD may or may not be able to write a prescription for your mental health needs.

What about PMHNP or MD?

These two distinctions address the professionals who have the medical knowledge to treat mental health diagnoses in more traditional healthcare settings. PMHNP stands for Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. You may recognize the nurse practitioner designation as those medical professionals at your PCPs office or at a hospital that provide basically all the care that your primary care physician would. These individuals usually have Masters degrees and/or doctorate degrees in nursing practice, and can diagnose, prescribe, and treat mental health diagnoses.

A MD is a Medical Doctor, but doctors that specialize in diagnosing, researching, and treating mental health diagnoses are known as Psychiatrists (not psychologists). Psychiatrists can prescribe and treat mental health diagnoses using the latest research and medically backed practices. They often provide condensed forms of therapeutic interventions alongside medication management to help manage a client’s mental health needs, and refer out to other licensed mental health providers for ongoing therapy treatment.

So, who is the right therapist for me?

All these little groups of letters basically give you a snapshot of a professional’s resume. Making note of the type of professional that will be the right therapist for you can minimize your search time and maximize your time in therapy. Before running through the lists of profiles on the various directories out there, this can help narrow down your search and match you with the right therapist for you. Finding a good fit is one of the most important aspects of your mental health journey, so I’m glad I could help you navigate this important step.

Do You Take My Insurance?: 5 Ways to Receive Affordable Therapy

One of the most common (if not the #1 most common) question I receive in intake calls is, “Do you accept my insurance?” It is always a bummer to speak with a therapist that feels like a good fit and then find out that they don’t accept your insurance. Unfortunately, not every therapist takes every insurance, and many therapists don’t take insurance at all. This limits access to affordable therapy services for many clients, but there are alternatives to finding affordable therapy.

Finding the right therapist for your unique needs can be tough, but it isn’t impossible. There are more ways than ever to find a therapist that meets your needs and provides affordable services. In fact, most therapists strive to not just provide affordable services, but to have lots of recommendations for low cost services throughout their communities as well.

Many individuals seeking out mental health treatment haven’t had to look for a therapist on their own before. Entering college, starting a career, recently engaged, having their first child…all these periods of life transition can spark an interest in getting some professional guidance on how to cope. Unfortunately, scheduling that first session at a therapist’s office isn’t as straight forward as making an appointment for your annual exam at your doctor’s office. It involves a good amount of research and an open mind to find the right fit. I can provide you with a few tips and tricks on ways to find an affordable therapist for your mental health needs.

affordable therapy

#1 Check Your Insurance Directory

If you want to utilize your insurance to cover therapy services, it is totally possible to do so. The easiest way to find an “in-network provider” is to go directly to your insurance provider’s directory. Therapists become “paneled” with various insurance companies in their area and are then listed by the insurance provider. Another way to find out if a therapist takes your insurance is to check the therapist’s website or personal directory listing. Sites like Therapy for Black Girls allow you to filter results by your insurance provider, so you know prior to reaching out if they are paneled with your insurance provider.

#2 Ask about Sliding Scales

Often times, therapists that do not work with insurance providers offer what we call a sliding scale fee. A sliding scale is usually an offer to reduce the normal fee per session by $10 to $50 in order to make services more accessible. Therapists may or may not advertise that they have a sliding scale, so it is always helpful to ask about this during an intake call. The fee may be reduced for a set amount of sessions or be in place for the entirety of your services. Organizations like Open Path Collective also provide a list of mental health practitioners across the country that provide reduced rates for therapy services.

#3 Look for Local Community Clinics

Many major cities have mental health centers that provide reduced cost services for various populations and from various mental health providers. In San Diego, there are multiple centers that provide mental health services at a cost that is significantly lower than the average price of therapy in the area. The Center for Community Counseling & Engagement is one of these clinics. Services are provided by graduate students at San Diego State University whom are studying to become licensed mental health providers. The student therapists are supervised by a team of licensed professionals, and provide services at a cost of $12 to $50 per session. Urban Restoration Counseling Center also provides reduced fees ranging from $60 to $120 per session depending on the type of service rendered and the professional providing it.

#4 Utilize Scholarship Resources

With the increased support for providing accessibility to mental health services, it has become more common to find scholarship type resources to supplement the cost of therapy. The Loveland Foundation is one such fund that provides vouchers to be used with therapists from the Therapy for Black Girls directory that reduce the cost of services for a decided amount of sessions. In San Diego, the New Life Counseling Center also provides reduced services from licensed professionals thanks to an established fund within the center. Asking about the possibility of getting assistance with the cost of services is the first step in discovering new ways to cover the cost of therapy.

#5 Advocate for Mental Health Policy Changes

This is the most long term solution to making therapy more affordable and more accessible to everyone. Currently, insurance providers cover services for diagnosable and medically necessary mental health treatment. This is a vast improvement from just a few years ago when mental health needs were not covered at all. However, we still have a long way to go. Getting insurance companies to provide coverage for preventative care and the more nuanced mental health treatment will require more advocating for policy changes. We all hope to reach a point where you can make an appointment with your therapist and pay a simple co-pay for as many sessions you need and for as long as you need to feel you have reached a place of wellness and happiness.

Finding a therapist that takes your insurance is not the only way to find affordable therapy services. Knowing these tricks of the trade can help make therapy a little more accessible for everyone. Anyone and everyone who wants to better themselves should be able to receive mental health treatment. Utilizing some of the suggestions above can help to make affordable therapy more accessible.

I Open at the Close: 2020 Coming to an End

2021 is less than 30 days away…we made it! This year couldn’t have been more of a curve ball. Throwing stress at all of us in all sorts of unexpected ways.

Maybe this is what we needed though. Maybe slowing down, getting creative, and building hope for the future was what we needed to make next year OUR year. Maybe we are at a place now that we would have never been had it not been for 2020. Maybe we now have that clear vision of what we need to do in order to progress forward.

What did 2020 give you?

If you’ve read (or watched) Harry Potter, you know that that golden snitch seemed useless until Harry actually knew what he had to do. Maybe 2020 was our golden snitch. It seemed useless until we got to the end.

In the next few weeks, take some time for self reflection. Answer these questions…

What did I learn about myself?

What did I learn about my social circle?

What values do I want to take with me into 2021?

Where do I see myself a year from now?

Use this time to prepare yourself for the coming months. Establish your needs and wants, and start planning for growth.

Self Care: Learning how to Take Care of Yourself

Everyone is talking about self care, but what is it really? Well as mental health has become a less taboo topic in many communities, so has the idea that taking care of yourself can be your number one priority.

You’re probably thinking, “What?? I’m allowed to put myself first?!?” YES!

Self care is not equivalent to being selfish. I repeat, self care is NOT selfish. Self care is simply the term used to describe the fact that if you are in a healthy state both physically, mentally, and spiritually, then you are better able to show up in the many roles you may play in your life. Whether you are a student, employee, entrepreneur, mother, wife, caregiver, etc., prioritizing taking care of YOU means you are putting your best foot forward in all these areas. Ultimately you are serving those relationships better.

So how do I do this ‘self care’ you speak of??”

Well let me tell you, it is simpler than you think. Self care lives on a spectrum from merely meeting your basic needs to full on pampering yourself. It can be free or very expensive, but that is up to you. It is all about partaking in activities and being intentional about doing things that make you feel good.

“Where do I sign up!?”

Hold on. Before you start booking massage appointments and buying face masks, you need to identify what is it you really need. Pause and get in tune with your body. What are the things that would make your soul smile? Taking the time to really get a grip on your needs allows you to be more intentional about your self care.

Maybe you have been feeling really low, and been having a hard time even getting out of bed. Maybe your self care is just opening a window or taking a long shower. Maybe you have been pulling non-stop overtime at your job and your self care may be using a vacation day or two. Maybe you are a new mom who hasn’t gotten a good nights sleep in ages and calling a family member over to watch the little one while you nap is what you really need. This is ALL self care!

“Wow. I didn’t even realize it was that deep.”

Yeah. Preparing for self care can almost be more work than actually doing the self care, but once you figure this all out the relief it brings is so worth it. Consider getting some help along this process by finding a therapist that fits your needs and can collaborate with you on creating a unique self care plan. Having someone to talk to in and of itself can be just the self care you needed.

Prenatal Couples Therapy: Learning to Communicate with a Baby on the Way

I am a big believer in preventative measures when it comes to your physical and mental health. Many women plan and prep their bodies for a potential pregnancy through exercise, healthy eating, Ob/Gyn appointments, and taking prenatal vitamins… but how many prepare their minds and relationship for the transition into parenthood?

Prenatal therapy is a term I came up with to describe the importance of establishing healthy communication and mental health prior to a pregnancy or birth. Lots of focus is put on the mother during a pregnancy, but we often forget that although things are changing for mom-to-be they are also changing for the relationship.

Bringing a baby into the world means bringing another person into your family dynamic. For many relationships there is a drastic shift (whether it is baby number one or two or three) in the relationship as attention is split between more people. Partners have all sorts of feelings as well, when it comes to a pregnancy, and many times we forget that they are going through changes too.

One of the things I remember most about my own pregnancy with my first born, was how my husband voiced that he felt left out of so many things. While he was at work, I was at home putting a nursery together and going to doctor’s appointments, but it never crossed my mind that he wanted to participate in these things. We had a thorough & productive conversation (we’re both therapists so this isn’t uncommon for us) that led to a whole afternoon together building a crib and celebrating the new baby, and he began attending every doctor’s appointment (even though the doctor’s were surprised to see him…every time).

This is just an example of how communication is so important around this life transition. Once baby is here it is harder to find quiet time to have in-depth conversations, and communication often takes a turn for the worst. Attending prenatal couples therapy allows time to think about this shift as a team and discuss some major ideas that may not have been relevant up until this point.

Some of the topics often looked over prior to having a bun in the oven:

  • Will household duties be distributed differently (especially during postpartum recovery)? What will it look like once maternity/paternity leave is over?
  • Are visits with family welcome? Who is high on the “frequent flyer” list (grandparents, uncles/aunts/cousins, friends, etc.)?
  • What family/cultural traditions will be practiced? How about holidays/birthdays/vacations?
  • What parenting/discipline style do you expect to use? What was your experience like with your own parents?
  • How will you communicate your unique needs? Will you need “me time”?
  • What will “couple time” look like? Date nights? Childcare?
  • What are expectations around physical and emotional intimacy (especially during postpartum)?

This is just the tip of the iceberg. So many decisions will be first time decisions, and first time discussions. Thinking about these things in a space that provides extra tools and insight to communicate effectively can be a lifelong gift to your relationship. Consider adding prenatal couples counseling to your “get done before the due date” to do list. It may be the key to a smooth transition from two to three.