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.

Key Providers

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.

Trusted Referrals

Mental Health Resources for Southern California

Analee Phang, LMFT sitting in therapy office

Sometimes on our journey of growth we find ourselves at a stand still contemplating a change. Whether you are seeking therapy for the first time, restarting your therapeutic path, or finding a new therapist to continue your journey, finding the right person for your unique story can be vital to the therapy process and I am humbled that you may have considered me in that time of need. Unfortunately, I am either unavailable to new clients or I may not be the best fit for your individual needs, so I hope I can continue supporting your therapeutic journey by referring you to some trusted colleagues and resources in the community. Please take the time to contact and follow up with the provider of your choosing from the trusted referrals below.


 San Diego Based Centers and Colleagues

Urban Restoration Counseling Center: Provides culturally-competent, low cost therapy and group therapy services from Licensed & Associate therapists. Some types of insurance taken.  

New Life Counseling Center: Provides a range of Christian oriented services from various Licensed Professionals who accept various insurances and sliding fee scales  

NISD Counseling: Provides culturally-competent services on a sliding fee scale from both Licensed & Associate therapists  

Center for Community Counseling & Engagement: Provides low cost services from Student therapists supervised by Licensed professionals  

Well Mamas Counseling: Provides culturally competent services from Licensed Professionals who specialize in work with mothers and accept some insurances

 Los Angeles Based Centers and Colleagues

DB Comfort Therapy: Donika is a licensed marriage & family therapist who provides culturally competent individual, couples, & family therapy services in the Los Angeles County area

Pathways to Wellness: Natasha is a licensed marriage & family therapist who provides culturally competent individual & couples therapy services in the Orange County area

Directory Listings

Therapy for Black Girls Directory provides a nation-wide listing of culturally-competent therapists specializing in work with minority women  

Inclusive Therapists provides a nation wide directory of inclusive and diverse therapists specializing in diverse populations with unique needs  

Open Path Collective  provides a nation wide listing of therapists providing low cost services for individuals or couples of various backgrounds  

Mental Health and Other Resources in your community can be found by calling: 2-1-1

Emergency Resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741741

California Warmline: 855-845-7415

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

Trevor Project (LGBTQ Youth Lifeline): 1-866- 488-7386 or Text “START” to 678678

National Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860

National Child Abuse Hotline: 800-422-4453

In case of EMERGENCY, dial: 9-1-1

I hope that these trusted referrals will help you create the life that you find most fulfilling and valuable. If you would like to work with me in the future, feel free to check back in the next few weeks to inquire about openings!

peace, love, happiness, Lee

The Mental Health Continuum

Why Mental Health Looks Different for Everyone

Worried Wells to Severe Mental Illness. What is “mental health”? What does it look like? Is it a permanent diagnosis or is it an ever changing state of mind?

The answer is…it depends. I will admit this answer was something I heard a lot as I studied for years to become a therapist. That is the nature of the work however. Mental health is just as important as physical health, but it is not treatable in the same ways. “Mental health” is on a spectrum. Some individuals go to therapy to discuss small issues that come up on a day-to-day basis. While others go to therapy to manage chronic on-going mental illness. Mental illness is a diagnosable, physiological illness that manifests itself in psychological ways, such as clinical depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, and many other diagnosis that are manageable with the correct assistance from a professional.

Example time. If you have a common cold, you will most likely be taking the same medicine as someone else who has a cold. And you both will most likely get better in approximately the same amount of time. Now if you are depressed, you may not be utilizing the same treatment as someone else who is depressed. Because each person’s mind thinks differently, handles stress differently, and responds differently to external stimuli. Therapists have the unique job of taking the time to figure out the right treatment for your mind specifically. Therapy is completely individualized.

There are various ways to approach mental health issues including : self care, talk therapy in an outpatient environment, medication management with a psychiatrist or primary care physician, inpatient care at a rehabilitation center or hospital setting, as well as multiple holistic approaches to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

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Self care can be a simple solution to managing stress and minor mental health concerns on a day-to-day basis. This often emphasizes the holistic approach to maintaining a healthy mental state. A change to your diet, regular exercise, incorporating self care activities, and socializing with trusted family/friends can all help maintain a lifestyle that encourages a healthy mental state. However, for many managing all these aspects of your life can become overwhelming or maybe you have never felt quite balanced in all of these areas of your life.

Seeing a mental health professional in an outpatient environment (such as a private practice setting or local mental health clinic) can help assist you in getting on the right track in all these areas. Mental health professionals include Marriage & Family Therapists, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors, and Clinical Psychologists. Seeking out one of these professionals allows you to dedicate an allotted amount of time to talking through the aspects of life that are causing stress, anxiety, sadness, anger, and a plethora of other emotions. Exploring with a therapist where these emotions stem from, how they are affecting you, and solutions to managing these feelings better can greatly improve your mental health. You may see a therapist for a few months or a few years, but the ultimate goal is to get you to a place where you can manage on your own with self care techniques and greater knowledge of your emotions. A mental health professional can also help you discover if a mental illness is what is encroaching on your ability to cope with your life.

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When managing a true mental illness, you want to seek out a Psychiatrist, Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, or your Primary Care Physician to consult with your therapist about the possible inclusion of medication in your mental health treatment. These individuals play a vital role in order to coordinate with your team of mental health professionals. This team works with you to find out what methods of treatment will work best for you as an individual. No two mental illnesses look the same or are managed the same way. Whether it is various dosage levels of medication or frequency of therapy appointments, each individual managing a mental illness will have a unique treatment plan. This team will most likely assist you over an extended period of time and teach you how to reach out for additional help when needed, as a mental illness is often chronic and needs to be managed over your life. Remember though that you are the coach of this team, informing your providers of what feels right, what works best, and describing the experience you are having with all aspects of the treatment.

Inpatient care is what mental health professionals often refer to as “the highest level of care”. Some of the autonomy of the individual is lost at this level because it often dwindles down to the safety of the individual and those around them. The treatment is often decided for the individual by a team of professionals trying to diminish the client’s symptoms and protect them from any harm. For some clients this process begins with a threat of harm to themselves or another identifiable person. Police often become a partner in this treatment process, as they are often the first responders when someone calls for assistance during a suicidal or homicidal threat. They are also usually the ones who admit a client to a hospital for psychiatric treatment. Hospital staff at that point become that individual’s treatment team. This is considered a short term treatment option. The goal is to stabilize certain symptoms and identify a “lower level of care” that can help the individual learn how to cope with their symptoms regularly and prevent emergency situations.

This spectrum of mental health is what makes finding the right fit with a therapist so important. Depending on the challenges you face, your background, the level of care needed, and many other factors one mental health professional may be more helpful than another. You walk on a unique mental health path, and must choose the right team to walk alongside you. Where are you on your mental health journey, and how can therapy be of assistance to you?

If you are in a crisis or emergency situation please contact the Access & Crisis Line at 1-888-724-7240 or call 9-1-1.
peace, love, happiness, Lee

Physical Health tied to Mental Wellness: 5 Ways to Reduce Stress in Your Day-to-Day Life

I recently experienced what so many of my clients come into session concerned about…physical aches and pains.

I woke up one morning with an aching pain in my jaw. It was like having a migraine in my mouth all day long. I tried to think back over the last few days…what had I been doing differently that could have caused this? After some self reflection and figuring out what the pain exactly was, I realized stress was the culprit. I had gotten to a place of extreme stress from working two jobs, being a mom, and managing all the calendars my household had to keep track of. I had begun clenching my teeth while I slept, which caused me to wake up in pain.

The solution to this pain? Physical therapy, mouth guards at night, and pain medication. Um…I don’t know about you, but none of that sounded like a solution or appealing in any way. They sounded more like management, than a cure.

So many of my clients come into session expressing symptoms of depression or anxiety or general stress, then will make a passing comment about chronic back pain, or chest tightness, or other physical ailments that they have been getting evaluated at a physician. They never tie the experience of physical health to their mental health however.

Disclaimer: I am not a physician, and you should always seek out medical professionals to have any physical health symptoms evaluated. This is in no way a replacement for medical assistance/ advice.

Minority women especially, are more likely to experience mental health concerns as physical symptoms in the body. These aches and pains are almost always directly related to your level of stress. In my personal experience, consciously working on reducing my stress enabled me to reduce my jaw pain to zero.

Now this does not mean medical intervention isn’t helpful, but it can work hand in hand with mental health interventions. Utilizing various coping strategies to reduce stress can assist in a speedy recovery.

Here are my top 5 coping strategies for managing stress:

  • 1. Mindfulness Breathing

  • Mindfulness breathing is a tool that can be utilized at any moment in your day and requires nothing more than the ability to breathe. Pausing in a moment of stress to take a deep inhale and slow exhale allows for your body to experience a sense of calm. It slows down your heart rate and reduces the idea that your body needs to go into “fight or flight” mode. If you want some assistance in practicing this technique try searching for “Guided Mindfulness Breathing” on YouTube, or download the “Calm” app on your mobile device.
  • 2. Journaling

    Journaling can be a great way to get thoughts out of your head and practice letting go of stress. Writing about your emotions whether it be grief, anger, joy, or a plethora of other emotions allows you to release these thoughts and reflect on how they are affecting you. An important aspect of journaling however is practicing to write about gratitude. Expressing gratitude for various aspects of your life provides balance to the challenges and emotions that occur on a daily basis. Nobody wants a book of sorrow, so incorporate both the good and bad.

    3. Skincare Routine

    This may seem frivalous, but hear me out. A regular skincare routine not only benefits your skin, but it gives you time to yourself. Depending on the type of skincare routine you implement (it could be as simple as rubbing some lotion on or as complex as a multi-step regimen) you can give yourself 2-30 minutes of “me time”. Being intentional about this time each day guarantees that you take a break and attend to your own needs even if only for a few minutes.

    4. Low-Impact Exercises

    Depending on your physical symptoms and with approval from your physician, try low- impact exercises such as walking or yoga. Walking is such an underrated exercise regimen. Taking time on your lunch break or before/after work to take a walk outside allows for more time in the sun, increased blood flow, and an overall mood boost. This physical activity kills two birds with one stone as it benefits your physical and mental health at the same time.

    5. Sleep Hygiene

    Last, but certainly not least, ensure you are getting enough sleep. How you feel when you wake up determines how well you’ll manage your stress throughout your day. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Take a look at your daily schedule. Where is time wasted? And what could be moved around to create room for a decent bedtime? Also, take a look into what you are sleeping on. Maybe that futon from college isn’t cutting it anymore, or your mattress could use a new topper for support. Nobody has ever applauded themselves for having a late night and waking up groggy in the morning. Elevate this basic need to ensure a brighter day ahead.

    All these coping strategies can be used on a day-to-day basis to reduce the stress that is likely contributing to those physical ailments. Incorporating and practicing these stress-reducing skills will allow you to live a happier and healthier life. And if these things aren’t enough, try attending therapy!

    Cheaters: Why They Do It & How to Prevent It

    So you are in a “committed” relationship (or so you thought), but you have a nagging feeling that something isn’t right. Something is wrong. You start to dig for clues as to what is possibly going on, and slowly (but surely) drive yourself crazy wondering, “are they cheating??” Well I bet there is another question you haven’t asked yourself…”have I been meeting my partner’s needs?” Yep. I bet you haven’t taken a second to think “why would my partner cheat?”

    I wonder why you haven’t asked this question because there is only one reason why people cheat. Yes, one. Here’s the big, top secret reason…their needs are not being met.

    man and woman wearing brown leather jackets

    That’s it. Every person needs certain things to be fulfilled. These things could be love, sex, passion, compassion, security, generosity, time, affection, and an assortment of other things. More often than not people wind up in a relationship where their partner cannot satisfy ALL of their needs. Now this is the point where you are probably thinking, “well if your needs aren’t being met, just break up with the person!” Relationships aren’t that simple. Imagine this…

    If our emotional needs looked more like our physical needs such as food, water, & shelter, how would things pan out? Imagine you were in a relationship where your partner is providing 2 out of 3 (water & shelter), but they were starving you. No food. You have dropped hints that you are hungry, maybe even straight up asked for food, but were denied 90% of the time. Then you come across someone who is offering up a feast on a silver platter. What are you going to do?

    A. Go home to your water & shelter and continue starving?

    B. Leave your whole life behind with only a guarantee of food (none of the water or shelter)?

    C. Or are you going to try and sneak enough food to meet your needs, then go home to a reliable source of water and shelter?

    Let’s be honest with ourselves, the last choice makes the most sense. Now putting this back into the emotional sense…when you partner with someone because they meet most of your needs, there is a risk that the needs that aren’t being met will be met somewhere else. The other option is to learn to live without that additional need, but that is often easier said than done.

    Now, you may be wondering “how do I prevent cheating from happening in my relationship?” Great question. Before I answer, I must remind you that relationships are SELFLESS acts. That means at any given point in a relationship you should be trying to meet the needs of your partner, while effectively communicating your needs as well.

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    The best way to prevent cheating is by utilizing the time you spend as a single person figuring out how you can meet your own needs. This allows you the time and energy when you enter a relationship to focus on how you can meet your partners needs. Because again, relationships are not about you! They are about having a mutual understanding that you will support one another. If you can figure out your own needs, then you will want to be with someone who has done the same, and neither of you will be looking for a partner to complete them. Because you are a WHOLE person. No one can “complete” you.

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    Here’s the trickier part. If you are already in a relationship and feel your needs aren’t being met, then you have to learn what it is you need, and teach yourself/partner how to meet that need. You cannot just say “I need your attention more.” You have to educate your partner on how they can give you more attention. Give them the who/what/when/where/why/how you learned in grade school. For example, if your need is sexual intimacy:

    Who needs to be meeting this need? Obviously it takes two to tango, so your partner needs to be involved in meeting this need.

    What is the need EXACTLY? Be clear. Is this need about actual sex, or is this need about general physical touch? Does foreplay meet this need? Would you like to kiss & hug more often? This is not just a single sentence answer. Go into detail.

    When is the appropriate time to meet this need? Everyone has a preference, but also when is it feasible to meet this need? Maybe kids are in the house so babysitters have to be arranged. Or maybe this is a need that needs to be met more than just once a month. When would you ideally like to meet this need? Be open to some compromise in the process.

    Where is the appropriate place to meet this need? The bedroom, a hotel, the shower? Hey, whatever floats your boat.

    Why is this need important to you? This may be the most important question. This is where you help your partner and teach your partner the reason behind the need. Maybe you feel like there is a general lack of intimacy, or maybe you feel insecure about how you look and want to feel desired by your partner. Again, not a place for a one sentence answer. Be descriptive.

    How can your partner support this need? Explain what role you would like them to play in supporting this need. If they can initiate sex more often or if they can provide compliments that make you feel sexy. Whatever it is, help your partner figure out how they can be supportive.

    No matter what your need is, utilize these questions to effectively communicate to your partner how you two can work as a team to meet each others’ needs. A relationship is about support and giving. Taking preventative steps to care for your partner can help reduce the likelihood of having to take drastic measures to put a relationship back together. And at the end of the day if you are finding it difficult to have these conversations, make a therapy appointment! Therapy is a great place to learn how to communicate effectively and efficiently.

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