• There are many types of qualifications you may find in someone offering psychotherapy. Here you will find some of the license distinctions that may help you make a choice:

    As a Marriage and Family therapist (MFT), I have a Master’s level education and am licensed by the state of California. I received theoretical and clinical training at a graduate institute in counseling psychology and then completed several internships at community agencies and schools prior to sitting for and passing state licensing exams.

    You may also find individuals who offer services as a Counselor or Coach as distinct from psychotherapist. Coaching and counseling are both goal-oriented short-term work and the counselor or coach is not required to have a license to practice.

    An MFT Intern (MFTI) or Registered Psych Assistant (RPA) is a therapist in training as an MFT or Psychologist who is being supervised by a licensed person.

    Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) is a Master’s level licensed psychotherapist with an education and internships in the field of social psychology.

  • Psychologist (PhD or PsyD) has a doctoral level degree and advanced theoretical and clinical as well as research training. A licensed psychologist may offer psychotherapy and/or psychological testing as well. Research psychologists may solely perform research and not be involved in licensed clinical work. At the time of this writing in 2006, psychologists in California are not licensed to prescribe medications, but in the future this may change.

    Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP) or Registered Nurse Practitioner (RNP) is a licensed advanced practice registered nurse qualified in medical evaluation as well as psychiatric training who works collaboratively with a medical doctor. A Psychiatric Nurse Practioner can provide psychotherapy, medical evaluation and psychiatric medication management usually through a clinic or associated with a medical practice.

    Psychiatrist (MD) is a licensed, board-certified medical doctor who specializes in psychiatry and is able to prescribe medications as well as provide psychotherapy. Some psychiatrists mainly provide medication management and refer their clients to MFTs or psychologists for therapy. Some offer both medication management and psychotherapy or solely provide psychotherapy or psychoanalysis.

  • Factors that might influence your choice:

      • Cost: Typically, the more advanced the license, the higher the cost of the service.
      • Insurance: If you are seeing a coach or counselor you will likely be paying out of pocket. To my knowledge, reimbursement from an insurance company for services received requires at the least, a licensed provider. Insurance companies often have multiple requirements for reimbursement for services. If you plan to use your insurance for mental health services, check with your insurance company first to see if you are required to see a network provider or if you have out of network coverage for a licensed therapist. You may also require pre-authorization for services whether in network or out of network.
      • Medications: If you know that you need a prescription or are seeking a medication evaluation, the provider to contact is a psychiatrist. Alternatively and in the case of co-existing medical issues, a nurse practitioner may be the best choice, especially for combined psychotherapy and medication management. As mentioned earlier, although some psychiatrists also offer psychotherapy, it is very common currently for a psychiatrist to provide medication management only, but there are notable exceptions in some areas.
    • Psychological Testing: If you know that you are seeking formal psychological testing, the person to contact should be a licensed psychologist with a PhD or PsyD and indicate that they specialize in testing, as some psychologists do not provide testing.
    • Scope of Practice: If the particular issue you are dealing with is not something the psychotherapist is trained to treat, you may be referred on to someone who specializes with that age group or that condition. Individual providers of psychotherapy (regardless of the license or degree) have specific areas of specialization, knowledge and training, certain populations or age groups they work with, and have ethical obligation to treat clients within their scope of practice.