Inside Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago, IL

Appreciation and thanks go to Christy LK Darcangelo, LCSW, Zac Palmer, LMFT , and Elizabeth Duke, Psy.D. who made substantive contributions respectively to the sections of this article on social workers, marriage and family therapists, and psychologists.

When you are looking for a psychotherapist, the wide array of titles and credentials can be confusing. There’s LMFTs, LCSWs, LCPCs, MSWs, and many more. But what do they all mean? And how do titles such as counselor, sex therapist, dance movement therapist, and social worker fit into the mix?

First, some general definitions. Psychotherapist is a generic label referring to a variety of disciplines and types of practitioners who carry various credentials. Titles are legally assigned professional labels frequently protected by licensure. And credentials are often abbreviated with letters following a provider’s name. Although relatively unusual, providers can be credentialed with multiple licenses.

We asked representatives of each of the main disciplines to tell us what is distinctive about their orientation to therapy.  Here is what they said:

Counselors – LPC, LCPC

Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) provide mental health services that focus on behavioral, emotional, and mental issues in various healthcare settings. They deliver client-centered therapy, working with a variety of individuals, couples, or families providing mental health services.

Often, LPCs work alongside psychiatrists and physicians, but they can specialize in a wide array of divisions, including school, grief, and substance abuse counseling. Becoming an LPC requires an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in counseling as a foundation. Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPCs) have independent licensure status which may allow them to engage in other professional activities such as supervision, research, and/or staff development.

Family & Marriage Therapists – MFT, LMFT , AMFT

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) approach therapy with a relational or systemic lens rather than an individualistic lens. That means they focus on the patterns that exist within a client’s systems – i.e. their relationships, family, school and work groups -and, when appropriate, help to interrupt or re-shape behavioral or emotional cycles that may not be serving the individuals, relationships and/or the entire system.  

MFTs are specifically trained to conduct therapy with the whole system in the therapy office, such as members of families, friend groups, polycules, couples, and even the internal family system of an individual. In systemic therapy, attention is drawn away from the content of the problem and towards the unseen process the problem reveals. MFTs see patterns in the relationship and not in the people in the relationship, which means solving the problem is a collective opportunity for growth and change. Systemic therapy may be a good fit for you if you are curious and interested to track how the patterns in your life and relationships create and sustain the problems you are facing.

Common concerns or issues MFTs are well-suited to address include communication problems, family transitions like marriages, divorces and deaths, early parenting, parent-child conflicts, romantic relationship challenges, polycule difficulties, friendship problems, jealousy, insecurity, abuse relationships, adolescent eating disorders, alcohol and drug misuse, childhood loss and trauma.

Social Workers – MSW, LSW, LCSW

As a profession, social work holds six values at its core: service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence. Social workers seek to understand individuals as dynamic parts of families, communities, cultures, and moments in history. At its best, this approach allows a social worker to consider the diverse challenges, oppressions, resiliencies, identities and strengths a client may encounter in their life. Social workers hold clients at the center of these overlapping realities and to strive to help them recognize the unique points of view their experiences afford them. For social workers, interventions in service of an individual’s (or a community’s) wellbeing start with an analysis of all the resources in the various spheres of a client’s experience and then looks for strategic ways to leverage these. Being a social worker includes an imperative to work towards social justice and ending oppression in whatever role they are in–from therapist to organizer to policymaker. 

Social workers see the person in front of them as a complex individual and consider the dynamics of their family of origin, resources and conflicts of their chosen family and friends, the culture of their neighborhood, school or workplace, as well as the impacts of white supremacy culture, capitalism, and carceral thinking. The credential MSW refers to the Master of Social Work, a degree conferred by a college or university. An LSW, Licensed Social Worker, refers to a level of licensure. LSWs may practice in non-clinical settings. An LCSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is independent licensure allowing individuals to provide and make insurance claims for psychotherapy.

Psychologists – Psy.D. and Ph.D.

Psychologists are often focused on clinical assessment and treatment, but may also be active in psychological theory, research and publishing. Their education and training are informed by behavioral science research, which provides insights into how people develop psychologically, biologically, relationally and emotionally. Psychologists, often confused with psychiatrists, do not prescribe psychoactive medications unless specially licensed.

While there are masters level psychology programs and practitioners, in order to become an independently licensed psychologist, one must complete a doctoral program (either Psy.D. or Ph.D.) which often included 2-3 years of course work and three years of clinical work in different areas of specialization. These specializations could be neuroscience, social psychology, psycholinguistics, child development, and more.

Psychologists may work in hospitals, private practice, non-profits, corporations. They offer individual therapy as well as relationship therapy – often from a particular theoretical approach or underlying set of assumptions about development, well-being, conflict, growth, change and healing.

Art Therapists & Dance/Movement Therapists – R-DMT 

Art therapy is a type of psychotherapy that uses visual art materials and creative expression as a means to reduce anxiety, increase positive self-esteem, explore emotional experiences, process trauma, and build trust between a client and the therapist. Dance/movement therapy is an approach that emphasizes awareness and the experience of movement and the body in the healing process.

These therapies can be useful for children, adolescents and adults and can even be used in relationship counseling. They are especially helpful in the treatment of trauma because of the way that traumatic memory is stored in the body. Trauma memories are often sensory rather than verbal in nature. By engaging our hands and bodies in a creative process, expressive therapies use movement, sensation, color, sound, form and texture. This process allows access to memories and feelings that might otherwise be difficult to bring to awareness.

Dance/movement and art therapists may also have credentials as social workers, counselors or psychologists. Some dance/movement therapists choose to become Registered Dance/Movement Therapists (R-DMT).

Still wondering which kind of psychotherapist would be the best fit for you? Contact us today and let’s explore it together.