When you are seeking a mental health professional for yourself or your loved one, the options can be overwhelming. Furthermore, the jargon associated with the various types of professionals can cloud an already complex process. A little background information about the different types of professionals offering services in the mental health field can give insight into if and how they can help you or your loved one.

Types of Licensed Clinicians

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, there are three different categories of licensed clinicians: psychologists, clinical social workers, and counselors/therapists. Each of these categories is primarily differentiated by the type of education and experience needed to be licensed as well as the goal and scope of practice within the respective fields.

Any of these professionals will have a few things in common, including some form of graduate education, supervised practice in the form of an internship or fellowship, and the passing of an exam or other similar requirements to be certified to practice within a specific state. Many fields also require continuing education in the discipline to remain in good standing with the licensing board.


Psychologists require the most extensive training, as in order to be licensed, they need a doctorate, which is the highest degree available and recognizes expertise in the field. This degree is denoted by a Ph.D., Ed.D., or Psy.D. Doctoral candidates are eligible to sit for the licensing exam if they pursue a degree in clinical, counseling, or school psychology and also complete supervised practice in their respective fields.

Psychologists usually have a specific area of focus that they have researched and written about extensively for their degree. In addition to clinical practice, they may have research and teaching responsibilities at a university or college. The process of becoming a psychologist may place equal emphasis on clinical and research skills, or it may prioritize one over the other, depending on the specific institution and the goals of the individual.

Regardless of the nuances of a specific clinician’s educational background, psychologists can assess, diagnose, and treat a variety of mental health concerns in many different settings and with a variety of treatment modalities.

Clinical Social Workers

Clinical social workers are Master’s level clinicians who have training in mental health treatment and policy and may work with individuals, groups, and organizations. Not only are clinical social workers able to assess, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions, but they are also well-equipped to advocate for clients and provide case management.

Social work education emphasizes clinical practice over research, which is a major distinction from the educational background of a doctoral-level clinician. This degree is denoted by an MSW, but the degree itself does not give someone permission to practice clinically.

Clinicians who wish to practice independently are required to undergo additional years of supervised practice to be referred to as clinical social workers. When looking for a clinical social worker, you can identify a licensed professional by credentials such as LCSW or LISW, which vary by state.

Counselors & Therapists

Counselors (also known as therapists) are mental health professionals with a Master’s level education in a variety of fields that emphasize different populations and areas of practice. Some common professionals in this area are marriage and family therapists (LMFT), mental health counselors (LPC or LMHC), and licensed clinical alcohol and drug abuse counselors (LCADAC).

Depending on the licensing board overseeing each specific profession, the requirements for these professions may vary, and some types of interventions may be prioritized over others. For example, an LMFT may be more inclined to use family systems approaches, while an LPC may choose interventions more suited to the individual, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Just like with any mental health professional, it is important to speak with a potential provider about their specific areas of training and expertise to ensure a good therapeutic match.

Other People Who Can Help

Clinicians are not the only people who can help you or your loved one during treatment. While a counselor, social worker, or psychologist may be on the frontline of providing interventions, other professionals can provide augmentative services.

For example, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and primary care doctors can prescribe psychiatric medication when appropriate for treating certain mental health conditions. While medication is not right for everyone, it can sometimes be a crucial tool when combined with psychotherapy interventions.

Additionally, certified peer specialists can provide further support as members of an individual’s care team. Certified peer specialists are people with personal experience with a mental health and/or substance use disorder who are actively in recovery themselves and have pursued training and state certification to work or volunteer in this position. They can provide encouragement and guidance to someone in treatment and help them stay on track. Peers can also facilitate support groups, which can be an important tool in the recovery process.

Some People Are Not What They Seem

Working with a licensed mental health professional ensures that you are receiving a certain level of quality and professionalism. If you encounter someone claiming to provide mental health and substance use services who does not have any of the training or credentials discussed above, this means that there is no way of regulating their services and protecting consumers. These individuals most likely are not utilizing current evidence-based practices, and they may be simply wasting your time and money without actually providing the services they advertise.

While there is a wide variety of credentials and specialties out there, if you are working with a licensed clinician, you can have peace of mind knowing your counselor or therapist has been vetted and approved to treat various individuals.

When it comes to finding the right clinician for yourself or your loved one, it is important to know that you are working with someone who is properly trained and credentialed. At Family-Centered Services, we can guarantee that our team of Master’s level clinicians are well-equipped to serve you and your family. Our clinicians can provide individual and family therapy, intervention services, sober accountability, and case management to support you throughout the recovery process. We have vast experience in the mental health and substance use fields that we will use to create an individualized treatment plan for your whole family. If you would like to learn more about what our team can do for your family, please call us at (509) 991-5822 to take the first step. At FCS, we take the guesswork out of finding a licensed clinician, and you can be assured you are in good hands.