This story originally appeared in the November issue of ESSENCE Magazine.
There’s no one-size-fits-all title when it comes to mental health care providers. Yes, “those who offer talk therapy can fall under the therapist label,” explains psychiatrist Dion Short Metzger, an Emory University School of Medicine professor and coauthor of The Modern Trophy Wife: How to Achieve Your Life Goals While Thriving at Home. But their education and experience can vary greatly, as well as the kinds of services they provide. Below, some of the most popular talk-therapy titles.
PSYCHIATRISTS are M.D.s and have completed four years or more of residency training. “They can prescribe medication in addition to providing therapy,” says Metzger. A central role of a psychiatrist is to oversee prescription management.
PSYCHOLOGISTS hold a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in human behavior and emotions or an Ed.D. in counseling. These doctors typically do not prescribe or manage medicines, and often treat those who suffer with severe anxiety and depression.
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CLINICAL SOCIAL WORKERS typically have either a license (L.C.S.W.) or a master’s degree in social work (M.S.W.). They see patients in different settings, including at private practices or in hospitals. These professionals often focus on stressors such as unemployment, poverty and disability.
COUNSELOR can apply to many therapists. Some may be unlicensed. “You don’t need a mental health diagnosis to see a counselor,” Metzger says. You may seek counseling for marital problems, academic anxiety or coping with death.
FIND YOUR MATCH
When seeking a mental health care partner, ask these questions to determine if the person is the right fit for you.
• What is your background and office policy? “This should include details about the provider’s degree, experience, therapy used, billing guidelines and confidentiality,” says addiction specialist Shannon Battle, L.P.C., in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
• What is your experience with conditions or concerns similar to mine, and what results have you obtained? “If you’re having family trouble, you might consider a family therapist instead of a psychiatrist,” says physician Lee.
• What is your overall treatment philosophy? “That needs to align with a patient’s values and objectives,” says Lee. And don’t be shy about conveying your expectations: “This is a two-way conversation. There should be goals along the way so you both can track progress.”
• How long will I be in treatment? In terms of time, there are two types of mental health patients: Those facing stress-related issues like divorce or coping with a loss may experience a significant reduction of symptoms and will not require ongoing therapy. People with a mental illness like depression and bipolar disorder usually require lifelong medication management and therapy to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Battle says you should get into treatment with a plan of recommended sessions and a firm schedule.
• Do you think I need medicine and, if so, for how long? Lee encourages asking about regimens and steps to stop or reduce medication when applicable.