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Mental Health Professionals - Degrees & Scope of Practice

Updated on March 8, 2011

Whether you are you looking for counseling or considering a career in psychology, it can be difficult to tell exactly which professionals provide which services. When a therapist's business card reads "MSW," what is that person qualified to do, exactly? What degrees does someone need to be a clinical psychologist? Inform yourself. Find out the precise difference between a licensed professional counselor and a counseling psychologist. From highest level of education and on downwards, the main categories of mental health professionals and their scope of practice can all be found below.

A psychiatrist has achieved a medical degree (M.D. or O.D.), as well as completed a residency in psychiatry, and is qualified to provide psychotherapy, as well as prescribe medication and hospitalize patients for serious psychological disorders.

A psychoanalyst possesses an M.D., Ph.D., or Psy.D., with additional specific training in psychoanalysis, a branch of psychology founded by Sigmund Freud and highly influenced by the work of Carl Jung. Psychoanalysts practice a particular kind of therapy that is not necessarily well-suited to all clients, so before choosing to receive treatment from one, further reading on the theories surrounding psychoanalysis is recommended.

A clinical psychologist has a Ph.D. or Psy.D., and has successfully completed an internship in clinical psychology. Clinical psychologists are qualified to diagnose and treat psychological disorders and perform psychological testing. In some cases, after additional training, they may prescribe drugs in some medical settings.

A counseling psychologist has either a Ph.D. or an Ed.D., with an internship in counseling psychology. Like a clinical psychologist, a counseling psychologist can perform psychological testing. In addition, he or she may assess and provide therapy for the normal problems of life.

A school psychologist may have a Ph.D., an Ed.D., or a master's degree, in addition to an internship in school psychology. Along with psychological testing, a school psychologist can assess and treat school (and other related) problems in children and adolescents.

A social worker must have at least a master's degree (M.S.W.), and may have done additional course work and training to pass accreditation tests as an L.C.S.W., or licensed clinical social worker. These professionals may diagnose and treat psychological disorders, and are often instrumental in helping individuals identify community services that may provide ongoing support. They often work in conjunction with institutions such as hospitals.

A licensed professional counselor (L.P.C.) also has a master's degree, as does a marriage and family therapist (M.F.T.), but these professionals emphasize private practice, and may specialize in relationships, day-to-day life problems, and/or psychological disorders.

A licensed chemical dependency counselor (L.C.D.C.) may have little or no post-secondary education, depending on standards which vary from state to state, and are often former addicts themselves. They may provide counseling and education for substance abuse problems, but may not diagnose or provide official treatment.


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