Understanding the Types of Counselors

You’ve reached the decision to seek support from a counselor. You have healing to do, and you understand that you can’t do it alone. But when you start looking for a counselor, you find it’s not as easy as you thought. There are many different types of counselors, and the letters following their names look like alphabet soup. 

Don’t let confusion stand in the way of getting help. This guide for understanding the types of counselors will assist you in finding the help that is the right fit for your needs.

Select a Counselor Based On Your Unique Needs

When it comes to counselors, one size doesn’t fit all. That’s because people have unique lives and concerns. Therefore, you want a counselor who specializes in the area of helping that best suits your needs. 

  • Mental Health Counselors. These counselors are like mental health general practitioners. They address various mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, trauma, stress management, relationship issues, and personality disorders. If you aren’t sure about the type of counseling you need most, a mental health counselor likely is your best choice.
  • Marriage and Family Therapists. These counselors focus specifically on couples and families. They address issues that affect life in and out of the home — for example, behavioral issues, marital problems, domestic violence, infertility, and substance use.
  • Pastoral Counselors. These counselors combine psychology and faith to provide emotional and spiritual support. They address issues including questioning faith, dealing with death or disease, and preparing for marriage. They may work at a church or a more traditional counseling practice.
  • Recreational Therapists. These counselors work with injured patients to address the physical and emotional needs resulting from their injuries. These counselors use art, animal therapy, games, sports, music, drama, or dance treatment methods. They work in nursing facilities, hospitals, rehab centers, and community centers.
  • Rehabilitation Counselors. These counselors are similar to recreational therapists and may include speech therapists. They work with patients with long-term physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. Their treatment methods are more traditional, but they work in the same places as recreational therapists. 
  • School Counselors. These counselors work with students of all levels. They address any issues that can affect a student’s quality of education, including learning disabilities, bullying, substance use, and problems at home. They work through the school district and office at the school site.
  • Substance Abuse Counselors. These counselors help patients understand the cause of their addictions and treat them through recovery. They address addictions, including those related to drugs, alcohol, sex, eating, and gambling. They work in hospitals, private practices, mental health treatment centers, and government agencies.

Understanding the types of counselors out there is a solid first step toward choosing the right counselor for you. Choose a counselor that specializes in the area of your unique needs. Feel drawn toward one of the categories above? That’s probably a sign that you should look for a counselor with that specialty.

A child therapist is listening to a young girl. They are sitting on a couch with a teddy bear

Classifications of Mental Health Professionals

In addition to considering the type of counselor you need, you’ll notice that there are usually many letters after the counselor’s name. These classifications can be confusing and intimidating, but they shouldn’t be. The letters stand for the counselor’s various degrees and certifications. In other words, they tell you the level of expertise and training the counselor has. A counselor likely has a master’s or doctorate in counseling. Some have medical degrees. 

Here are some common classifications of mental health professionals:

  • Psychiatrist. A psychiatrist has a medical degree (M.D. or D.O.). Their training includes four years of medical school, a year-long internship, and at least three years of specialized training as a psychiatric resident. They treat all types of mental health disorders, prescribe medication, and can perform medical procedures.
  • Psychologist. A psychologist has a doctoral degree (Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D.) in psychology. After graduate school, they complete a multi-year internship. They do not have medical degrees. So, although they can treat mental health disorders, they cannot perform medical procedures or prescribe medications. As a result, they typically work with a psychiatrist or other medical doctor.
  • Licensed Mental Health Counselor. This mental health professional has a master’s degree (M.A.) in psychology, counseling, or another mental health field. They work two years with a mental health professional after graduate school for licensing. They cannot perform medical procedures or prescribe medications.
  • Clinical Social Worker. A social worker has at minimum a master’s degree in social work. Social workers can provide counseling and advocate for patients and their families. They cannot perform medical procedures or prescribe medications.

The letters after a counselor’s name also signify the type of state credentials they have. While required and available, credentials may vary among states. They generally reflect the type of counseling the professional does.

What those letters after the counselor’s name mean: 

  • Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
  • Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
  • Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC)
  • Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor of Mental Health (LPCC) 
  • Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC)
  • Licensed Mental Health Practitioner (LMHP)

How All Counseling Can Help

Now you have a better understanding of the types of counselors out there; it’s time for you to take the next step in your mental health journey. It’s time to find the right counselor for you. All Counseling is here to help you get the mental health support you deserve. Use our searchable counselor directory to find the counselor you need.

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