Types of Therapists and Degrees

It is sometimes overwhelming when looking into mental health treatment and seeing many different types of providers and professions. These brief explanations are meant to help distinguish between some of the common types of therapists that offer similar psychotherapy services, but who have various types of training, educational degrees, licenses and specialties. While the training and focus of these various therapist types are somewhat different, any one provider’s training and expertise could either be highly proficient in psychotherapy or relatively novice depending on years of experience and further specialty and training sought after becoming licensed.

Clinical social workers have completed a master’s program (typically 2 years) in social work and receive a master’s degree (MSW). If providing psychotherapy, a social worker is licensed as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and is required to perform a few thousand hours of clinical experience as a prerequisite to getting a license. The primary training and method of intervention of professional social workers includes such services as case management (linking clients with agencies and programs that can help with anything from food and shelter to financial, emotional or medical needs), counseling and psychotherapy, social welfare policy, analysis, and practice development, community organizing, community development, advocacy, and research. LCSW’s practicing psychotherapy are on the lower end of the fee spectrum for therapy services (anywhere from $90 – $190 depending on location, experience, and training).

Marriage & family therapists have typically completed a master’s program in psychology (though this is not a requirement in some states). Although the title includes the words “marriage” and “family,” MFTs provide therapy to individuals as well. Training for MFTs includes 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience as a requirement of being eligible for taking the licensing exam. MFT training focuses specifically on helping individuals, couples, and families through therapy and counseling in private practice, mental health agency, or hospital settings, and includes a comprehensive education in human psychology. Fees for psychotherapy with an MFT tend to be in the mid-range ($100 – $200).

Psychologists are mental health professionals who have completed a doctoral program in psychology and hold a doctorate degree (Ph.D., Psy.D. or D.M.H.). Doctoral education in psychology typically takes four to six years. Clinical psychologists are required to complete at least 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience before becoming eligible to take the licensing exam for psychologists. Training as a clinical psychologist includes the theory and practice of psychotherapy, diagnosis and assessment of mental disorders (including the administration of psychological tests, which only psychologists are licensed to perform), and research in mental health. The Psy.D. degree represents a psychologist who has completed a more clinically focused doctoral program (diagnosing and treating patients with psychotherapy), whereas a Ph.D. degree typically includes a greater focus on research (although both degrees qualify a psychologist to practice psychotherapy if licensed). Psychologist fees for psychotherapy tend to be slightly higher than MFTs or LCSWs ($150 – $250).

Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MD) who have gone on to specialize in mental health and psychopharmacology. This means that psychiatrists have completed a full medical education equivalent to any other MD as well as further specialty training in psychology and psychiatric medications. Psychiatrists are the only mental health providers that are able to prescribe medications. While historically psychiatrists have offered psychotherapy, similar to the above professions, the field of psychiatry has increasingly focused on the prescription of psychiatric medications. Psychiatrists fees tend to be the highest for psychotherapy sessions ($175 – $325).