Every month I receive dozens of inquiries from women like you who are looking for a therapist. Not only am I hearing how hard it is to find a therapist — but once you conquer finances, scheduling issues, specialties, etc., how do you know the therapist is actually the right fit for you?
Navigating credentials can be confusing and intimidating. Should you go to a psychiatrist, a PhD, a counselor, a psychotherapist, and what’s a PsyD?
The truth is, none of it really matters (although I’m going to explain credentials below). While you want to make sure the person is educated and licensed, decades of research has repeatedly shown that the most important factor in successful therapeutic outcomes is the quality of the relationship between client and therapist (otherwise known as the therapeutic alliance). Simply put, if we like each other, the therapy will be better. You deserve to be understood, and the best way to assess fit is a quick phone call or initial consultation so that both you and the therapist can get a feel for each other. It’s a good sign if you end the conversation feeling hopeful, relieved, and understood. If you leave the conversation feeling more confused, belittled, or unimportant, move along.
Don’t be discouraged if it takes a few tries to find the right fit. It’s a little like trying on shoes — not every pair fits, but we keep trying because we have to wear shoes and we’ll find some eventually.
What do the credentials mean?
- A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who can prescribe drugs. While some psychiatrists practice therapy, most don’t, and typically work in conjunction with a therapist as part of your care team.
- A psychologist (PhD or PsyD) is doctoral level educated clinician or researcher. Psychologists often practice therapy, but some do other things such as teach, run research studies, give assessments for learning disabilities or other types of forensic evaluations. They cannot prescribe drugs.
- A counselor is a master’s level therapist/psychotherapist that primarily practices therapy and is licensed as an LMHC (licensed mental health counselor) or LMFT (licensed marriage and family therapist). Both have very similar requirements and both can practice marriage and family therapy.