While there are many articles on what psychotherapy is (or isn’t) I figured I’d start with the basics. There are so many options when looking for a therapist and it’s important to be educated to know what you’re looking at when reading their credentials and what it all means. Here’s a breakdown of the most common ones:

LMSW/ LCSW: Licensed masters in social work/ Licensed clinical social workers. Their basic training is the same. The “C” in clinical means they’re more experienced as it requires many more hours (and an additional exam) to acquire this C. Social Work is very broad term in that you can find them in pretty much every setting: hospitals, schools, agencies, child protective services and more. What distinguishes the C is the clinical training they receive is more focused on psychotherapy, rather than being generalized such as doing case management work.

LMHC: Licensed masters in mental health counseling. Again, it’s a generalized term and they are able to work in a lot of settings. Generally speaking, they are not known to provide psychotherapy in small settings but each has their own training.

LPC: Licensed Professional Counselor. This is the same level as the LCSW, in terms of training and the number of hours needed to reach this title.

LMFT: Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. This is one of the more recent sub-specialties in the field of psychology. What separates this field is specializing in relationships and systems. What I mean by systems is understanding the individual is part of something, like their role as a child, sibling, partner, community, etc. Viewing the individual as a part of a whole, not just their own entity and how that interaction affects them. While you may find LMFT in settings like hospitals and agencies, they are more known for their clinical (psychotherapy) work.

Note that each one of these fields starts with an “L”, meaning they’re fully licensed to practice independently. When choosing a therapist, you want to find out if they’re fully licensed or they’re in training (also known as an intern), which means they’re receiving supervision from someone who is fully licensed and oversees their work.

Psychologist: These are PhD and PsyD levels (higher than Masters level). While a lot of psychologists do practice psychotherapy, they are more scientific and academically based, meaning you’re more likely to find them doing research and teaching in schools, colleges, etc. They are mostly known for conducting evaluations on children and adults. They do not prescribe medications.

Psychiatrist: These are medical doctors (MD) so they do attend medical school and are able to prescribe medication. They are mostly known for evaluating psychiatric conditions, prescribing medications and monitor medication along with medication management. Some psychiatrists do offer psychotherapy but for the most part, it’s not their area of expertise.

I know this is a lot of information. The goal isn’t for you to memorize it so take a deep breath. The easiest way to identify your best option is to consider your needs. Think of where you are in your life and what you’re looking for. If you’re not sure what you need at this moment, that’s okay too. You can schedule an appointment with any one of these fields (psychologists and psychiatrists are the most expensive due to their advanced training) but insurances should cover most of these fields regardless. You can schedule an appointment to discuss and explore your needs and the professional can direct you. You may need to meet with a few professionals before finding the right person for you. Just like with medical professionals, every person has their own training, own perspective on life and has a different personality. It’s okay if they’re not right for you. The long-term benefits outweigh the possible aggravation of finding the right person so don’t give up.


Shlomit Liz Sanders LMFT, CCTP works at Hope Therapeutic Services in West Orange, NJ. She’s licensed in NY & NJ. Her specialties include but are not limited to trauma, anxiety, depression, self-empowerment and relationships. She can be reached at Ssanders@hopetsllc.com or 973-337-6519