Believe it or not…Austin’s pretty great when it comes to mental health services. We’ve got LOTS to choose from—treatment centers, private practices, and professionals with every specialty under the sun. Choices are wonderful and important when you’re looking for someone that’ll help you improve your health and well-being! But if you’re like me…when there are TOO MANY options, you get a lil’ somethin’ called analysis paralysis.

Analysis Paralysis: Becoming so overwhelmed by all the choices that you end up “paralyzed” into not making any decision at all.

It seems like a harmless thing…and it is…if you’re getting stuck choosing from Austin’s many breakfast tacos. But if it’s stopping you from making a decision to get help and change your life for the better, it’s detrimental.

When it comes to mental health services, one of the things that gets people stuck is figuring out whether they should look for a counselor, therapist, psychotherapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist.

“What the heck is the difference? Who should I work with? Which is best for me?” —all EXCELLENT questions! 

I’ve put together a quick guide to explain these different types of professionals so that you can make a choice that will help you turn over a new leaf.   

How to Decide Between a Counselor, Psychologist, or Psychiatrist | An easy guide to finding the right mental health professional to start healing from anxiety and depression today. 

Counselor / Therapist / Psychotherapist

These words tend to be used as catch all terms for people providing mental health treatment but they more accurately refer to professionals with a Masters level education (2-3 years of graduate school). There are several credentials that you might notice following a person’s name:

LPC or LMHC (Licensed Professional Counselor or Licensed Mental Health Counselor)

LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker)

LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist)   

Professionals with these credentials are trained to work with individuals, couples, and families. They differ in that each of the specific fields emphasizes a particular aspect of mental health treatment. So for example, LMFTs are trained to work with couples and families, LCSWs traditionally take an approach that focuses on a person’s strengths, and LPCs and LMHCs tend to focus on the individual as opposed to families. However, it’s important to recognize that over time these fields have grown to be very similar to one another and individual clinicians often develop specific expertise, skills, and experiences that might not fit with these definitions. Ex: an LCSW that primarily works with married couples.

Psychologist

These professionals have a Doctorate level education (6-8 years of graduate school). There are two credentials you might notice:

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

PsyD (Doctor of Psychology)

Similar to counselors, psychologists are trained to work with individuals, couples, and families. What’s different is that they are also trained in theory, psychological testing, clinical research, and have developed expertise in a particular area of study. PhDs tend to have training that emphasized research with applied practice while PsyDs tend to have training that mainly focused on the practice of counseling. Again, these aren’t hard and fast rules.

Psychiatrists

These are physicians who have gone to medical school and specialized in psychiatry. Their credential is MD (Medical Doctor) and they generally treat mental health concerns from a physical and biological perspective. Psychiatrists are the only ones from this list of professionals that can prescribe medication. It's not unusual to work with both a psychiatrist AND a psychologist or counselor, especially if you're needing both medication and counseling services. In these instances, the two professionals work closely with one another on a shared treatment plan. Some psychiatrists also provide their patients brief counseling along with the medication treatment (although it's not a common practice). 

Well, there you have it! I hope this helps give you enough info to get you unstuck. If you're ready to find a counselor in Austin, check out my step-by-step guide. If you are still feeling overwhelmed, schedule a free 15 minute consultation with me and I’d be happy to answer your questions and hopefully direct you to the right person! If you’re looking for help with anxiety, low self-esteem, and identity exploration, check out my services here.

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