There are tons of different types of counselors out there so you are probably wondering what they all are and what they do. To start, they really are all different! Each type comes with its own set of specialties and expertise. It is important to know and understand what the differences are so that you can find the best counselor for you. For example, I am an associate Marriage and Family Therapist so what I do is very different than say a school counselor.
Different Types of Counselors
I put this list together based on research from the American Psychological Association and my own knowledge of the field. Then I had to decide, what do I leave in and what do I leave out? First of all, I decided to include types of counselors that have their own license. This means that there is a state licensing board, required education, and test in order to claim the title. I also included counselors where it is typically required that they have a certification or specific education. Here is what I came up with:
- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists
- Licensed Clinical Social Workers
- Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors
- School or Guidance Counselors
- Career Counselors
- Life Coaches
- Grief Counselors
- Pediatric and Child Counselors
- Art Therapists
- Music Therapists
- Sex Therapists
- Crisis Intervention Counselors
- Substance Abuse Counselors
When I look at the list I wrote above, I can see that it breaks down pretty well into some subsections. The first subcategory is licensed counselors. Like I said, these are the counselors who have a certain education, taken a test, met hours requirements, and been granted a license by a state board.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, LMFT
Marriage and family therapists, like myself, are counselors who help treat a variety of different disorders and people. Based on the name, many people assume that MFTs only do family or couples counseling. However, this is not the case. Counselors with an MFT are trained to work with many different types of issues. Here is what the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapistshas to say about who we are:
Marriage and family therapists are core mental health practitioners educated and trained to help with relationship difficulties, and diagnose and treat the mental disorders and emotional problems of individuals, couples, families and groups.
Licensed Clinical Social Workers, LCSW
In the country overall, this is probably to most common type of counselor. While there are roughly 43,000 marriage and family therapists in the United states, the department of labor estimates that there are over 682,000 social workers: source www.BLS.gov.
Within the larger category of social workers, there are clinical social workers. These are the counselors who will often provide mental health treatment in addition to case management. The biggest difference between LCSWs and MFTs is how they provide treatment. Social workers tend to focus on connecting people with services and resources while therapists provide their treatment primarily through talk therapy.
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors, LPCC
You might also know these counselors by another name. In many other states, LPCCs are called professional mental health counselors. So what exactly do they do? They provide mental health counseling to people who need it. LPCCs often work with individuals, families, and groups, to diagnose and treat mental disorders.
Goal Oriented Counselors
The next subsection of counselor’s from my list, are counselors who are goal oriented. These counselors are not necessarily licensed like everyone else I have talked about so far. However, they do have a particular set of skills or education that is required to claim their title. The focus of their work is to see a problem and fix it.
School or Guidance Counselors
School counselors do what their name suggests, they work in schools. These types of counselors work with kids and teenagers on issues that are directly related to school. They might help someone switch schools, get help with friend or bullying issues, talk about grades, or step in if there are behavioral problems.
Usually, if there is a need for ongoing or long-term help the school counselor will refer out to another type of counselor like an MFT. School counselors often make referrals to other counselors so that they can connect kids to the help they need.
Career counselors work with people to help them figure out the best career path. These counselors often use a number of assessments and techniques to help match people with career options. Some career counselors might also help clients write a resume or apply for jobs. Typically, this type of counseling is short term and only lasts until someone has found a career. You can read a longer post I wrote about career counseling here.
Life coaches help their clients figure out what they want to change and then help them take the steps to change it. Generally, life coaches will have a specific area that they focus on. For example, my focus when I work with life coaching clients is on helping them reduce stress. Life coaches do not diagnose or treat mental disorders, so if someone needs that kind of treatment they will generally refer the client to a different type of counselor.
You know how when you go to the doctor for a check up you go to a primary care physician? This person knows how to care for you health needs but if you need something specific you might go see a specialist. It is the same way with counseling. For your general mental health needs you might see a marriage and family therapist, a mental health counselor, or a social worker. But, if you have a specific issue to work on you might go see someone who has extra training in that area.
A grief counselor is someone who is trained to help you deal with loss. One of the biggest resources for grief counseling is hospicefoundation.org. Hospice provides individual and group counseling to people at the end of life and their families. Many people decide to work with a grief counselor if they are going through a loss or if someone close to them has recently passed away.
Pediatric and Child Counselors
Pediatric counselors are those who work with young children. Any licensed mental health professional is technically qualified to work with children. However, some people chose to get extra training and work only with these young people. Typically these counselors will use play therapy to help kids work through mental health difficulties and trauma.
Art therapists are counselors who use visual arts as a way of helping their client’s cope with difficulties. Despite what you may think, this is not just for children! Many Art therapists also work with adults and groups.These counselors use a number of mediums including painting, drawing, sculpture, and collage in order to help treat mental disorders. There is evidence to suggest that art therapy is helpful for reducing pain, anxiety, and even depression.
Music therapists use sound, rhythm, and instruments in order to treat a variety of people and disorders. I recently heard one music therapist say that how they work depends entirely on who they are working with. Sometimes they might work with clients on creating music together or for another group they might play music and have the clients listen.
Sex therapists are counselors who have some other type of counseling license like and LMFT or LPCC and then on top of that they became a certified sex therapist. These counselors are highly qualified to help individuals and couples with different sexual dysfunctions or difficulties. They might also counsel couples on how to increase intimacy or sexual satisfaction.
Higher Care Counseling
The last subgroup of counselors I want to talk about are those who help when people are going through the most difficult moments. These might be the people who are on the other end of a suicide hotline or the support person who shows up following a reported rape.
Crisis Intervention Counselors
There are a number of different specialties that crisis intervention counselors might work with. Some of these counselors work with people who are the victims of sexual or physical abuse while others help people who are suicidal. What they all have in common, is that these are the counselors who get called when there is some kind of emergency.
Generally, these counselors work with people just for the duration of the crisis. That might be a couple of hours or maybe at most a week. Then, if there is a need for a higher level of care they will help clients find somewhere safe to get help.
Substance Abuse Counselors
Substance abuse counselors generally work with people who are recovering from or struggling with addiction. Often these type of counselors work closely with crisis intervention counselors which is why I included them in this section. Addiction counselors might help clients find recovery meetings, get set up in a sober living, or even help them find inpatient treatment when necessary.
I promise that this is not a complete list of every type of counselor. There are so many different specialties and certifications that I could have included. I tried to cover the most common and biggest categories but if you think I have missed an important one please let me know! You can always shoot me an email at Elizabeth@OneMindTherapy.com.
If you are looking for a counselor, please feel free to reach out for help!
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