Therapy FAQ

What To Know About Different Types of Therapists

Recognizing that you may be experiencing an anxiety disorder is a vital step on your journey toward feeling better. The good news is that once you’ve recognized that you need help, there are many options out there for support. Usually, you will get the best results when you combine more than one avenue of support.

Wendy Wisner By Wendy Wisner, MFA, IBCLC

Updated on May 23, 2024

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As you begin looking for a therapist to support you in your mental health journey, you likely have a lot of questions.

After all, there are so many different therapists and mental health professionals out there.

You might be unsure which kind of therapist is best for you. You may also be confused by all the credentials, licenses, and educational background of potential therapists—not to mention the confusing jumble of letters that come after each therapist’s name.

You want someone who is experienced, professional, and has the specialized tools to support you best, but where to start?

We are here to help.

Let’s break down the different types of therapists out there, what their training looks like, what services they provide, and what types of specialties they usually have.

What Is A “Licensed” Therapist?

The phrase “licensed therapist” is an umbrella term that includes anyone who is licensed and credentialed to practice therapy.

As such, licensed therapists may include therapists, counselors, social workers, psychiatrists, and nurses.

The key word here is licensed.

There are different licensure requirements that vary from one state to another, but if you pick a licensed therapist, you know that person has met certain educational and training requirements, and that their training was overseen by a professional credentialing organization.

The Difference Between Licensed Therapists and Other Mental Health Providers

You might be wondering what the difference is between a licensed therapist and other providers who can help you with mental health issues, such as psychiatrists or primary care physicians (PCPs). Unlike licensed therapists, both psychiatrists and PCPs can prescribe medication to help with mental health issues, and they can diagnose mental health conditions. Most psychiatrists also have training in therapy, though not all focus on that. Some PCPs have mental health or counseling experience, but not all do.

There are others who may provide mental health services, such as peer counselors or religious clergy people. While these support people can be invaluable, they usually do not have the credentials or training that licensed therapists do.

What Are The Different Types Of Therapist Licenses?

There are quite a few different therapy licenses out there, and requirements and credentials vary from one state to another. Here are some of the most common therapy licenses that you might encounter, and the ones that therapists at Grow Therapy are most likely to have:

What Are The Career Paths To Becoming A Therapist?

In order to become a licensed therapist, you need to:

  1. Have educational training—usually a master’s degree or doctoral degree
  2. Engage in supervised clinical training
  3. Pass a licensure exam and become licensed in the state where you are going to practice

Different licenses require varied levels of education and training. Licenses that require master’s degrees typically take 2-3 years to complete. Doctoral programs usually take longer, about 4-6 years.

Licenses that require master’s degree include:

Licenses that require a doctorate are:

Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP) must have an RN and then complete a master of science degree. Psychiatrists must either complete an MD (doctor of medicine) or a DO (doctor of osteopathic medicine).

In terms of clinical practice hours, all degree programs are different, but most require between 1000-4000 hours of supervised practice. This means that before a licensed therapist is licensed, they have already spent thousands of hours honing their craft and supporting patients.

Once someone has completed their graduate degree and finished their clinical practice hours, they become eligible to sit for a licensing exam. Each psychiatric association has a credentialing board which curates the exam. Usually once a candidate takes and passes a licensure exam, they are ready to begin seeing patients without supervision and can open up their own practice or join a mental health clinic.

What Specializations Do Therapists Have?

Therapists can have various specializations, experience, and training. For example, some therapists specialize in helping children and teens; some are focused on marriage and couples counseling; others may have training in helping with addiction, grief, and LBGTQ issues.

Many therapists focus on different types of mental health challenges, such as anxiety, depression, personality disorders, or trauma. It can be helpful to discuss your needs with any potential therapist and find out if they have experience helping people like you.

In addition to specialization, therapists may have training in specific kinds of therapy modalities, such as:

What Services Do Therapists Provide?

What happens in a therapy session and what services your therapist provides will vary depending on your needs, what type of therapy your therapist practices, and what their therapy set-up is. Most therapists practice in-person, in an office, and have one-on-one sessions with their clients.

Some therapists work with children or teens; others work with families or other groupings. Usually these sessions happen once per week, but when someone is in a crisis, the sessions may happen more often.

Now, more than ever, therapists are offering virtual options for therapy. This may include video sessions or texting sessions. Virtual options can be helpful for someone who has odd working hours, doesn’t have many therapy options in their area, or who has young children at home.

Most therapy sessions involve talking and sharing what you are struggling with. It’s okay if you don’t want to share very much at first! Your therapist will guide you based on your comfort levels. Most therapists don’t give out advice; they listen, and empower you find solutions to your issues and concerns. Depending on the type of therapy they practice, your therapist may offer you helpful tools for managing your emotions.

Although it can be helpful to find a therapist who specializes in an area you are struggling with, and who has training that matches your needs, the most important thing is to find someone who you feel comfortable with. Therapists have certain methods and styles, but the main goal of therapy is for you to have a place where you can safely share your feelings, which is why finding someone who you “click” with is vital.

The Bottom Line

As you begin your search for a therapist, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed by all the different types of therapists out there, and to feel unsure of which kind of therapist to pick. It’s okay to be unsure of what you need at first. You may need to try a few different therapists until you find one who you feel comfortable with—that’s okay too!

Reaching out for help can be scary, but taking that first step is so brave, and you should be proud that you are making your mental health a priority.

Whether the first step is talking to a loved one about the idea of starting therapy or searching through our community of in-network, qualified therapists and psychiatrists, help is here.

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Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
Wendy Wisner Wendy Wisner, MFA, IBCLC

Wendy Wisner is a writer and lactation consultant (IBCLC) who covers maternal/child health, women’s health, general health and wellness, mental health, parenting, and education. Her work has appeared on The Washington Post, Family Circle, ABC News, Parents Magazine, Verywell, Fit Pregnancy, Healthline, Your Teen Magazine, and elsewhere.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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