Choosing a Mental Health Professional: Different Types of Psychological Therapy

There are many different types of psychological therapy to choose from.
At WellBe, we care a lot about our physical health. We’ve done tons of research into all the ways that we can improve our health and prevent disease — from eating organic food to avoiding antibiotics to using clean beauty products — and use that research to treat our bodies well each and every day. But what about our minds? Mental health is just as important as physical health when it comes to your overall well-being (perhaps more important!), and has a major impact on your physical health. But addressing mental health is a huge endeavor, and there are tons of different routes you can take, which makes it intimidating to many of us. So in this guide, we break down the different types of psychological therapy and types of mental health professionals, to help you understand which approach is right for you. 

What Are The Different Types of Mental Health Professionals?

Think about how many kinds of physical health professionals there are: physicians, trainers, health coaches, dieticians, chiropractors, homeopaths, and many more. Similarly, there are tons of different types of mental health professionals, and you’ll experience different types of psychological therapy from each of them. 
Here’s a rundown on the most common types of mental health professionals you’ll encounter:
Therapist
Therapist is a broad term, which can encompass many types of mental health professionals and many types of psychological therapy. Therapists can have a wide range of degrees, from a PhD to a certificate, though different states have different requirements (for example, California requires therapists to be licensed in order to practice). 
What kind of a license indicates a therapist? Different specific titles that fall under the umbrella term of “therapist” include licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), psychologist (PhD or PsyD), and licensed professional counselor (LPC). The unifying characteristic of all these types of mental health professionals is that they provide support and guidance to clients and help them make decisions and clarify feelings.
Psychologist 
Psychologists also cover a wide range of types of psychological therapy. A psychologist is someone who studies psychology, or the human mind and behavior. Often, psychologists practice talk therapy, but many psychologists work as researchers, teach at colleges or universities, or go into related fields like organizational behavior or animal psychology. That’s why psychologists are divided into two categories: clinical psychologists (work with patients) and scholarly (research or teaching) psychologists. 
One thing that sets psychologists apart from other types of mental health professionals is that they must have completed an advanced degree in psychology. But even within that definition, there are many different types of psychologists, each of whom practice a different type of psychological therapy. 
Psychiatrist 
A psychiatrist is, perhaps, the most defined term among the different types of mental health professionals. Psychiatrists are trained medical doctors (MDs), and thus can prescribe medications. It’s pretty common for psychologists to work in tandem with psychiatrists, with the psychologist providing talk therapy while the psychiatrist manages the patient’s medication. Psychiatrists go to medical school, have an MD, and are trained in general medicine. They also must undergo four years of residency, which often includes working in the psychiatric unit of a hospital.  
Life Coach 
A life coach is sort of just what it sounds like: someone who coaches you to improve your life. It’s very goal-oriented, with the life coach helping clients work toward specific objectives, whether they have to do with career, relationships, personal fulfillment, big life transitions, or something else. A life coach is similar to a health coach in that they both take a big-picture, holistic approach and seek out practical, actionable solutions. There’s no specific education or degree required to become a life coach, but there are hundreds of life coaching certification program that have been accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF).
Counselor 
Like therapist, counselor is a somewhat loose term. The American Counseling Association defines it as “a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.” No particular training is required to call oneself a counselor, but Licensed Professional Counselors (LPSCs) must complete a two-year master’s program.

Who Is Each Type of Psychological Therapy Best For? 

So with all the different types of mental health professionals to choose from, how do you decide which one is right for you? To make it easier to figure out, we made a simple, at-a-glance cheat sheet of the types of psychological therapy mentioned above. For each, we’ve included the training required, who can best benefit from each one, and resources for finding a professional near you.
Therapist
Training Required: Training varies depending on the type of therapist you choose, but all therapists have completed some sort of formal education. This ranges from a master’s degree (MA) to a doctorate (PhD) to postgraduate clinical training. 
Who It Benefits: As we mentioned above, the term therapist can encompass numerous different types of psychological therapy, so it can benefit many different people. LMFTs are a common choice for relationship-focused or group therapy, including family therapy or couples counseling. If you’re looking to talk through issues, gain clarity on your feelings, make important decisions, or work through relationship problems, a therapist is a good choice.
Where to Find One: GoodTherapy.org, National Alliance on Mental Health
Psychologist
Training Required: A psychologist, by definition, is a person who studies human psychology, so some form of formal education is also necessary. Clinical psychologists (those who work with patients) have to go through quite a lot of training, including a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, one to two years of internships or residencies, plus licensure to practice. Some psychologists also have PhDs, but this isn’t necessary.
Who It Benefits: Clinical psychologists take an approach that’s more rooted in the science of the brain and human behavior than therapists, and often have a particular area of expertise. Psychologists are trained in theory and research, and can diagnose a mental disorder or issue and determine a treatment plan. They often work in-tandem with psychiatrists.
Where to Find One: National Register of Health Service Psychologists, American Psychological Association Psychologist Locator
Psychiatrist
Training Required: Of all the types of mental health professionals, psychiatrists have the most rigorous training, as they are medical doctors. They must complete an undergraduate degree, four years of medical school, and three to seven years of internships and specialized residency training.
Who It Benefits: Because psychiatrists are medical doctors, they are the only type of mental health professional who can prescribe medications. In fact, it’s common for many people with mental health concerns to see a therapist or psychologist for talk therapy, and only visit a psychiatrist periodically and briefly to receive prescriptions or prescription refills. This is not exactly a great model, in our opinion because it doesn’t take a holistic approach to healing the body and the brain — and by now we know there really isn’t a separation between the two. The brain is just one more organ, like the liver or the stomach, and is affected by the environment you live in, the food you eat, parasites, viruses, and all kinds of other physical root causes. However, there are psychiatrists, like Dr. Kelly Brogan, who take a more holistic approach and rely less (or not at all) on medications. At WellBe, we believe in treating the root causes of mental conditions and recommend seeking out a holistic or integrative psychiatrist if you wish to see a psychiatrist. 
Where to Find One: American Psychological Association Psychiatrist Locator, National Alliance on Mental Health
Life Coach
Training Required: This is a new and relatively loose type of psychological therapy, and so the training requirements aren’t as well established as they are with other types of mental health professionals. No particular degree or educational training is necessary to be a Life Coach. However, life coaches must complete one of a number of certified life coach training programs (accredited by the International Coach Federation). These programs have different levels of certification, which can require anywhere from 100 to 2,500 hours of coaching experience.
Who It Benefits: A life coach is a great choice if you aren’t necessarily grappling with a mental health condition or serious psychological distress, but rather want to work on addressing specific issues in your life. For instance, if you want to change careers, or are unhappy in your current city, or are chronically stressed, a life coach can help you work toward solutions that ultimately improves your life.
Where to Find One: Noomii, LifeCoach.com
Counselor
Training Required: The requirements to be a counselor vary from state to state, but all of them require at least a bachelor’s degree, and LPCs must also complete a master’s degree (generally two years). If you want to know the specific training of counselors in your area, check the state requirements.
Who It Benefits: Seeing a counselor has many of the same benefits of seeing a therapist, but they have the potential to cost slightly less because the training requirements are less rigorous. A counselor will help you clarify your feelings, and provide support and guidance in working through issues.
Where to Find One: National Board for Certified Counselors, eCounseling.com

How Much Does It Cost to See Different Types of Mental Health Professionals?

How much it costs to see a mental health professional depends on the degree of training they’ve received, as well as your insurance plan and the particular person providing the service. A lot of insurance plans won’t pay for mental health services outright, but often you can get reimbursed for some or all of a session if you submit a claim. However, for insurance to pay for any type of psychological therapy, there sometimes needs to be a specific diagnosis. It can all be pretty confusing to navigate, so it’s usually easiest to just give your insurance company a call and find out what your mental health coverage is. That being said, what you need and who you connect with may not be covered, and sometimes what is covered isn’t helpful at all. We’d encourage thinking less about what is cheapest, and more about what is going to be most effective when choosing a therapist.
All that said, here are some ballpark costs for various types of mental health professionals:
  • Therapist: Generally between $150 and $250 for a single session. Some therapists offer sliding scale pricing.
  • Psychologist: Similar pricing to a therapist, but usually toward the higher end of that price range.
  • Psychiatrist: Because they are medically trained, psychiatrists are the most expensive. Expect one session to be between $300 and $500. Because holistic or integrative psychiatrists spend much more time with each patient, they are often $500+.
  • Life Coach: Coaches often offer coaching packages, which might be anywhere from $400 to $1,200 for a month of coaching services. At an hourly rate, you can expect to pay $100-$400.
  • Counselor: Similar pricing to a therapist, but usually toward the lower end of the price range. Some counselors also offer sliding scale pricing.
Note that there’s been another type of psychological therapy that’s recently emerged: online therapy. Companies like Talkspace and Better Help offer therapy via text message, phone calls, or video calls, at a much lower cost (Talkspace plans, for example, begin at $65 per week). We haven’t tried these services ourselves, but we think they have the potential to be a great option for people who have limited time or budget, or who want to get started right away. 

What About Different Types of Psychological Therapy?

To make matters a little more complex, remember that any of the types of mental health professionals above can have one of many different approaches. There are many schools of thought and many different types of psychological therapy, most of which have their own training programs. Some of the more common types of psychological therapy are:  
  • Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and Meridian Energy Health Tapping: A form of counseling that helps people heal mental and physical issues by tapping into “meridian points” in the body to release energy blockages. It uses a wide range of holistic medicine practices, including acupuncture and energy medicine. Adrienne did six sessions of EFT with a practitioner over the phone in January 2019, and discovered some pretty interesting hidden childhood traumas linked to chronic pain she’d had for most of her life.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A form of counseling that helps you challenge and change cognitive distortions and negative patterns of thinking. You work with a mental health professional to identify these negative, unhelpful thoughts, then challenge them and implement coping strategies to use when these cognitive distortions arise.
  • Biofeedback: A mind-body technique that aims to help you gain control over certain involuntary functions, like heart rate, pain perception, and blood pressure. It involves being connected to a device with sensors that provides feedback on various aspects of your body.
  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT): This is a type of therapy that uses CBT in combination with mindfulness and meditation practices to help people reach resolution of issues.
  • Neurofeedback: This is similar to biofeedback, except it’s focused specifically on learning to regulate and control the functions of the brain through feedback. 
  • Positive Psychology: A psychological approach that emphasizes the good aspects of human life, and stresses the importance of both individual and societal well-being. From our interview with Kelly Gores, director of the documentary Heal, we know that gratitude and increasing positive emotions is a critical part of healing and preventing any kind of health issue. So to us, this is just someone who can help you do that, and should be a required class in schools in our opinion! This is probably something every one of us should try.
  • Somatic Technique: Somatic therapy centers the importance of the physical in mental health. It uses the body as a way of causing emotional changes, through techniques like massage, dance, martial art, and many more. Adrienne is actually currently seeing a somatic therapist, and doing things like beating a couch with a baseball bat and breathing through it while thinking about a tough emotion or experience. It’s very unique, and she’s only done a few sessions at the time this guide was written, but if you’re someone who is very “in your head” and can talk until the cows come home, this might be something you want to try. The idea is that it gets you less in your head and more in your body, where a lot of these subconscious or unconscious traumas or stuck, disempowering beliefs are stored. 
How about things like energy healing? Although there is no specific regulation of licensing for energy healers, professional certification is often available. Organizations such as the Reiki Licensing Commission for Reiki Masters and Healers (RLCRMH), the International Association for Energy Healers, and the Healing Touch Professional Association usually grant these certifications. If you want to learn more about how energy healing works or the science behind energy healing, read our interview with Dr. Jill Blakeway in which she explains all of that and more.

Conclusion: Understanding the Different Types of Psychological Therapy and Types of Mental Health Professionals

There’s no “best” type of professional to help you address your mental health. The truth is, the type of psychological therapy you pursue, and the type of mental health professional you work with, depends entirely on your particular goals, personality, budget, and the issue or issues you’re looking to address. Also keep in mind that we’ve just skimmed the surface here when it comes to types of mental health professionals, and that each of these five categories include many subcategories and specialties, like:
  • Social workers or LCSWs
  • Psychoanalysts
  • Addiction counselors
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse (PMHN)
  • And many more
Remember that there’s no one right answer, that the type of professional you need might change completely over time, and that what works for you might depend more on your chemistry with particular individuals than title and training. The most important thing is to make sure that you’re prioritizing your mental health, seeking support when you need it, and being honest about what’s working and what’s not. 
Sometimes you just have to give something a try for a few sessions to see if it’s effective for you, but it’s also important to keep track of how much money you’ve spent and give yourself some milestones and goals so you can track your progress. If you don’t see an improvement in what you went for originally after, say, 10 sessions, you might consider moving on to something else.
Have you ever worked with one of these types of mental health professionals? Which kind? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments below!
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