KNOW THE LETTERS! - Advice From Dr. Susan Shaffer

The letters after a therapist's name are important. They tell you how long someone went to school, how long and at what intensity they were supervised before practicing independently and what degree they earned. They even tell you whether the therapist was trained to help "normal life problems," or also learned how to treat much more difficult mental health problems. The letters also tell you whether the individual is licensed and by what governing professional organizations.

MD
Psychiatrists are physicians who have earned an MD from a medical school and learned to treat individuals with psychiatric symptoms during their residency. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications. At Hearthstone, we believe that psychiatrists are an important part of the team. Ideally they evaluate and diagnose with
precision, identify medical conditions that could be causing symptoms that "look" psychological and refer to the appropriate specialist (e.g., endocrinology, internal medicine, urology, neurology, etc.). They are trained to detect even mild brain injury, neurological disorders and to assess and use medications carefully and appropriately to treat many conditions such as depression, cyclic mood, postpartum "blues," anxiety and panic to name just a few.

If you initially sought treatment from your primary care doctor or his nurse and do not feel 100% better or if side effects of the medication are troubling, your next step is to see a psychiatrist

PSYCHIATRIC NURSE SPECIALIST
These professionals are masters level nurses who have received 2 years training in medication prescribing. They should be working under the supervision of a psychiatrist, at best and at the very least, a primary care physician. Seeing a nurse practitioner, especially one who is not a PSYCHIATRIC nurse practitioner is similar to seeing your GP for treatment. If you are not feeling better 100% it is time to see a psychiatrist.

DOCTORAL LEVEL PSYCHOLOGIST (PhD,LP or PsyD,LP)
Psychologists have a doctorate (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in clinical psychology, counseling psychology or educational psychology. Counseling and educational pychologists are trained in helping people adjust to challenging but normal life events, (birth of a child, marriage, etc.). Clinical psychologists have received 4 or more years of post college education, an intensive 1 year clinical internship in both out patient and hospital settings and 2 years of supervised experience before passing both a national board exam and a state licensing exam. They are trained to administer standardized psychological and intelligence tests and to treat a wide range of
disorders and problems.

A PhD concentrated their 4 years of study on research in the field and a PsyD focused their 4 years of coursework on advanced clinical training. In order to treat and keep abreast of the fast paced advances in brain science and medical research, we believe psychologists must have a seamless working relationship with psychiatry. Most mental health problems that require medication have been shown by decades of research to only fully resolve when the patient sees both
a psychologist for talk therapy and a psychiatrist at they same time.

MASTER'S LEVEL PSYCHOLOGISTS: (MA,LP)
The American Psychological Association and most insurance companies no longer recognize a master's level in psychology as an adequate degree for practicing in the field. However, back in the 1980s' and 90s' there was a shortage of doctoral level psychologist and many psychologists with only 2 years of course work were "grandfathered in" and given the status of"psychologist".

CLINICAL SOCIAL WORKERS (LMSW/LCSW, LICSW)
Social Workers have a masters degree in social work (2 years of course work) and an internship. LMSW's OR LCSW's MUST HAVE THEIR WORK SUPERVISED BY A SOCIAL WORKER WHO HAS ACHIEVED AN LICSW. The "I" in LICSW stands for "independent" and means the person has completed many hours of supervised experience before they can practice independently, and have passed a social work exam and a state board must also be passed.

THERE ARE OTHER MASTER'S LEVEL DEGREES THAT A PROFESSIONAL COULD HAVE AND PRACTICE AS A COUNSELOR. THESE INCLUDE:

  • LICENSED MARRIAGE AND FAMILY THERAPIST (LMFT)
  • LICENSED MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELOR (LMHC)