Here’s another post in my mental health series. A recent informal poll I took of my Facebook friends indicated that there is considerable misinformation in our society about mental health, mental illness and its treatment. One person polled noted that most people get what they think they know about mental health from media. I would add that media’s main purpose is to entertain, whereas the purpose of mental health is to diagnose and treat mental disorders and foster psychosocial wellness. Most of the depictions of mental health treatment I have seen on TV or in movies bear no resemblance at all to what clinicians actually do.
Qualifications and Credentials
To be able to practice clinical mental health as a therapist, there are a lot of hoops you have to jump through.
I am a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor in South Carolina, so I will list the minimum requirements to become licensed as an LPC in my state.
A 60 hour Master’s degree (Coursework is dictated by the state board)
A 500 hour internship as a graduate student. 240 hours must be face to face treatment of patients.
Passing the NCE (National Counselor Exam), which many have to take 2 or 3 times to pass.
Licensure as an LPC intern. As a licensed intern, you have to log 2,000 hours of treating patients and 150 hours of supervision by an LPC Supervisor (The average LPC intern pays over $10,000 to supervisors in order to get the required supervision hours).
You must remain an LPC intern for a minimum of two years. Most take 3 to 4 years in order to log all the hours required. So, from the time a person begins undergrad it takes roughly 10 years of training and supervised practice in order to become fully licensed as an LPC.
After full licensure as an LPC, you must document 40 hours of continuing education by accredited programs per year. Supervisors are required to have 50.
In order to become a licensed supervisor you must document 5 years of practice as a fully licensed LPC and 5 years of supervising interns. You must also document 36 hours of supervision by a licensed supervisor and a 3 credit post-graduate course in clinical supervision.
You must maintain malpractice insurance.
The practice of clinical mental health is highly regulated and controlled by each state’s board of counselors and therapists. I wanted to list the requirements for my readers here so they understand that their mental health provider has gone through rigorous training and supervision and has been closely examined by the state board. When you need mental health services, you want to be confident that your provider is qualified and skilled, just as you would want the same from your physician. When determining who to see for mental health services, ask about the clinician’s credentials and licensure. Here are some credentials to look for when searching for a mental health provider: LPC, LMFT, LISW-CP, LP, CAC (for addictions), and MD (psychiatrist).
Please note that therapists do the talk therapy and behavioral interventions, while medical doctors (psychiatrists) prescribe and manage medications. Years ago, one clinician did both. That is no longer the case. Medical doctors usually have no training in therapy, just as therapists have little or no training in psychotropic medications. The two disciplines are very much separate in modern mental health.
Also, it used to be that theoretical models alone formed the bases of evaluation and treatment. These days, most mental health services are backed by empirical research and evidence-based practice. Theoretical models these days must have empirical support before they are accepted by mainstream clinical psychology.