Both psychiatrists and licensed clinical professional counselors (LCPC) work with people suffering from mental health and substance abuse problems. That's pretty much where the similarities stop, however, as both professions are quite different in terms of education, training, license standards and type of treatment practiced. Typically, you would see a LCPC if you needed therapy for a mental health or substance abuse problem of moderate severity, and you would see a psychiatrist if you had a serious psychiatric problem requiring treatment with medication.
Although both LCPCs and psychiatrists spend a lot of time in school getting their degree, a psychiatrist's time in school is about twice as long. A LCPC usually has a master's degree in counseling, psychology or rehabilitation counseling, which takes a total of six years. After completing their undergraduate degrees, psychiatrists finish four additional years in medical school, including a clinical rotation, where they practice assessing and diagnosing patients under the supervision of a licensed psychiatrist. Finally, they complete a residency in psychiatry, which typically takes another four years.
Licensing for LCPCs
While states differ in their licensing requirements, most require an LCPC applicant to present proof they obtained their master's degree from an accredited college. If your master's degree isn't in psychology, counseling or rehabilitative counseling, you can submit proof that what you studied in school meets all the same requirements as these degrees. After getting your degree, you would have to work for two years on a full-time basis as a clinical professional counselor under a qualified supervisor. Finally, you have to pass a state licensing examination and sign an elder and child abuse reporting notice.
To become licensed, psychiatrists first need a license to practice medicine, which is a three-step licensing process. Step one is a knowledge-based test, step two requires a candidate to demonstrate her ability to correctly diagnose and treat patients, and step three requires you to demonstrate your skills to practice medicine independently. Most psychiatrists then obtain certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, which requires practicing, another test and having your credentials reviewed.
LCPCs typically see patients in clinical practice, diagnosing and treating people who are having adjustment problems, moderate depression or family crises. Like other master's-level counselors, LCPCs provide individual and group counseling and general psychotherapy. Common work settings include community mental health centers, residential or inpatient treatment centers, or private practices. LCPCs frequently work in conjunction with psychologists, who provide therapy for major mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and depression, and psychiatrists.
Psychiatrists primarily subscribe medications to treat mentally ill or chemically dependent patients, and many do not provide therapy at all. Their referrals come from multiple sources, including medical doctors, when these physicians cannot find a medical cause for a patient's symptoms; LCPCs; psychologists and other therapists when they diagnose a behavioral health problem in which medications might help; insurance companies that screen callers for organic mental disturbances such as depression and schizophrenia; and primary care physicians who encounter mental illnesses too serious for them to treat as a generalist.
- Psych Central: Distinctions Between Therapist Degrees
- CounselorLink: M.D., Ph.D., M.A., MFCC or MFT, etc… Who Are These People?
- Beth Isreal Deaconess Medical Center: Mental Health Practitioners: Who’s Who?
- American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology Inc.: Psychiatry
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Psychiatrists
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists: Choosing Child and Adolescent Psychiatry as a Career: The Top Ten Questions
- Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation: Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
- University of Baltimore: Certificate in Professional Counseling Studies
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