I have found that many people that come to therapy and seek a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) come either couples or family therapy. However, LMFTs are not just trained to help couples and families, and this is often a misconception I believe due to the Licenses Title. LMFTs are trained and licensed to provide psychotherapy services for individuals (children, adolescents, and adults), families, and couples. In the state of Michigan there are many licenses given to mental health professionals that have obtain a degree in a mental health Discipline. These licenses are LP, LMFT, LCSW, and LPC. LP is a Licensed Psychologist, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor. With these licenses, each enable mental health professionals to treat people with psychotherapy services. The main difference between LPs, LMFTs, LCSWs, and LPCs is related to their underlying philosophies.
Each of these disciplines are part of the larger psychology field and all serve important functions in treating mental health problems. However, the way in which each discipline views mental health varies. Below a brief description of each discipline’s philosophy will be provided. Additionally, we will look at the education, scope of practice, and conceptualization of psychological disorders. It is important to note that just because each of these professionals have a baseline philosophy of how to conceptualize and treat mental health issues, does not mean that each of these disciplines do not share conceptualizations.
Post License Training
For each mental health professional, no matter the type of license they obtain can seek additional training to increase and build a specialty within their scope of practice. Most importantly, each professional including Psychologists, Marriage and Family Therapists, Social Workers, and Professional Counselors can all engage in the same post license trainings. Some examples of these trainings can include Internal Family Systems (IFS), Eye-Movement Desensitization Reprocessing Therapy, Attachment Therapy, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) among others.
Psychologists also known as Licensed Psychologists (LP) are professionals who have obtained a PhD or PsyD doctorate in Psychology, have completed the necessary number of hours and passed a national exam to obtain licensure. Psychologists have many responsibilities under the scope of their license that include testing, evaluation, and psychotherapy services. PhD and PsyD have the most access to testing instruments due to their education level. Within this discipline a psychologist would at the very least be focused on an individual’s inner world to find the roots of his/her psychological circumstances. However, psychologists understand the complexity of an individual and so they have been trained to be culturally competent and person centered to understand an individual and their problems from many views such as from a biological, resource driven, and social/relational basis.
Marriage and Family Therapists
Marriage and Family Therapists also known as MFTs (LMFT) are professionals who have obtained either a graduate degree in counseling (Masters) or DMFT Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy, have completed the necessary number of hours and passed a national exam to obtain licensure. MFTs are psychotherapist that can treat individuals (children, adolescents, and adults), families, and couples. In addition, MFTs can with additional training, complete testing and evaluation services for individuals dealing with psychological disorders. Within this discipline, an MFT would be at the very least be focused on an individual, family, or couples psychological distress associated within a social and relational context. This means that an MFT would be likely to focus on the implications of attachment as well as utilize relational interventions within therapy to create corrective emotional experiences to increase an individual, family, or couples’ ability to form more secure attachments. Additionally, MFTs view mental health issues from a systemic perspective and consider many faucets of an individual such as self, their relationships, and their experiences. Although this is the baseline, MFTs also understand the biological, resource-based components of mental health and will often employ these conceptualizations when deemed appropriate. You are likely to find LMFTs in private practices, mental health groups, and substance use settings, and sometimes government agencies.
Clinical Social Workers
Social Workers (LCSWs) are professionals who have obtained either their graduate degree (Masters) or DSW Doctorate in Social Work, have completed the necessary number of hours and passed a national exam to obtain licensure. Social workers are really the backbone of the mental health system. Their baseline scope of practice is connecting people with the necessary resources to help individuals and families function well. These resources may include finding housing, therapeutic services (individual, family, couples, or group), financial resources, and other resources that increase well-being. Within this discipline LCSWs view psychological disorders primarily from a resources-based conceptualization. This means that they help individuals with connection to resources to help increase internal and external strength to overcome, control, or manage psychological disorders. As mentioned earlier, this is just the baseline scope of an LCSW. LCSWs also work in private practices, mental health groups, substance use settings, hospitals, schools, and government agencies.
Professional Clinical Counselors
Professional Counselors (LPC) are professionals who have obtained their graduate degree (Masters) in Counseling, have completed the necessary number of hours, and passed a national exam to obtain licensure. LPCs emerged from the field of school and career counseling. Although this is true, this license has expanded to focus more on mental health issues. LPCs baseline scope of practice focus on individual and developmental issues. Like MFTs, LPCs focus on an individual’s social and developmental functioning as it relates to mental illness. The differing baseline scope of practice is that LPCs are not trained initially to see an individual from a systems perspective and instead focus’ on an individual from an individual point of view. This perspective allows LPCs to be more individual focused which can be beneficial but also have limitations. However, LPCs just as Psychologist, MFTs, and LCSWs can take similar trainings to increase their scope of competency after licensure. Some of the things that can enable their increased competency is obtaining certifications in systemic practice. Lastly, LPCs just as Psychologists and MFTs do, engage in testing and evaluation services for the purpose of assessing, diagnosing, and treating psychological disorders.
As mentioned earlier, each of these disciplines have overlap and allow each professional to treat the same psychological disorder and mental health issues. However, the difference in conceptualization is the primary factor when each of these disciplines are treating their clients. In one way, these licenses are very similar in their settings however different in the way in which they view mental health issues. It is imperative to note that no license or discipline is better than another but instead they all have their utility in the assessment, diagnosing and treatment of psychological disorders.
The Case for MFTs
Of course, I may be a little bias when it comes to these licenses as I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. However, I am also a Doctoral Student working towards my PhD in Psychology. I recognize that conceptualizing a problem from one or two points of view is not enough. Instead, expanding my ability to treat competently and comprehensively is necessary to maximize a client’s success to overcome challenges.
However, as it relates to therapy, I have found that in many cases, there is usually a social and relational component that is causing distress, low self-esteem/self-worth and is contributing to the development of mental health issues. As an MFT, my scope of competence has increased year over year much like my counterparts and has focused on trauma-informed care. I am an EMDR trained Therapist, Certified Clinical Trauma Professional, and Certified Personality Disorder Treatment Provider. Although I treat families and couples, I work equally with individuals that are experiencing depression, anxiety, PTSD, dissociative disorders, anger, and attachment issues. Within my work with these disorders and mental health issues, I have found it helpful to conceptualize from a systemic and attachment perspective. It is my belief that these above issues are primarily associated with experiences that include others such as family, friends, and others. These experiences then inform the individual about the way in which they see and exist in the world in relation to self and others. Additionally, as an MFT, I take the family dynamic into perspective not just as it relates to someone’s family of origin, but how an individual has taken their familial role and applied this to their new families or social groups.
Along with this social and relational perspective, I recognize there is a biological component to psychological disorders. When treating anyone, I make sure the biological predisposition for disorders is also addressed through referrals and resources to the appropriate care. Lastly, it is necessary that each person I work with is connected to resources and referrals for other levels of care and aid.
I hope this exploration was informative for you and if you need psychotherapy services, please reach out! I would be happy to take the journey with you!
1514 Wealthy Street SE Suite #246
Grand Rapids, MI 49506
6140 28th St. SE Suite #105
Grand Rapids, MI 49546
209 East Washington Avenue 180 E
Jackson, MI 49201