Credentials at the Master’s Level

This week we will continue the discussion about finding a psychotherapist and review master’s level therapists.  In mental health, you will find two levels of providers – doctoral and master’s level.  This is much like medicine, in which you will find medical doctors and master’s level nurse practitioners and physician assistants, in mental health you will find psychotherapists at both degree levels.

Psychotherapists at the master’s degree level are mental health counselors, clinical social workers, and marriage and family therapists.  You may find doctoral-level counselors, social workers, and marriage and family therapists, although it is less common of the latter two outside of higher education.

Master’s level psychotherapists must complete graduate-level training, post-graduate supervised experience (similar to a residency), and pass state licensure (board) exams in order to be licensed by the state in which they are practicing.  Much like doctoral-level psychologists and counselors, these master’s level professions are qualified to provide psychotherapy, but their training and philosophy somewhat vary.

Mental health counseling (master’s level) programs are clinical, with emphasis on preparing counselors to work in a variety of settings.  Coursework for counselors includes counseling theories and techniques for individuals and families, diagnosis and assessment, group work, multicultural counseling, ethics, lifespan development, etc.  Social work programs often focus on social and economic justice.  Within these programs, students may choose to follow a clinical track, allowing them to pursue a clinical license after graduation.  Marriage and family therapy graduate programs focus on training students to become relationship experts and to provide treatment within the context of family systems.

Also at the master’s degree level are creative art therapists.  Instead of talk therapy being the primary modality, creative art therapists focus more on allowing clients to create art as a catalyst to self-improvement and development.  Not all creative art therapists provide psychotherapy and many do not diagnose mental health disorders.