What is a Counselor?
A counselor is a professional who has been specifically trained at an accredited college or university and has earned a Master's or Doctorate in counseling. This training involved supervision, stringent course work and an internship under the supervision of another qualified mental health professional. One should use caution when selecting a counselor as this term is used generically by many and only those who are licensed or certified should be chosen to provide mental health services.
According to the ACA website:
The Practice of Professional Counseling
The application of mental heath, psychological or human development principles, through cognitive, affective, behavioral or systemic intervention strategies that address wellness, personal growth, or career development, as well as pathology.
A Professional Counseling Specialty
A Professional Counseling Specialty is narrowly focused, requiring advanced knowledge in the field founded on the premise that all professional counselors must first meet the requirements for the general practice of professional counseling.
Adopted by ACA Governing Council, October 1997
How do I find a counselor?
You may be able to find a counselor by using the phone book yellow pages. If doing so, the person you choose should have "LPC" (licensed professional counselor) or LPC-MH (licensed professional counselor-mental health) behind their name which designates they have received specified training, adhere to a strict code of ethics, and continue to receive additional training to stay current in their field.
Another way to find a counselor is through a referral from someone you know and trust. Your local school counselor may be able to provide you with a referral. In South Dakota, as in many states, licensed professional counselors will be listed on the state web site.
What do all those letters mean behind their names?
Counselors do use many acronyms behind their names and it does get confusing. Here is a little chart to help you out. If you are working with a counselor, feel free to ask about qualifications and training. Usually the first set of acronyms denotes the highest degree obtained!
MA or MS
Denotes degree - Master's level - 2 years more than a bachelor's or generally 48 hours plus in counseling.
Nationally Certified Counselor (Have taken and passed a nationally standardized test related to theory and training.)
Licensed Professional Counselor
Licensed Professional Counselor in Mental Health
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
CDC I II III
Chemical Dependency Counselor and denotes the level of training.
Educational Specialist - additional training and coursework beyond a master's degree (usually another year).
Doctorate Degree - highest attainable degree - usually 3 years beyond a master's.
Registered Play Therapist
Psychiatric Nurse - A Registered Nurse who has taken extra training in Psychiatry/Mental Health. Often will work in a Mental Health hospital setting.
What is the difference between a counselor, a social worker, psychiatrist and a psychologist?
A Psychiatrist is a trained medical doctor with further training in psychiatry and can prescribe medicines for mental illnesses. A Psychologist is a trained person at the doctoral level in psychology; generally can NOT write prescriptions although New Mexico just passed a law allowing them to do so with further training.
A Social Worker usually works with family systems in courts, hospitals, government, or private practice. Social workers often manage cases assisting people to find resources. Social workers will either have their bachelor's or master's degree.
A Counselor, with a Master's degree, has studied diagnosis, appraisal, human development, career and life span, counseling theories, group systems, research methods, etc. He or she works with individuals and families assisting them to become "unstuck" or work through issues troubling them.
What code of ethics do counselors have to follow?
Counselors are bound to a variety of ethics depending upon the association they belong to. Many counselors belong to the American Counseling Association and are bound to that code of ethics. This can be found at: www.counseling.org. Feel free to also ask your counselor for a copy of their code of ethics.
What should my first session be like?
Depending upon the need of the client, since various counselors work differently, you should briefly discuss the presenting problem while the counselor might discuss the fees, ethics, confidentiality, and the sessions setup. Sometimes a history intake is done the first session. You certainly should feel free to ask any questions or state any concerns you may have.
If I have a complaint, who do I complain to?
First, try and discuss your complaint with your counselor. Perhaps you have just had a communication problem or misunderstanding with that counselor. If there is gross negligence or an ethical concern, you can speak with the State Board of Counselor Examiners. This is the licensing body for counselors in South Dakota and they serve to maintain the best interests of consumers. The State Board of Counselor Examiners web site can be viewed at dss.sd.gov.
What else should I know about counseling?
Remember, counseling is different for every person. The relationship that is established is important to a successful outcome. You should feel comfortable with your counselor and trust should be established early on. A counselor should not feel uncomfortable answering questions about training, education, licensure, fees, or ethical codes.