I’m sure you’ve noticed that you have several options when you start looking for help with your marriage. I’m going to run through some of the more popular choices for face-to-face professional help so you can be well-informed as you make this important decision.
A counselor has been trained in “interviewing skills” and “counseling theory.” This means that they have learned how to ask good questions that make you dive deeper into your current concerns and they know how to listen well when you talk so that they can offer you the most helpful guidance. Since they also know counseling theory, counselors have also been trained in a variety of “schools of thought” and have learned to use the approaches that they feel most comfortable with. There are lots of great approaches to counseling and each counselor will have their own style, but if they’ve been trained and licensed, you can feel comfortable knowing that they’ve been trained in approaches that have been proven effective for a majority of people and situations. As far as education goes, they may have a bachelor’s degree, a master’s or a doctorate. You’ll have to ask your potential counselor what their level of education and training is.
This term is a little looser than the others because anyone can use the term “therapist.” It’s a little more of a catch-all and the term most commonly used in Internet searches, so you’ll find that both counselors and psychologists may use this term throughout their websites simply because it is the term most easily understood by the people that would be searching online. If you’re seeing this term on a website, you’ll want to also look at the “about me” section or the description of the therapist to know if they are licensed as a counselor, psychologist, social worker or pastoral counselor. Since this is a catch-all phrase, you’ll have to specifically ask to know what their level of education and training is.
Most churches have a pastor on staff that is able to also do counseling. The often offer Biblical or Christian counseling and usually integrate prayer into the sessions. This means that, generally speaking, their advice or guidance will be closely aligned with Scripture and their theological beliefs. Some pastoral counselors also have education and training as therapists, so they understand the nuances of mental health and social relationships just like a counselor would. But, this isn’t always the case. The best way to find out your pastor’s level of therapy training is simply to ask.
Biblical counselors (sometimes also called Christian counselors) use the Bible as their main source or information. They don’t necessarily study psychological techniques of helping others and instead believe that the Bible has everything that is needed to provide support. They will rely on their interpretation of Scripture which can typically be found on their websites. Since there are several Christian denominations that have different theological beliefs, make sure that you can fully agree with your therapist’s theology since this will be their highest priority in the session.
Psychiatrists will always have a doctorate degree. They cannot use the designation of “psychiatrist” without their doctorate. For the most part, psychiatrists focus on medication management only. This means that they will diagnose your main concern the first time they see you and will aim to understand the symptoms you are having (like high anxiety, for instance) and then they will determine which medication is most likely going to alleviate those symptoms. If you have side effects, they’ll help you decide what other possible medications could be helpful and if/when you decide you no longer want to use medication, they’ll help you make that transition in a healthy way. Sometimes, psychiatrists will also do some therapy, but this is pretty rare in my experience.
To use the title “psychologist,” the therapist has to earn their doctorate as a clinical psychologist and complete the entire licensing process. Additionally, they have to be licensed in the state to use the title psychologist. This is why psychologists say they are a “Licensed Psychologist in (state).” Psychologists have been trained in research models, therapy techniques, and psychological assessment and have been taught how to look at biological, emotional, social, and spiritual components of the person. One way that psychologists are different from other therapists is in the way they think about and assess the clients that they see. Since they have been heavily trained in statistics and research models, they typically refuse to use any theoretical models or skills that have not been empirically validated through research. If they use models that have not been proven successful, they’ll tell you that’s what they are doing and actually ask your permission to move forward. An example of such could be integrating certain religious practices in the session. For the most part, psychologists cannot prescribe medications, but there are a few exceptions to that rule in certain states. You are welcome to ask your psychologist if they prescribe medication.
Now that you better understand the differences between each of these helpers, you can move forward with choosing the professional that is most likely to benefit you in your unique situation.