There are many routes to becoming a mental health practitioner and there is no one “right” route. The most important thing is to consider what you ultimately want to do professionally, and then to engage in goal-setting for your training to get there. I will briefly discuss four credentials and related training routes. A licensed psychologist is someone with doctoral level training, who also generally has some expertise in psychological assessment, and who has typically had more exposure to research. A licensed clinical professional counselor (“LCPC,” though the title varies from state to state) is a licensure that can be obtained by those who have completed at least masters level training, and the training is often more narrowly focused on conducting therapy. A licensed clinical social worker (“LCSW”) is another masters level licensure that typically emphasizes case management, over therapy, in its training curriculum. A certified consultant with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (“CC-AASP”) is a credential (not a licensure) with a professional organization that oversees standards in practice and training and is obtained by both doctoral level professionals, and by masters level professionals who have completed more supervised consulting. There can be some variability in the work demands of each profession, but these descriptions generally fit.

It is important to remember that licensure is something that happens through one’s state, and so it is at least as important to “dot i’s and cross t’s” in looking over the state board’s criteria to ensure that one’s training will actually meet requirements. To become a licensed psychologist, one must complete one of the following doctoral degrees: EdD, PsyD, or PhD. The kind of student that is typically in each one of these programs tends to vary, but generally speaking, EdD’s have attained life/work experience before enrolling, and training focuses more on specific counseling approaches. PsyD’s (sometimes more competitive for admission than medical school) are often selected immediately out of undergraduate or subsequent masters programs, and training focuses on clinical assessment and diagnosing pathology. PhD’s tend to have a greater emphasis on conducting research than the other degrees. It is important to note that some EdD programs can look more like PsyD’s, and some PsyD programs can look more like PhD’s. It is important to look closely at programs to make sure they will suit your needs. One thing that often makes licensure easier, is if a program is accredited by the American Psychological Association. You can often get licensed without having come from an accredited program, but it may be a more tedious process. Within Montana, UM-Missoula has the only APA accredited PhD program.

Masters level counselor licensure can occur with an MS, MA, MEd (or EdM); it is often easier from a CACREP accredited program, but can again be accomplished by carefully checking criteria. Masters level social worker licensure can happen with an MSW (and sometimes with other degrees); this is a licensure and training route that I’m somewhat less familiar with.

Having learned much of what I’m discussing “the hard way,” I’ve learned several of these routes by having embarked on them myself, without having received the kind of guidance that I’m now trying to impart upon others. It’s nice to know what the options are the front end. Another route within psychology that is less commonly known, but that shows great promise, is within the sub-discipline of sport (performance) psychology. Sport or performance psychology is concerned not just with what’s wrong, but also with what’s right. Consistent with a recent positive psychology movement, it entails pro-active approaches to helping athletes and other kinds of performers to feel and perform their best. Training is typically either housed within sport science programs or within psychology programs. Sport science programs can potentially offer their graduates fewer subsequent work opportunities because they are not equipped to set someone up for any form of licensure. Unlicensed consultants may need to make consulting secondary to a career in academia or something else. It is difficult to practice sport psychology (sometimes referred to as “performance enhancement” or “mental skills coaching” when practiced by non-psychologists) on a full-time basis. But a consultant who also achieves a mental health licensure is equipped to help a range of people and problems and is also likely equipped to use more versatile lenses in conceptualizing problems and solutions. The credential CC-AASP is becoming increasingly meaningful with the world of sport psychology and is preferred by sport psychology’s #1 employer today: Comprehensive Soldier Fitness. Learn more about pursuing the CC-AASP credential.

Adapted from an article first published in Montana’s Healthy Living.