A licensed professional counselor (LPC) is a mental health professional with some restrictions and limitations about the types of therapy they are qualified and licensed to offer. A mental health practitioner's highest education is an eight-year degree, which licenses psychologists and psychiatrists alike. An LPC, licensed social care worker (LSCW), and other smaller designations are also therapists. Still, they do not offer the broad scope of services and specializations provided by individuals with advanced medical degrees.
What Is An LPC?
These individuals are trained in treating many different mental health conditions and may provide therapy to individuals and families. LPCs focus on talk therapy, as they are not legally able to prescribe medication or take on more intensive therapy modalities, such as those offered by psychologists.
An LPC is qualified to lead the mental health care of individuals with emotional, mood, and personality disorders and can also treat other issues such as addiction. This is done through talk therapy and the modalities within that umbrella, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Through discussion and challenging existing thought patterns, behaviors, and frameworks, LPCs can guide their clients toward a healthier state of mind.
An LPC's education differs from psychology and psychiatry in its approach; psychiatry includes a thorough study of medications and their possible benefits and side effects. Psychology focuses a great deal on cognitive functions, the way the mind works, and more evidence-based instruction. Counseling degrees focus on teaching students how to counsel rather than a more medicine-based approach.
They greatly emphasize instructing students how to guide their patients through different types of talk therapy, create healthier habits, more effective ways of thinking, and more desirable behaviors. In other words, an LPC is strictly a counselor, while psychologists and psychiatrists can fall under the purviews of researchers and clinicians, respectively.
What Are An LPC's Limitations?
An LPC does not possess the ability to prescribe medication or deliver therapies that do not fall under the larger umbrella of talk therapy. For this reason, LPCs often work in clinics and rehabilitation centers; this allows them to treat numerous patients from many different backgrounds and with different needs, in conjunction with other, more intensive therapists, such as psychiatrists and psychologists. Although LPCs can certainly have a practice of their own, they often partner with individuals holding an eight-year degree to provide a greater scope of care to their patients.
An LPC must possess at least a master's degree in therapy or counseling (but may hold a doctorate) and complete a licensing program and pass the state licensing exams and qualifications. These qualifications typically include clinical practice or internship, often through working in addiction clinics or hospitals.
What Can An LPC Treat?
LPCs can treat a large range of mental health conditions. LPCs are licensed to treat mood disorders such as anxiety and depressive disorders, personality disorders such as borderline personality and narcissistic personality disorders), and addictive disorders (alcohol dependency or drug dependency). LPCs treat these conditions through talk therapy, reframe a client's perspective, instill healthier habits, and encourage a more thorough understanding of oneself.
LPCs have special areas of interest, just as many psychiatrists and psychologists do. When searching for an LPC to suit your needs, you can search according to different areas of interest. For instance, some LPCs prefer to work with addiction. These counselors may work exclusively in rehabilitation or clinical settings and could also practice or operate out of a general therapy office.
Some LPCs might prefer working with families or couples. These, too, can fall within the LPC bracket. Just as you can search for a psychologist or psychiatrist with different backgrounds and special interests, you can find LPCs to match your current struggles and needs.
The state you live in can also play a role in the work an LPC does; some states have different licensing requirements for different therapeutic frameworks. Some states, for instance, might require separate licensure to work with children or families as designated marriage or family counselors. Other states allow a broader scope of practice and allow LPCs to practice with many clients and client needs. Contacting an LPC's office and researching your state’s licensing procedures should clear up any confusion in this area.
Should You See An LPC Or A Doctor?
Choosing to see an LPC or a psychologist or psychiatrist will depend largely upon your needs. If you are hoping to find pharmaceutical relief, for instance, you must seek the help of a doctor of psychiatry. If you hope for a more clinical approach to your mental health concerns, including trauma therapies or neurology-based interventions, you may want to seek a psychologist.
If, however, your primary goal is to talk through your concerns and derive practical advice and intervention to rewire your thinking and improve your life, a licensed professional counselor is likely to work just fine as your primary source of counseling.
LPCs can also have several designations aside from the certification of "LPC." These can include LSCW (licensed social care worker), marriage and family counseling, and others, which can further inform their ability to treat various conditions. If you are hoping to find help with a specific issue, you can search for an LPC with additional certification or license that allows them to practice therapy that more closely fits your needs.
LPCs Versus Psychologists
Although the difference between a psychiatrist and an LPC is relatively clear – a psychiatrist is considered a medical doctor, and an LPC has a master's degree or doctorate in counseling – the differentiation between a psychologist and an LPC can be more difficult define. Because schooling is not a guarantee of a substantial difference (LPCs can have doctoral degrees in their field), the manner of treatment is usually the most significant area of difference.
Counseling tends to focus on a more immediate, concrete set of problems, working to eradicate or manage those problems. Someone might go to a counselor for anxiety or depression, for instance. Typically, psychology focuses more on a broader frame, identifying, uncovering, and working through underlying issues and root causes.
A more succinct difference might be demonstrated through comparison; someone coming into a counselor's office for anxiety will likely work through the anxiety at hand and develop tools to manage that anxiety. This could happen through psychotherapy and creating healthy coping mechanisms, or it could be via adopting better lifestyle habits to create lasting change.
Conversely, someone might come into a psychologist's office and learn that the anxiety surrounding their job indicates a deep-seated fear of vulnerability created in an unstable home in childhood and manifesting through trouble at work. The psychologist would then work to "unseat" the root issue and work from the ground up.
Both psychologists and LPCs are qualified to provide their clients with diagnoses of mental health conditions and disorders. Still, the approach to treatment usually differs both in terms of work at the root and the duration of treatment.
Choosing between the different types of mental health professionals can be difficult; each of the different specialties has its own pros and cons, schooling requirements, insurance processes, and areas of interest. One of the most common mental health professionals in the United States is a licensed professional counselor. Although these therapists can have their practices, they are mostly seen in hospitals, therapy clinics, and rehabilitation centers. All these places offer psychotherapy and talk therapy as a primary source of treatment.
An LPC is a licensed mental health worker who must complete at least a master's degree in counseling but may hold a doctorate and additional licenses. To qualify for these, LPCs must complete practical training through clinical practice and work directly with counseling clients for at least one year, if not more. LPCs can both diagnose and treat mental health conditions but typically focus on short-term care versus the long-term treatment usually offered by psychologists and psychiatrists.
If you are struggling with a mood, personality, or addictive disorder, you may benefit from the intervention and subsequent counseling services of a Licensed Professional Counselor. These professionals can be found at clinics, hospitals, and rehabilitation centers but can also be found via online platforms such as Regain.Us. No matter the exact delivery method, an LPC can be an invaluable resource in learning how to manage your mental health and improve mental health outcomes.
With Regain, your sessions can be held remotely wherever you have an internet connection and feel most comfortable, including your own home. You can choose to talk with your therapist via video chat, phone call, or messaging.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is An LPC A Therapist?
Yes, a licensed professional counselor is a therapist. Specifically, a licensed professional counselor is a mental health counselor who provides talk therapy.
So, what does it mean to be an LPC? Licensed means that the counselor has passed a licensing exam after completing their degree in counseling or therapy. Finally, because they work with you in talk therapy to help you make changes in your thinking and behavior, they are called counselors. LPC means a licensed professional counselor has studied counseling, psychology, and related subjects. And they have gained the credentials to provide professional counseling in the mental health counseling category.
As licensed professional counselors, they can provide mental health counseling. They can also work as substance abuse therapists or marriage and family therapists. And in many cases, counselors recommend at least a few family therapy sessions when you're dealing with a difficult issue that affects the family, such as substance abuse or mental illness. In that case, the primary goal of family therapy is to help you meet your own mental health goals.
What Is The Difference Between An LCSW And An LPC?
A licensed clinical social worker is very similar to an LPC – licensed by taking an exam after earning a degree. However, the licensed clinical social worker has a degree in social work rather than counseling psychology.
Another difference is the perspective of a licensed clinical social work counselor. Someone with a degree in social work will likely have a slightly different point of view than licensed professional counselors. That's because in licensed clinical social work counseling, more attention is paid to economic and social factors than in traditional professional counseling. While any licensed mental health counselor will help their clients deal with their personal issues, thoughts, and behaviors, the licensed clinical social professional spends more time looking at how your economic and social situation affects your decisions and mental health.
In fact, this perspective and training help make an LCSW well-prepared to be a marriage and family therapist. In marriage and family therapy, they can understand social systems to work as they help with the most basic social unit – the family. However, this fact doesn't mean that an LPC licensed counselor can't provide excellent family therapy. LPCs, especially those who specialize in family therapy, have all the training needed to guide family therapy in outpatient clinics, community centers, hospitals, and even long-term residential centers.
Finally, the methods of treatment vary, primarily because of the licensed clinical social perspective. Licensed professional counselors treat the individual by offering talk therapy and other tools to deal with specific issues but licensed clinical social work professionals tend to dig deeper into their social and family background. Licensed clinical social counseling also works from your strengths and focuses on helping you make better decisions based on them.
Can An LPC Diagnose Mental Illness?
Yes, an LPC licensed counselor can diagnose mental illness. Providing the client with a diagnosis helps licensed professional counselors plan the right treatments for everyone. It is also typically required if you want your insurance to pay for your mental health counseling. And some people prefer to have a diagnosis as soon as possible after starting therapy with a licensed mental health counselor. Some say it gives them a sense of relief to know what kind of mental health problem they're dealing with in therapy.
However, some people prefer not to have a diagnosis. These people may feel that the diagnosis puts an unfair label on them and sets them up to deal with the stigma associated with getting professional counseling. Fortunately, you can choose to seek counseling without a diagnosis if that is your preference. By seeing a mental health counselor on BetterHelp, you can opt to forego the diagnosis and concentrate on changing your thoughts and behaviors to become mentally healthier.
What Is The Difference Between LPC And Psychologists?
There are many differences between licensed professional counselors and psychologists, though they can both provide talk therapy.
First, there are the degrees required. A psychologist studies counseling, psychology, and other related subjects. They need a doctoral degree in psychology, either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. On the other hand, licensed professional counselors might have a doctoral degree, but it's not required. Instead, they can get only a master's degree if they choose. And even if they get a doctoral degree, it is usually a degree in counseling rather than in psychology.
Next, there's training and experience. To be a psychologist, you need one to two years of internship. To be a mental health counselor, you need many hours of supervised clinical experience. The number of hours for a mental health counselor depends on the state, but it is often like the requirements for a psychologist. The difference is that an internship is usually more intense and comes with more responsibility than the supervised clinical experience licensed mental health counselors need.
Another difference is the perspective. Psychologists take a more theoretical approach, while there's a more practical perspective in counseling. So, mental health counseling focuses on solving immediate problems, like reducing your anxiety or lifting your mood. Psychology courses that focus on theory and research give these professionals a different approach. They pay more attention to the psychological problems behind the practical problems, and they can also prescribe medications whereas most LPCs cannot.
Finally, there are differences in the types of treatments offered. A licensed mental health counselor usually offers only traditional talk therapy, although many methods may be under that umbrella. A psychologist can offer other types of therapy along with traditional talk therapy.
Both psychologists and licensed professional counselors can be mental health counselors, though psychologists may be better equipped to deal with the most severe mental illnesses. Either type of therapist can be a marriage and family therapist as well. Yet, when marriage and family therapy involve extreme mental illness cases in the family, a psychologist offers knowledge and techniques beyond what a licensed mental health counselor can.
Also, a substance abuse counselor is often an LPC with additional, specific training and licensing. A psychologist may get involved in some cases, but more often, it's a counselor – LPC or LCSW. An LCSW is also well-qualified to work as a marriage and family therapist. They can provide marriage and family therapy that deals with the larger issues of community and financial well-being. For these types of counseling, psychology doctorates are not required. So, a psychologist would usually only step in in extreme cases.
How Much Money Does An LPC Make?
Several factors determine the pay for mental health counselors.
First, the setting where the mental health counselor practices make a difference. According to ZipRecruiter, salaries for a licensed professional counselor range from an average of $54,455 to $77,514, depending on the state. This site places the national average for counselor LPC salary at $70,077.
For instance, glassdoor.com places the national average for LPC licensed counselors at $38,132. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the median pay for LPCs as $46,240. So, there must be some other factors involved.
Counselor LPC salaries also depend on what type of counselor LPC therapists are.
Experience also matters as a therapist with more years of experience will typically make more than a therapist just beginning their therapy career.
In addition, the following specialties can increase salary:
Supervising in clinics
Finally, where they work can be a factor in their pay. An LPC working in a hospital makes slightly more than the national average for all LPCs. According to counselingwise.com, the average wages by sector are:
$50,600 in government jobs
$47,000 in hospitals
$42,190 in individual and family therapy
$42,140 in outpatient centers for mental health and substance abuse counselors
$37,210 in residential settings for substance abuse and mental health counseling
According to trends cited by the BLS, a large boost in jobs is expected for LPCs in the coming years. For example, marriage and family therapists will likely grow by at least 23% in the decade ending in 2026.
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