What Does "LPC" Stand For In Counseling, And What Do They Do?

By Corrina Horne

Updated August 28, 2019

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. The highest education a mental health practitioner can achieve is an 8-year degree, which licenses psychologists and psychiatrists, alike. An LPC, Licensed Social Care Worker (LSCW), and other, smaller designations are therapists in their own right but do not offer the broad scope of services and specializations provided by individuals with an advanced medical degree.

What Is An LPC?

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A Licensed Professional Counselor (or LPC) is a mental health professional with at least a Master's Degree in counseling or therapy. This particular designation accounts for a large portion of people employed as therapists, and LPCs are often found working in more clinical or community environments, such as therapy clinics, hospitals, and community crisis centers. These individuals are trained in treating many different mental health conditions and may provide therapy to individuals and families. LPCs focus centers around talk therapy, as they are not legally qualified or 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 contained 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, and has a much greater emphasis on instructing students how to guide their patients through different types of talk therapy, to 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 the ability 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 an LPC can certainly have a practice of their own, they often partner with individuals holding an 8-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 must complete a licensing program and pass the state licensing exams and qualifications. These qualifications typically include some form of clinical practice or internship, often through working in addiction clinics or hospitals.

What Can An LPC Treat?

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LPCs can treat a large range of mental health conditions. LPCs are licensed to treat mood disorders (think 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, working to 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, but could also have their practices 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 different clients and client needs. Contacting an LPC's office should clear up any confusion in this area, as can researching your state's licensing procedures.

Should You See An LPC Or A Doctor?

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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 are hoping 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 a range of conditions. If you are hoping to find help with a specific issue, you know your face, 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 to 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.

As a whole, 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, working to identify, uncover, and work 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 is an indication of 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, but the approach to treatment usually differs both in terms of work at the root and the duration of treatment.

LPCs: Who They Are And What They Do

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Choosing between the different types of mental health professionals can be difficult; each of the different specialties has its own set of 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 most commonly seen in hospitals, therapy clinics, and rehabilitation centers, as all of 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 working 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 method of delivery, an LPC can be an invaluable resource in learning how to manage your mental health, and improve mental health outcomes.


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