Author: Lea Zweig, Psy.D.

Finding Therapist San DiegoThere are many different kinds of therapists, and it can feel overwhelming or confusing to determine whom you should contact, as well as what type of appointment you need. First let’s start with the different types of degrees and titles that you will see after the therapist’s name, on their website, or on plaques on their office walls.  Below is a break down of different degrees that therapists will have:

Life Coach

A life coach does not necessarily have a degree in mental health, psychology, therapy, or psychiatry. Some life coaches do have mental health related degrees, but it is not required to have any formal training or experience in order to call oneself a life coach.  Their role is to counsel their client to achieve personal goals.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

Licensed Clinic Social Workers have a Master’s degree, and they are trained to offer a variety of individual and group therapy services. These individuals have been licensed by the state to provide services to the community.

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT)

Marriage and Family Therapists have a Master’s degree and are trained to provide therapeutic services.  Their training is generally focused on the family unit, marriage, and other relationships.


Individuals with a Psy.D. degree have completed a professional doctorate degree in psychology. Individuals with this degree obtain a significant amount of experience in clinical psychology, offering psychological services such as therapy for individuals, couples, and families.  Some psychologists might specialize in working with a particular population or diagnosis, such as children, adolescents, adults, or geriatric populations. These psychologists have also been trained to perform psychological evaluations; however, not all psychologists specialize in performing such evaluations. Currently, individuals with a Psy.D. degree cannot prescribe medication in most states; however, current legislator is aimed at make changes to prescription privileges for psychologists.


Individuals with a Ph.D. have completed a doctorate degree in psychology.  These individuals typically have training both in psychotherapeutic services, such as therapy and psychological evaluations, and they also have a background in psychological research.  They are also trained in psychological evaluations; however, just as with the Psy.D. degree, not all Ph.D. psychologists are capable and competent to perform psychological evaluations. Currently, individuals with a Ph.D. degree cannot prescribe medication in most states; however, current legislator is aimed at make changes to prescription privileges for psychologists.


Psychiatrists have a medical degree (M.D.) and are able to prescribe medication.  Many psychiatrists have specialties and will only set up appointments with individuals within their area of expertise.  Some psychiatrists will ask that you meet with a psychologist first in order to obtain a psychological evaluation to inform treatment.  This helps a psychiatrist get a better sense of what medications might be best.  Some psychologists only prescribe and manage medication; others will offer both medication services and therapy services.  It is common for psychiatrists to have a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant working with them in their practice if they have limited appointment times.

Another important area to distinguish is between the different types of therapy appointments one can schedule. Not all therapists can perform all of the services listed below, so when you are seeking out a particular service, you want to be sure to contact therapists with expertise in those areas.  During a phone consultation or after an initial appointment, a therapist will typically offer recommendations regarding a course of treatment.  The therapist will either offer appointment times to set up your next appointment, or he or she might refer you to someone that can better assist you with your specific needs.  Most therapists provide a list of specialty areas on their website, on, or on their business cards. Below is a break down of different types of appointments:

Individual Therapy

Individual therapy is a one-on-one therapy that is set up to work on a specific set of goals.  Individual therapy can also be done in conjunction with group, couples, or family therapy. 

Group Therapy

Group therapy is beneficial for certain types of topics or areas.  Group therapy is useful in helping individuals connect with others who are facing similar symptoms, life experiences, or difficulties.  If you are working with an individual therapist, he or she can help you find a particular group best suited for you.  Some groups are skills-based, meaning they aim to teach attendees particular skills. Other groups are structured as support groups and aim to offer guidance, empathy, and support to attendees.

Couples Therapy, Marriage Counseling, and Conjoint Therapy

Couples therapy or marriage counseling is helpful for many different types of relationships.  Couples therapy and conjoint therapy aim to help two individuals work on strengthening their bond and connection.  Conjoint therapy refers to two individuals who are not in a partnership who seek out therapy (for example a parent and child). Couples therapy  or conjoint therapy can also be useful for working on co-parenting strategies.  Not all parents start out on the same page and it can be helpful to discuss effective strategies to raise your children together.

Family Therapy

Family therapy is useful to address the whole family system.  Family therapy addresses all of the family members as well as the family dynamics.

Psychological Evaluation

A psychological evaluation is a way to assess someone’s intellectual capabilities, academic achievements, personality, and psychological functioning. Please refer to Dr. Rabin’s article, “What is a psychological evaluation?”   for more information about psychological evaluations and whether an evaluation is appropriate for you.

Oftentimes, consumers will have multiple professionals or doctors who provide different mental health services.  It is common, for example, for someone to have a psychiatrist for medication management and a psychologist or therapist for therapy services.  Typically, it is best to have separate therapists for separate services.  For example, your couple’s therapist should be different from your individual therapist to help differentiate the issues and keep clear boundaries within the therapy relationship.  If you are seeing different doctors and professionals, it is a good idea for you to give them permission to communicate with one another so everyone can work together in your best interest.