4 Tips To Be A More Assertive Communicator

Do you feel like you overcommit to doing things?  Do you feel like you are always giving to others but are worn out by it?  Do you feel like others take advantage of you and your kindness? 

If you said yes to any of these questions, you might struggle with assertive communication. Oftentimes, we think we should help out anyone who asks, and say “yes” to doing anything asked of us.  We might feel guilty if we don’t help out. But, if we don’t have good self care and balance, though, this overcommitting can wear us down. 

Being assertive means standing up for yourself, your needs and your wants.  It means possibly setting limits with others-outlining for them how they can (and can’t) treat you or what they can (and can’t) expect of you.   

Even if you aren’t naturally assertive, you can learn some skills! Here are some 4 suggestions of things to think about and try to be a more assertive communicator: 

  1. How do you feel? : Paying attention to how you feel is the first step of all of these suggestions.  Do you feel stressed?  Overwhelmed?  Do you feel others really care for you and show you concern?  Journaling is a great tool to help you to recognize your feelings, and patterns with how you feel in certain situations or with certain people.  

  2. Communicate : After you know how you feel, you can express those feelings to others.  Clearly state how you feel, and/or what you need from the other person, especially when you are feeling upset.  Saying “I feel you aren’t listening to me” is a better option than walking away, feeling as if what you say doesn’t matter to your partner or friend.  Repressing your feelings is the tendency to not share your feelings, and this can harm you in the long run.  Saying something is usually better than holding those feelings inside. 

  3. Say “no” : Practice saying no, starting in situations where you don’t feel obligated to help.  Things like your child’s preschool asking for a volunteer on a day where you already have a doctor’s appointment, or participating in the neighborhood yard sale might be situations where it may be easier to say “no”.  Notice how you feel after you say “no”.  There might be feelings of guilt or disappointment, but there also might be feelings of relief and pride.  After you have had practice saying “no” in a variety of situations, then challenge yourself to say “no” to things you don’t REALLY want to do.  Remind yourself it is not your responsibility to help out everyone all the time, even if they try to make you feel like it is. 

  4. Ask for help : Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance yourself.  Let those in your life know if you need help getting both kids to their sports practices at the same time on the same night, or if you are working late, ask your partner to start dinner.  Being able to admit that you could use some help to lighten your load is a key in being an assertive communicator. 

Hopefully these tips can get you started in thinking through the things you commit to doing, and why, and will help you to be more assertive in the long run.  If you’ve tried these suggestions, let us know how it is going for you! 

8 Tips to Create a Strong Blended Family

In my 6+ years of step-parenting in a blended family, I have learned that it can be one of the most difficult things, but also one of the most rewarding and loving things. It has been a journey for me, of challenging moments, and rewarding moments. I know there are many other blended families that are struggling with the same stress, the same frustration, but looking for the same rewarding relationships in the end. 

Let’s cover the basics:

A blended family is any family that consists of a couple and their children from previous relationships. 

-       1 out of every 3 Americans is either a step-parent, a step-child, or has some other form of a blended family in some way, which means almost 100 million people.

-       It is estimated that in the US, 2,100 new blended families form everyday.

So, blended families are very common. They can be very difficult on all of the family members, but putting in the work and effort is worth it, to create a solid family foundation. It can take several years, or more, for a family to find a way that is comfortable for everyone.  It is important to remember that the relationships formed within a blended family are can be REWARDING, and what is what you are working towards.

8 Tips to Create a Strong Blended Family:

1- Communication: Open communication between all family members is key. It is important to always express how you feel to your spouse, and to others at times that you want to speak with someone outside of the blended family. It’s important to keep communication open with the children involved, and to encourage them to express their feelings and seek help when needed. Everyone involved in a blended family should have someone they can talk to, to process through bumps and obstacles along the way. (Not sure if therapy is right for you? Check out this blog which addresses that question.)

2- One on One time:  It is important to make time to be alone with the children, to work on building an individual relationship.  It is also important to set aside time for the couple involved, without children, to maintain a solid relationship between the adults in the family.

3. Support through Transitions: Support the children in their transitions if there is a custody schedule- it is hard constantly moving back and forth between houses! They need a double set of everything at each house, or need to constantly be packing and unpacking a bag. This can make them feel very unstable in their life. Make sure they have someone to talk to about these transitions, and stay positive and respectful when talking to your child about the other house. Try to offer as much stability as you can.

4. Family activities: Find activities that everyone can do together. It is important to find activities that everyone enjoys, to work on building a family unit. Some examples of this would be to go on a hike, or to play at the playground, or have a picnic in your backyard. 

5. Respect: It is important to keep an open-mind and an open heart, and understand that this is difficult for the children too. They did not ask for their biological parents to separate, or even have a conflictual relationship. Always speak of the other parent with respect- the child does not want to hear negative statements about their parent.

6. Consistency: It is important to stay consistent with your spouse, with the children, and with your beliefs and values, because all children, thrive off of structure, routine, and consistency. This is another time that constant communication with your spouse is key, so that there is consistency and structure in the household, now that two families are coming together. 

7. It’s ok that it’s hard!: It is important to acknowledge that being a stepparent or a blended family is HARD and you are doing the best that you can. There will be hard times, there will be tension at times, there will be times of crying and disagreement, BUT YOU WILL WORK THROUGH IT.

8. Self care: It is important to know that even the most dedicated (step)parent can get exhausted, overwhelmed, and on the way to burn-out. This DOES NOT mean that you are not doing a good job, or that you can’t fulfill the shoes of being a (step)parent, it just means you need a break, some “me time”, to blow off some steam and feel connected with others. 

Does the stress of (step)parenting sometimes push you to the edge? What has worked for you to help the family work together and find a good mix, or to help you recharge?

 

SOURCES:

https://brandongaille.com/20-noteworthy-statistics-of-blended-families/

https://www.handinhandparenting.org/article/step-parenting-blended-families/

When is the last time you were bored? 

Please watch this TED talk! Spare 15 minutes and then come back for some thoughts on it….

How are you filling the cracks in your day?  Instead of daydreaming while waiting for your latte, we now tend to update our social media platform, and “check in” at the coffee shop, so others know what we’re doing. 

I wanted to share this TED talk with you on boredom and the link to creativity.  This is a topic that comes up in sessions with clients: either the client is worried about their smartphone use, or we talk through how to set limits for their teen’s smartphone use.  This short TED talk by a journalist who consulted with researchers addresses our attention, smartphone use as a society, and allowing ourselves to have time where we are bored and allowing our minds to wonder.   

Our brains are not designed to multi-task.  What we are really doing is shifting our attention back and forth, using glucose and depleting neural resources each time.   There are a million things vying for our attention, and with smartphones, there are now thousands of engineers and designers all trying to capture and hold our attention.  And, with marketing endeavors, trying to monetize our attention. 

Now that smartphones are an integral part of our lives, on average, we pick them up 60 times a day (to see if we got an email or text), and spend more than 2 hours daily on them.  We use them to navigate somewhere while driving, or to check the weather to see when it’s going to rain.  We access the internet to look up the score of the game, or call to order a pizza.  But, we also have many social media apps and spend time socializing that way with others.  Zomorodi talks about a study she did with her listeners called “Bored and Brilliant”.  Watch the TED talk for details of the study and the results!  

Her final thoughts suggest asking yourself, “What am I really looking for?....  But if it’s to distract yourself from doing the hard work that comes with deeper thinking, take a break and stare out the window.  And, know that by doing nothing, you are actually being your most productive and creative self.” 

After you watch the talk, please share with us your thoughts.  And, share with us how else you spend the cracks in YOUR day?   

How Physical Exercise Benefits Your Mental Health

Are you experiencing…

-Headaches?

-Tense muscles?

- Depression?

- Weight gain and decreased metabolism?

- Blood pressure problems?

- Hair loss?

-Being sick a lot?

-Stomach aches?

-Trouble sleeping?

-Lowered sex drive?

-Jaw pain?

Stress is a part of everyday life. There are many ways to cope with stress, but exercise is an important part of coping. Besides improving your overall health, exercise helps us have more energy, improve alertness and the ability to concentrate, and increase our thought processing. These things can be very helpful when stress has made it difficult to concentrate, or zapped your energy. It has been found that regular exercise will decrease levels of stress, help to increase mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem.

Exercise produces hormones called endorphins, which act as natural painkillers, and also help with sleep, which can in turn, reduce stress. Exercise also decreases stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline.

We often suggest meditation as a way to cope with anxiety and depression. Meditation is the practice of focusing on one thought or movement and clearing your mind to an emotional state of calmness. This allows you to free your mind of all negative thoughts and stressors in the past and future, and only focus on the present thought or movement. Exercise acts as meditation in movement, as you focus on your body movements. When you exercise, you focus on your movements, your breath, and how your body feels. Your attention is taken away from the stressful events of the day, and focused on the present moment. You are able to detach from the negative thoughts or events of that day. Learning how to focus on a single task, added to the energy that exercise gives you, may help you remain calm in everything that you do. Even 5 minutes can stimulate anti-anxiety effects. You don’t have to be an athlete or in top shape, to add a little bit of exercise to your daily routine.

Along with an improved self-image and self-esteem, exercise will improve your physical health. All of these things will improve your overall mental health and happiness. 

There are many excuses one can make to not start an exercise program. When I had my son, I knew I wanted to get back into exercise as soon as I could, but it was hard to find the time and energy. I felt like I did not have enough time to take care of myself, because I had a newborn to take care of that took up all my time and energy. Once I was able to commit to exercise when he was napping, or after he went to bed at night, or while a family member watched him, I was able to care for him better because I was not as stressed and my mood was elevated. 

5 Tips On Beginning An Exercise Program:

1. Decide to make an important change in your life. Don’t be afraid!

2. Consult with your doctor, if there are any health concerns or if it has been a long time since you have been physical

3. Walk before you run- start your program slowly if you are new to it, to prevent yourself from injury

4. Do what you love-it is important to find an activity that you enjoy. Some examples are running, walking, swimming, playing a sport, yoga, weightlifting, boxing. Try new things!

5. Set achievable goals and put it in your calendar- set measurable goals that you can achieve, and pencil it in your calendar so you make sure you have time to fit it in that week. Even if you have to break up 30 minutes of walking into 3 10-minute walks, still do it! Find a friend or a trainer if this helps you to stay motivated and accountable.

Anybody have experience with exercise benefiting their mental health and overall happiness? Anyone have struggles that they overcame to stick with an exercise program? Please share your stories! 

 

Guest Blog Post by:

Stacy Martinez, LCSW

Certified Personal Trainer

Certified Health coach

Field Hockey coach

 

Sources:

https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469

https://blog.spire.io/2018/03/19/how-does-exercise-reduce-stress/

https://www.activebeat.com/your-health/10-ways-stress-can-affect-physical-health/10/

What to Expect in your Initial Therapy Appointment

(Today’s blog is the final installment in a 3-Part series regarding starting therapy. Part 1 focused on questions to ask yourself or situations that might make you want to consider therapy.  Part 2 addressed ways to find a therapist to work with, and Part 3 will focus on what to expect in your initial therapy appointment. If you missed either earlier post, click here to catch up!) 

Now that you’ve decided you want to start therapy, and you have selected a therapist to work with, what comes next? 

The therapist should give you a heads up as far as what the next step is after you schedule your first appointment.  Each therapist might do things slightly differently, so don’t be afraid to ask if you are not quite sure what to expect.  Some might have you come in 30-60 minutes prior to your first appointment to fill out paperwork. Some, like our practice, use electronic health records, and would ask you for an email address to send you access to a secure client portal.  In this case, you can view and fill out the paperwork at home, and electronically sign it.  Either way you complete the paperwork, expect to read about the practice’s policies and procedures, how they handle your confidential information, consent to treatment, and fill out some background information as far was why you are looking to start therapy.  This paperwork would outline things like if the practice allows interns or non-licensed therapist, if they accept insurances or their self-pay rates, if they use encrypted email and phone systems, and what their cancellation policies are.  It might seem boring, but we would suggest reading through all of this information, since at the end of the documents, you are going to sign your understanding and agreement with it.   

Each practice might handle insurance differently too.  Some practices do not accept insurance at all, and allow you to submit your self-payment to your insurance for possible out of network reimbursement.  Some expect you to verify your coverage with your insurance provider. Others, like our practice, will ask for your insurance information and will verify your benefits prior to the initial appointment.  Either way, you can follow up with your insurance provider to clarify your coverage or talk with your therapist about what your coverage might mean.  Feel free to ask questions about your benefits, as insurance is often confusing!

The initial appointment is called an intake.  In this session, the focus will be a little more administrative than future sessions.  You will probably review the documents you signed and ask any questions about them that might have come up.  Your therapist may have you complete more specific assessments (regarding anxiety or depression symptoms, for example) to gather more information.  Then, you will probably start to talk about what is bringing you into therapy, what your goals are for your sessions, and how you will know when you’ve reached those goals.  If you are using insurance, please realize that your therapist will need to make a mental health diagnosis in order for your insurance to cover your sessions.  An example of a diagnosis is anything from ADHD to Unspecified Depressive Disorder.  The background information will give your therapist information in order to make an accurate diagnosis.  Beyond a code to bill to your insurance, the diagnosis can mean very little, so don’t get too hung up on it.  Focus on your goals for therapy and what benefit you want to see rather than what your diagnosis is.  Or, talk to your therapist if the diagnosis bothers you or you have questions about it. 

Your therapist will most likely ask you, probably very pointedly, about drug and alcohol use, as well as self-harm behaviors and suicidal thoughts.  Part of our job involves your safety, and so we need to ask about these things.  Please speak honestly, so that we have all the information possible to best help you if you are struggling in these areas. 

If you didn’t have a consult prior to a first session, see the intake as your chance to ask questions and determine if this therapist is a good fit for you.  Our hope at The Counseling Collective is that you leave an initial appointment feeling (somewhat) more hopeful.  If you feel much worse, this could be a sign that the therapist, or his/her style, is not for you.  Either way, communicate openly with your therapist what your needs and expectations are. 

Hopefully, if you go through the steps we’ve suggested in this series, you will be in therapy with someone you feel comfortable with, getting help to address your problem or concern. We’d love to hear from you if you have any feedback or questions about this series, or therapy in general.  Our hope is that by sharing these topics over the past few weeks, you have a better understanding now of the beginning of the therapeutic process.  Here’s to better mental wellness! 

How to find a Therapist to Work With (Part 2 of 3)

So now that you've decided you want to pursue therapy, how do you go about finding a therapist?  (Today’s blog is Part 2 in a 3-Part series regarding starting therapy. Part 1 focused on questions to ask yourself or situations that might make you want to consider therapy.  Part 2 will address ways to find a therapist to work with, and Part 3 will focus on what to expect in your initial therapy appointment. Click here if you missed Part 1 to read it and catch up!)

We think the therapeutic relationship between therapist and client is a very important factor in how the client progresses in therapy. If the client feels self-conscious, or as if the therapist is judgmental, he/she might not open up and share completely and honestly. We tell our clients that working with a therapist is just like any other relationship-it may take time to develop and that is completely normal. There are some people you will naturally get along better with, some that you get along better with after you know each other a little more, and some that you won’t “click” with or feel comfortable with. 

As with anything else, word of mouth referrals are always a good way to find out about local therapists.  If you know someone who has been in therapy, ask them what they liked or didn't like about their therapist, or their experience in therapy.  Ask if they'd go back to that therapist, and if not, why.  You ask your friends for a recommendation for a roofer, dentist, or pediatrician, so why not for a therapist too?

Another great place to find a good therapist is to ask your primary care doctor for a referral.  Many doctors know therapists in the area, and are happy to provide contact information for local therapists.  Your primary care doctor can also give you assessments to determine your level of anxiety or depression (for example), and can make referrals based on how you answer these questionnaires.

You can also call your insurance provider and ask for a list of therapists in your area.  This way you know for sure that the therapist you contact works with your insurance, if you are planning to use it.  Just realize that working through insurances dictates some elements of treatment, such as session length or frequency.  Some insurances can filter down therapists in your area based on availability or treatment concerns to a few that most closely match what you are looking for.  From this list, you can either google them to look around their website for more information, or call the therapists directly.

After you find a therapist to contact, feel free to ask for a free consult, whether in person or on the phone.  (Not all therapist offer free consults, and how they do them will differ slightly.)  A consultation offers the chance for both the therapist and potential client to determine if them working together would be a good fit. Regardless of if you are able to do a consult or not, if you can, speak with the therapist on the phone, just to ask any general questions you may have.  By having a phone conversation, you will be able to pick up on their tone of voice, inflections, and displays of empathy. Ask yourself if your first impression is that the therapist is likable and someone you think you could grow to trust.  If so, give it a try!

When you are on the phone with the potential therapist, here are some ideas of some questions to ask:

"How often do you meet with new clients?"

"Can you accommodate my scheduling needs?"

"Do you work with my insurance?"

"How have you worked with others with “X” issue before?"

Be honest with what it is you are struggling with or are looking for help to address, so you can best assess if this therapist is a good fit for you.

Another idea is to commit to 4-6 sessions before deciding if you think the therapeutic relationship will work for you. Typically in the first 1-3 sessions, you will be going over administrative things, and getting to know each other and your history, so give yourself a few sessions beyond that before evaluating if you want to proceed further.

Be sure to check back in 2 weeks for our final installment "What to expect in your initial appointment" in this 3-part series.  Let us know if this post was helpful, or if you have other thoughts or questions!

 

Guidance to know the answer to "When should I consider therapy"?

Today’s blog is Part 1 in a 3-Part series regarding starting therapy. Part 1 focuses on questions to ask yourself or situations that might make you want to consider therapy.  Part 2 will address ways to find a therapist to work with, and Part 3 will focus on what to expect in your initial therapy appointment.  

We find that many people have misconceptions about therapy, and I am hoping this 3-Part series will help answer some of those questions, and address some inaccuracies about therapy. 

How do I know when I should consider therapy?

Great question, and of course my first answer would be anytime!  The reason I say that is because therapy can be a time for self-reflection, a pause in your busy life to prioritize what you are doing and why.  Just like scheduling a massage, going for a run, or getting a mani/pedi allows you time to focus on YOU, therapy can offer the same benefit. A gym membership can lead to good physical health while therapy can lead to good mental health.  Maintaining good mental health is always a good idea, and therapy can help with that.

Therapy is also appropriate when you might be looking for unbiased,professional help. Therapy can be considered if you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, or are dissatisfied with your job, but can also be helpful if you don’t want to leave your house due to sadness or worry. The spectrum of people who can benefit from therapy is quite wide! As long as you are willing to open up to a therapist and are interested in having guidance to address some of your concerns or help get you back on track, then therapy is appropriate. 

A good rule of thumb is if you are consistently feeling: 

Unfulfilled

Stressed

Unhappy

Worried 

Sad

Drained

Questioning yourself or what you're doing, then therapy might be something to consider. 

Oftentimes, we feel dissatisfied, and don’t know why. You might say “I’m doing everything I can and I’m still not happy.”  This might lead to just trying harder, and doing more, which ends up leaving you even more drained.  This is when having a professional with an outside perspective assisting you could be beneficial.

Or, sometimes your friend, boss, or your spouse might suggest you talk to someone.  If someone close to you suggests this, please take a pause to consider. Might they see something that you don't ? Maybe they see you drinking too much to calm down every night, or maybe they see you pulling away from friendships due to anxiety.  As long as these are trusted people in your life, this might be another indicator that seeing a therapist would be a good idea.

“I don’t need therapy.  My doctor gave me medicine for my sadness/anxiety” – My reply to this would be that you should still consider therapy.  Medication can be helpful, but it might not target some of the underlying reasons you are feeling sad or worried.  Research studies have repeatedly shown that clients receive the most benefit when medication is combined with therapy, rather than just medication alone.

In the end, therapy can help you maintain good mental wellbeing, and adjust what you are doing so you are happier, more fulfilled, or less anxious.  And, who doesn’t want that?!

Feel free to reach out to our office if you aren’t sure if therapy could benefit you.  And, stay tuned to our next blog – Part 2 in this series on how to find a therapist!

 

Lessons Learned After One Year in Private Practice   

It just so happens that today my biweekly Tuesday blog post falls on the exact date that I opened the doors of my private practice! July 17, 2017 was the first day I saw clients in my own business.  So happy one year anniversary to us! 

In the past year, I have formed a business and expanded into a group practice.  I went from being a solo clinician going out on my own to hiring another therapist to be able to better serve the referrals I am receiving.  Through it all, I have appreciated your support.  The kind words, the encouragement, the “shares” and “likes”.  I hope that you are receiving helpful information from the business, and that you are more aware of how to strive for and preserve overall mental wellness.   

In reflection, here are some life lessons I’ve learned over the past year in private practice.  I hope that they can be valuable tips to you too! 

Be Willing To Grow And Ask For Help. I fully admit I don’t know everything. A year ago, I had no idea what was required to work with insurance companies as a private mental health practice.  I just knew others who had done it and figured I would be able to figure it out too!  Throughout this process, which was more than a year in the making, I have consulted with other private practitioners and other entrepreneurs. I regularly meet with others to “pick their brain” and get a sense of how they think, procedures they have in place, what’s working and what’s not, etc.  I would recommend that you consider surrounding yourself with people from which you can learn.  Always be looking for ways to learn and grow in your abilities.  You won’t be disappointed. 

Embrace Change.  Changes can be scary. Don’t we all like knowing what to expect?! Life is so much easier when our day to day is the same.  But, that can become immensely boring!  I would challenge you to work at not letting that fear of change stop you from doing the things that will help you pursue your dreams.  If you can learn to act despite fear, you might accomplish great things! 

The Next Important Thing. Starting a business is overwhelming.  Really stressful, with multiple moving parts to focus on and try to control.  I had to form an LLC, decide where to host my website, build my website, set up encrypted emails, contract with insurance companies, set up a bank account, go through the design process for a logo, finalize practice policies, write practice documents, decide on an electronic health record, find a way to send/receive faxes, decide on a phone system.  And, that’s just the short list!  Some of these tasks were of course exciting and fun, but when you have a huge list, it can be daunting!  And, yes, there were times I worked all day seeing clients, and then worked until midnight on this list, and never felt like I could get it all done.  The way that I stayed (mostly) relaxed through all that was focusing on the next important thing. By breaking down the tasks into more manageable steps, I was able to avoid being overwhelmed. Ask yourself, “what needs done next?” or “what is the most important thing to do next?” and then focus on that.  Sometimes all you have to do is focus on what needs done next. And then the next thing. And not get overwhelmed by the enormity of it all, by instead focusing on small steps. You can accomplish a lot by just focusing on the next important thing, and one small accomplishment at a time, you can get to where you want to be. 

Again, a sincere thank you for your support and encouragement as I formed the business, started writing this blog, and expanded into a group practice.  I’m working to live my dream, and I hope to help inspire you to do the same! 

Updates on the Exciting Changes at our Office

Let me explain why my blog has taken a hiatus, and why I promise it will be back on the regular schedule!  

As you might have read two weeks ago on our Facebook page, I’m delighted to announce some exciting changes with my practice. A little backstory....I opened my private practice in July 2017 and by November I was turning people away because I was full.  All through the winter, I wasn’t accepting new clients, and then I realized that I could help all of these people who I was turning away if I had other therapists who could see them! So it was earlier this year that I decided to pursue the idea of expanding my private practice to be able to better serve my clients and the referrals I was receiving.

Over the past few months, there have been a lot of changes made: I created an LLC, changed the business name, I hired my first therapist and a virtual assistant, and I've been working to train them both. I've been updating my credentialing with all the insurances I work with, and switched over both my email and phone systems.  Our Facebook page has been updated, and we launched a new website.  (My previous blog posts have been reposted at this new website in case you are looking for them.)  The Counseling Collective is also now on Instagram!  Follow us @TheCounselingCollective, or leave a message below with your handle so we can follow you!  I was looking to expand to another office eventually and space opened up in my building, and so I decided to jump on it! As of mid-June, The Counseling Collective will have two offices to see our clients in the East Petersburg location. I teamed up with my sister-in-law (my interior designer!) to outfit the new office so it feels just as homey and comfy as the first office.

All of these updates and changes have been made in order to expand, so please join me in welcoming Stacy Martinez LCSW to the practice!  She and I were previous coworkers, and I know what kind of training and work ethic she has first-hand!  Stacy is an LCSW (refer to this post about what these letters mean), and also a certified health coach, trainer, and coach.  She has been helping clients for over 6 years by focusing on their strengths with a total body wellness perspective.  She enjoys working with ages 10 through adulthood, and also enjoys working with couples.  

I’m really excited for these changes, to be better able to serve more clients, and to have Stacy join the practice.  Thank you for your support and encouragement over the past year!

Let's Talk Letters: A Quick Guide To The Letters After Our Names

I realize in the counseling field there are a lot of acronyms, and I thought it might be helpful to write about what all those letters mean.  Although it’s shorthand everyone in this field uses, I think we just assume others understand it too.  The world of therapy can seem so cryptic, because it’s hard to know what goes on in a therapy office unless you’ve actually been there.  I want to try to help explain things in this field, and part of that is educating others about things as simple as the letters after our names.  The credentials become more and more specific as you have more training.  Think about it like a path, and with each turn you are getting to a more specific location.

Let’s talk letters!

General Counseling Field:

In general, therapists diagnose and treat mental disorders, and address problem behaviors. 

MS, MA: Master’s degree in either science (MS) or arts (MA) -  Someone in the counseling field may have either of these designations, depending upon how their school classified their program.  This means that the person completed 4 years of their Bachelor’s degree, and then did another 2-3 years in a Master’s program.  This helps narrow their focus and deepen their training on a specific topic, so they are then a “Master” at that topic.

LPC:  Licensed Professional Counselor – This is the highest level of training someone with a MS or MA can receive after completing a certain amount of hours of supervised work and passing a clinical exam.

Social Work:

In general, social workers focus on helping people cope with their everyday lives.  This includes connecting them to resources, advocacy, and treating and diagnosing mental disorders.

MSW: Master’s degree in social work -  Someone would receive their Bachelor’s in social work, then get their MSW.

LSW: Licensed social worker – After receiving a MSW, someone would pass an exam to achieve this designation.

LCSW: Licensed Clinical Social Worker -  For a Social Worker, this the highest level of training they can achieve after completing a certain amount of hours of supervised work and passing a clinical exam.

Other categories:

MFT: Master’s degree in marriage and family therapy – Someone who has extensive training in family dynamics and relationships.

LMFT: Licensed marriage and family therapist – Received supervision beyond their Master’s degree.

CADC: Certification as a Drug and Alcohol Counselor – This person has been trained regarding drug and alcohol use.  This is not a Master’s degree, but this person has a Bachelor’s degree and then received further training.

RPT: Registered Play Therapist – This person received additional training beyond a Master’s degree to use play therapy with young children as a way to express themselves.

A few other things to note:

Some insurance companies will allow any Master’s level clinician to offer therapy.  Some require a license beyond the Master’s degree.  This is why you have to verify with your insurance to make sure who you are seeing or want to see has the appropriate credentials that your insurance will cover.

This is just a basic introduction on the acronyms within the counseling field, and there are a few other less common acronyms I didn’t cover (especially for children in play therapy and BHRS).  And, there might be some exceptions to what I’ve shared.

Please let me know if you have specific questions and I’d be happy to address that.