Provider Credentials and Experience
The best referral is usually from a friend or family member who has had experience working with a therapist treating an anxiety disorder. If that is not possible, the next step is to call a professional you trust and get a suggestion of someone they know professionally, and are not involved with socially. Besides your family doctor, sources to ask for a referral from include your minister or rabbi, an employee assistance program at work, your child's school counselor, or your insurance company. Because cognitive behavioral therapy has been the most highly researched, and therefore the treatment most often recommended, you can consult the AABT, the Association for the Advancement of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies Web site's directory of providers (
You want to find a therapist who has either a master's or a doctorate degree in a mental health field like psychology, marriage and family therapy, social work, or counseling. A licensed professional who has an advanced degree and has taken an exam given by the state she is practicing in will often be more specialized. This is important when dealing with children. The following list contains the most common credentials you will bump into, and what they signify:
M.A., M.S., M.C.: A master of arts, master of science, or master of counseling can be earned in counseling, psychology, or a related field. It usually requires two years of postcollegiate study. Therapists with these degrees could become independently licensed up to about a decade ago, but the laws governing psychology have changed, and now a Ph.D. or Psy.D. is required for private practice.
M.S.W.: Is a master of social work. A social worker works with an individual in the context of the wider community. She may help with domestic violence, child abuse, and drug abuse or foster-care issues. Social workers can practice therapy on their own if they are licensed, or in settings such as schools, clinics, or government agencies. The M.S.W. typically requires two to four years of study.
Ph.D.: Is a doctor of philosophy. This academic degree takes four to seven years to earn. Many Ph.D.s go on to work in academic settings as researchers and professors. Psychologists with a Ph.D. are also fully trained in the assessment and treatment of most conditions, and may offer testing and evaluation services.
Psy.D.: Is a doctor of psychology and focuses on therapy and counseling rather than research. The degree was developed in the late 1960s to address the need for practitioners. This degree takes four years of study post-college.
Ed.D.: Is a doctor of education. Professionals with Ed.D.s practice therapy just as do those with Ph.D.s. Often they are trained in child development and education and can focus on educational planning and assessment. Some work as school superintendents, principals, or directors of nonprofit organizations. This degree usually takes a total of four years to earn after undergraduate school.
M.D.: Is a medical doctor. Medical doctors can prescribe medication and those with the specialty of psychiatric medications are psychiatrists. They receive an additional four years of clinical training in a mental health specialty after completing medical school. Some also do therapy, but you want to make sure they have the coursework and experience to counsel, as well as provide medication.
L.P.C.: Is a licensed professional counselor. A licensing qualification is granted to those who have advanced training, a graduate academic degree, clinical work experience, and have passed a state-certified licensing examination. Often, L.P.C. practitioners are supervised by psychologists with higher levels of training.
L.P.: Stands for licensed psychologist. This signifies that a therapist has met the educational criteria and passed state examinations to practice independently. In most states, this level of certification requires a doctoral degree.
L.I.C.S.W.: Is a licensed clinical social worker. They are required to have a master's degree or doctoral degree and pass a licensing exam for the state they work in.
L.M.F.T.: Is a licensed marriage and family therapist. L.M.F.T.s are required to complete 1,000 hours of individual or family therapy with 100 hours of supervision and two years of additional coursework to obtain this certification.
Although psychiatrists hold medical degrees and psychologists hold a doctoral degree or master's degree, there are no governing bodies to regulate titles such as “psychotherapist” and “therapist,” so be prepared to look into credentials for practitioners using these titles.
Once you have gathered some names from trusted sources, it is important to either spend a few minutes on the phone, or have a session with each candidate, so you can decide who might be best for your child. Treating an anxiety disorder can take months or longer, depending on the severity, so this relationship is not one to rush into. Take your time to find someone who meets the high standards you want as you will trust your child's well-being to them.
Questions you might want to ask include: What type of experience, training, and license do you have, and for how long? What training and experience do you have specifically in treating anxiety disorders? What is your basic approach to treatment for a child? Can you prescribe medication or refer me to someone who can, if that proves necessary? Have you ever had a license revoked or suspended or been disciplined by a state or professional ethics board? (You can call the clinician's state licensing board to check on license, credentials, and any ethical violations.)
Taking the time to ask questions and find a therapist who seems to connect with you and your child naturally will increase the chance that your child will want to go to therapy and stay in therapy.