When I began private practice as a psychologist in South Carolina in 2006, I was one of just two mental health practitioners in Bluffton, according to the Yellow Pages and the Internet. I was full-time and the other person was not.

Since then, the mental health marketplace has expanded dramatically.

To assist navigating the plethora of non-prescribing mental health practitioners by prospective consumers, here is a brief description of the training and credentials of the various types of clinicians who collectively are called “therapists,” organized from least education and training to most.

It should be noted that education and training are necessary but insufficient for competent practice in health care; experience and what is learned from that experience are at least as important.

The licensed master’s-level intern, with either a degree in counseling or marriage and family therapy (credentialed as LPCI and LMFTI, respectively), has completed a master’s degree program that meets the South Carolina criteria for licensure AND is accruing supervised client-contact hours for independent licensure.

A supervisor licensed in the same discipline must supervise the clinical work of interns until the intern has accrued at least 1,500 client-contact hours. Interns cannot accept insurance; their supervisors assume legal and ethical responsibility for patient care.

Mental health professionals who are licensed for independent practice at the master’s degree level (some hold doctoral degrees) include licensed independent clinical social workers (LISWs), licensed professional counselors (LPCs), and licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs).

These clinicians have passed national examinations, accrued sufficient supervised client-contact hours (3,000 in the case of social workers), and are deemed by their licensing boards to be fully capable of providing competent patient care, including diagnosis and counseling-psychotherapy.

These clinicians are eligible to accept insurance. LISWs can accept Medicare; LPCs and LMFTs cannot.

Licensed Psychologists (LPs) have doctoral degrees in clinical or counseling psychology; many have acquired master’s degrees on their way to the doctorate.

These clinicians have passed national examinations for the professional practice of psychology, state licensing examinations, accrued at least 3,000 hours of supervised client-contact, and are deemed by their licensing board to be fully capable of providing competent patient care, including diagnosis and counseling-psychotherapy.

Some LPs provide psychological evaluations, including psychological testing to help inform diagnosis and treatment planning with particular clients. LPs are eligible to accept insurance, including Medicare.

I hope this brief tutorial on types of “therapists” has been illuminating. I encourage all prospective clients to be informed consumers of mental health services by asking questions about the therapist’s education, training and experience. Clients of interns should obtain the name of the licensed supervisor responsible for their care and ask to meet the supervisor as part of therapy.

Helene Stoller, Psy.D., licensed psychologist, is the non-practicing owner of Psychological & Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry, LLC in Bluffton.