Live, Life, Well: Navigating the mental health Care system

If you’re a parent, trying to navigate the system for the first time, here’s what you should know.
The U.S. Surgeon General recently issued an advisory on what he calls a youth mental health crisis. If you’re a parent, trying to navigate the system for the fi
Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 4:31 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The U.S. Surgeon General recently issued an advisory on what he calls a youth mental health crisis. If you’re a parent, trying to navigate the system for the first time, here’s what you should know.

First, go online or call your insurance company. Look at which mental health care services are covered. Then, if that’s part of your coverage, see which providers are in-network. Then ask; Are you taking new patients? After that, ask them if they specialize.

“What percentage of your practice is devoted to that? So people might say, Yeah, I did a couples therapy. Well, how much couples therapy do you do? If it’s only about 10%? Of what you do? And that’s probably not their area of expertise. That’s, you know, you’d be better off to find someone who did a lot of couples therapy because they’re going to be better at it,” explained Clinical Psychologist Dr. Jennifer Baker.

Next, there are all those letters after a mental health care professional’s name. You might see LPC, LCSW, or LMFT.

Here’s a guide from Dr. Baker explaining what each one means.

Counselors and Therapists with a Master’s Level Degree

Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)

PLPC – Provisionally Licensed Professional Counselor (PLPC)

LCPC – Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (This is not a designation in Missouri.)

All these therapists have a graduate degree, typically two years beyond their undergraduate degree, which is usually in psychology or social work. If they are provisionally licensed, e.g. a PLPC, then they have completed their coursework and graduated, but are still under the supervision of a fully licensed professional counselor or a doctoral-level psychologist.

Typically, an LPC has completed a two-year graduate degree plus two additional years of supervised practice. LPCs are trained to provide counseling services in a variety of theoretical orientations. Many focus or specialize their practice in a few areas, e.g. depression, anxiety, or children.

LCSW – Licensed Clinical Social Worker

LMSW – Licensed Master in Social Work

Social workers may or may not be trained in providing counseling services. Some focus more on advocacy, case management, hospice care, or work in care facilities. Depending on their program emphasis, some do choose to focus on providing mental health services, e.g. in a school-based setting, in a hospital, or in private practice.

LMFT – Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

SMFT – Supervised Marriage and Family Therapist

LMFTs provide a wide range of mental health services but are the only mental health professionals required to have training and clinical experience with individuals, couples, and families in order to complete their program.

An SMFT has completed their master’s degree in MFT but is still working under supervision to complete their post-graduate experience.

Therapists with a Doctoral-Level Degree

Clinical and counseling psychologists are individuals who typically have completed a four-year doctoral program, a one-year internship, and a one-year residency. They are designated as a Ph.D. or a PsyD. A Ph.D. psychologist may choose not to practice with clients but focus on research in a university or healthcare setting.

A PsyD (clinical psychologist) almost always practices (i.e. works with clients). Psychologists may specialize in many areas, e.g. testing and assessment, sports psychology, child psychology, forensic psychology, etc. Insurance companies are more likely to cover services provided by a doctoral-level psychologist, but it can be harder to find one who has the time and space to provide services.

Questions to Ask a Potential Mental Health Provider:

1) Are you paneled (in-network) with my insurance? This could make a big difference with the fee for service you are charged.

2) What are your areas of specialty? (e.g. eating disorders, addiction, anxiety, depression)

3) How long have you been in practice?

4) Do you see children? If so, what ages are your focus?

5) Do you offer couples therapy? If so, what is your training background? How long have you been providing couples therapy?

6) What percentage of your practice is focused on (insert your area of concern)?

7) What is your theoretical orientation?

No Insurance?

1) Many competent providers do not take third-party reimbursement, i.e., they do not choose to do the work related to being reimbursed by insurance. Because they don’t have the costs associated with billing insurance, they may provide services at a reduced fee. If you don’t have insurance, this may be an option.

2) Sliding Scale: Many communities have organizations that provide services with a sliding-scale fee structure, i.e. you pay what you can pay based on your income. In Springfield, this includes Center City Counseling (Missouri State University), Good Dads Counseling, and Ozarks Counseling Center.

Other Important Considerations:

1) Goodness-of-Fit: Your relationship with a therapist is one of the most predictive elements of a successful outcome in therapy. If you feel comfortable with him or her, you’re more likely to be helped. If you don’t, it will be more difficult for you to make progress.

2) Strength of Referral: If you trust the person who told you about the therapist, you’re more likely to make a good connection with him or her. This helps in making progress.

3) Ask for a Referral if Necessary: The therapist you speak to or have been seeing should be willing and able to provide a referral to someone else if necessary, e.g. for a different problem or if you feel you’re stuck and need someone else to make more progress.

To report a correction or typo, please email

Copyright 2021 KY3. All rights reserved.