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Understanding the types of mental health help

Our clients are rock stars.

Oh, not literally (though we are always open to that possibility). But just by making the difficult choice to seek help, they become even more amazing than they would have been originally – more rock-starry.

couple together on couch, with therapist taking notes in foreground
Couples therapy!

It’s a wondrous thing to understand that you need help and that an objective, compassionate therapist is the best way to get it.

But once having decided on that, how do you tease out the various “types” of therapists?

At Sanctuary Christian Counseling we hear all kinds of things about this. Frequently people give us degrees we have not earned – calling me Dr. Gigliotti, for example (I haven’t earned that. Dr. Gigliotti is my hubby, who is not a therapist) or assuming I am either a psychiatrist (that’s a medical doctor, and not me) or a psychologist (again, not me).

Many ordinary people don’t really understand the various types of therapy and services available, and it’s understandable since it’s kind of confusing. Ok, it’s very confusing.

Here’s a list – and an explanation – of many of the most common ones.

Psychiatrists – these are medical doctors, with degrees that give them the right to be known as Dr. They can prescribe medications – whether mental health meds or others – and they understand pharmaceuticals, but they RARELY do any therapy at all. If you have mental health meds, you should have one of these to monitor them, but don’t expect they’re going to give you time to tell much of your story. That’s not their job.

Psychologists – these are generally also doctors, and go by the title Dr., but often they do little to no therapy (there are a few who do). They generally specialize in testing and assessments, whether educational or mental health, and they are often involved in research. SOME are also therapists and have specialties that are almost always related to substance abuse, education or individual pathologies.

Marriage and Family Therapists -- MFTs are therapists who mostly specialize in relational therapy like marriage or couples therapy or family therapy in outpatient settings like Sanctuary Christian Counseling. Often MFTs also see individuals, whether in the context of relational therapy or not. They have special training in “systems,” which is a psychological theory that all people, individuals, couples and families, interact like computer systems – I like to explain it as beads on a string. Each individual bead can move the string and thereby the other beads. So an MFT can, by working with one person in a system (the bead) make the whole system healthier, and make the string (system) move, too. At Sanctuary, there are two licensed (Dr. Kristen Poppa and Ellen Gigliotti) and one pre-licensed MFT (Jennie Sheffe), and one other therapist who has extensive MFT training (Andrea Geesaman). An MFT could be a Ph.D. (Kristen is), but often is not, having a Master’s degree as their terminal degree.

Professional Counselors – Professional counselors are also therapists who work with individuals, whether kids, teens or adults, in outpatient settings like Sanctuary Christian Counseling. Some seek additional training in relational therapy and work with couples and families as well. Professional counselors are the backbone of Pennsylvania’s therapy system – the vast majority of licensed therapists fall in this category. At Sanctuary we have three professional counselors who specialize in a variety of things like grief, kids, teens, anxiety, depression and tech addictions. They are Andrea Geesman (grief, couples, anxiety, depression, tech issue), Ashley Gaines (kids) and Joel Covert (kids, teens and men). Like with MFTs, a professional counselor could be a Dr., but most are not, although they do have Master’s degrees and tend to be great therapists.

Substance abuse counselors – This is a very different type and style of therapy than any practiced at Sanctuary Christian Counseling, as it concentrates on the various methods and techniques to help addicts control their substance addictions. In general, you see counseling agencies that specialize in substance abuse and addictions employ this type of counselor and they generally do not do other types of mental health work (though occasionally they do). Sometimes these counselors have Master’s degrees and sometimes they do not, and they are not licensed in the same way that psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage and family therapists and professional counselors are, either. There are no substance abuse therapists at Sanctuary, though one of us does do sexual addiction therapy (Ellen Gigliotti) which is not the same as substance abuse therapy.

Prayer or theophostic counselors – Again, this is very different than the therapy offered by private practices like Sanctuary Christian Counseling, which offers professional clinical therapy by licensed therapists. Prayer counselors tend to have Biblical training in using prayer, Christian principles and the Bible in therapy as their sole interventions – there are no clinical interventions used. This can be very helpful for small issues and slight disturbances, but is generally not useful for relational difficulties, kids, teens, and more serious issues. Most often you see this being referred to as a ministry, not a counseling practice, though that can differ. Sanctuary Christian Counseling does not have any prayer counselors, but all six of our therapists are Christians who do integrate prayer, Bible teaching and spiritual principles into our clinical therapy, giving our clients the best of both worlds.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list – there are likely other types of counselors I haven’t mentioned, but I’ve tried to hit the top ones.

It can be very confusing to know you need help, but not know where to turn. Might I suggest you give us a call at Sanctuary Christian Counseling? We can help you figure out what will help you best, and, if we are not the best fit for you, we will help you find it.

Take the first steps to become your own rock star and seek help today!

Sanctuary Christian Counseling

9974 Molly Pitcher Highway, Suite 4

Shippensburg, PA 17257



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