Mental Health in Illinois: A professional is a professional is a professional… right?


When it comes to mental health treatment in Illinois, a professional a professional is a professional, right?

Not so fast!

Taking a closer look, you might ask yourself, "what ARE all those letters after my provider's name? What do all those initials mean? It looks like alphabet soup. What does it matter? Does it even matter?

All those letters actually DO mean something, although they don't tell the full picture. It's best to check all the information about the mental health professional, not whether they have a bunch of initials and titles after their name! 

In the State of Illinois, the only professional in the mental health field who, at this time, can prescribe medication is a psychiatrist. A Psychiatrist is a medical doctor, so you'll see the letters M.D. after the name. They went to medical school and specialized in the field of psychiatry. Yes, your primary care physician can prescribe medication--you already knew that--we're just clarifying that the professional in this particular field requires a psychiatrist to prescribe medication.

You'll often see the initials LCSW and LCPC after signatures. These are your master's level clinicians who are either Licensed Clinical Social Worker or a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. They are licensed by the State of Illinois after passing licensing exams specific to their profession, have completed a defined number of clinical hours and have completed a Master's Degree from an accredited program in programs such as counseling and guidance, rehabilitation counseling, social work, vocational counseling, psychology, pastoral counseling, or family therapy or related field, These professionals often have QMHP, after their signature, indicating they are a Qualified Mental Health Professional.

If you have insurance, your insurance company will have a list of persons who can provide your mental health treatment. When choosing a therapist, there is much to consider: who does your insurance carrier cover? What is the co-pay? Do they have experience regarding the issue(s) you are seeking treatment? Have you read reviews and sought out references? Do they offer a free consultation session? The more educated you are, the more educated decision you can make. After all that, you might not feel like it's a good fit... then, you start over again. Yes, that happens and it's okay. It's your treatment so you want to find someone with whom you feel comfortable.

If you are in an Illinois community mental health setting, you'll often see the initials MHP and RSA after clinician names. MHPs are Mental Health Professionals; they are persons with either a Bachelor's Degree or five years' experience in the mental health field. They are supervised by a clinician who is a QMHP. An MHP is more likely to be found at a mental health clinic than on an independent basis. At Stepping Stones, the program managers are MHPs. The majority of our agency's MHPs work daytime hours, with most MHP shifts falling between 6:30 AM-10:30 PM. 

An RSA, as defined by the State, is a Rehabilitative Services Associate. They must be 21 years or older and have either a high school diploma or a GED. At Stepping Stones, the RSA usually works the overnight shift. They are incredibly important, as we as an agency can't keep a 24-hour program open without them. We are always thankful for their effort!

The alphabet soup of credentials goes on and on. Signatures of mental health professionals are followed by all sorts of initials and credentials, including but not limited to Certified Recovery Support Specialist (CRSS); CADC (Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor); ATR (Registered art therapist); LPC Licensed Professional Counselor); and, LSW (Licensed Social Worker). There is the LPHA, (Licensed Practitioner of the Healing Arts), who at Stepping Stones is the Director of Services. I know there are many more letters to the soup but this is a good start.

Suffice it to say, all those initials mean something. The best approach is to educate yourself—find out what those letters mean. Ask questions. Don't assume one set of initials is better than another. After all, you work with the person, not the initials.

I'm not a doctor. Although I am quite delightful and have been in the mental health field for decades, I do not have a medical degree nor am I here to diagnose anyone. It's true I am a master's level board-certified registered art therapist and a licensed clinical professional counselor, but I'm not YOUR counselor. These blogs entries do not reflect or represent the views or policies of the author's employer, Stepping Stones of Rockford, Inc. Think of this as a place to start your educational journey about mental health, for purpose of increasing general knowledge. Heck, there are a bazillion internet sites with information on mental illness. Take what you'd like and leave the rest. I make no endorsements. Please talk directly to your medical advisor for medical advice. If this is a medical emergency, please call 911.

--Donna Addison MS/ATR-BC/LCPC 

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