Choosing a Therapist

How do I choose the right therapist or counselor in Chicago?

At a minimum a mental health practitioner in Chicago must have a license to practice in Illinois or be under the direct supervision of a licensed professional. In Illinois, you can verify licenses at the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation Website. Professional or life coaching can provide great benefit sometimes in conjunction with therapy or other mental services. However, it is important to note that life coaching services are not considered therapy or counseling and are not regulated in the same way as mental health services. 

Beyond the basic requirements there are a number of important factors to consider:

  • Quality of education and professional training
  • Expertise in working with your concern
  • Takes the time to get know you and your history
  • Treats you with care and respect in all interactions
  • Provides support while also pushing you to grow
  • Practices in a way that is ethical: confidential, consistent, and caring
  • Prompt and organized in all communications
  • Clearly outlines policies regarding privacy, record keeping, and billing
  • Consults with other health providers at your request

Is there a difference between a psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health counselor or social worker?

Yes. It can be a bit confusing because there is some overlap. Here is a brief description of each:

Psychiatrist: Psychiatrists are medical doctors who received specialized training including a fellowship in psychiatrics. In most states, including Illinois psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and other medical doctors are the only professionals able to prescribe medication. Some family doctors are comfortable offering medication management and others prefer to refer to psychiatrists given their additional training in mental health. Some psychiatrists provide both medication management and talk therapy to their patients. However, do to a number of factors including demand and reimbursement many psychiatrists only provide initial assessments (45 to 90 mins) followed by medication management (10 to 20 mins) and refer to other professionals for therapy. 


Licensed Clinical Psychologists: Psychologists have a professional degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in clinical or counseling psychology. They receive specialized training in clinical practice, diagnosis, assessment, and the science of the brain and behavior. Psychologists are trained to provide counseling, psychotherapy, and neurological and behavioral assessment. Psychologists complete an academic program that typically requires 6 to 7 years post-undergrad, participate in 2 or more part-time clinical positions while in school, complete 2 years of full-time supervised practice (internship and post-doctoral fellow), and complete a national qualifying exam.      


Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors & Licensed Clinical Social Workers: Counselors and social workers typically have a master’s degree (M.A. or M.S.) in counseling, social work, or a related field. They receive training in counseling practice, diagnosis, and human development. Counseling and social worker programs are typically 2 to 3 years in length and require 1 to 2 part-time training positions while in school. In order to practice independently, counselors are required to complete 1 to 2 years of supervised practice upon completion of their degree and pass a national or state-wide exam.