What to Know Before Choosing a Therapist in Illinois

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As the world has turned upside down, so has the counseling profession. Within days, we went from in-person or face-to-face counseling to learning how to counsel online. Previously, many of us saw only a few clients online. It was quite a transition for most of us in the profession, going from a few clients online to seeing 100% of our clients online.  As therapists, many of us are not technology savvy. But we are quick learners and figured it out over a very short period.

With so many of us using telehealth or online counseling, I started seeing some inexperienced counselors advertising for Telehealth clients. It made me ask myself – do people know what to look for in a therapist when they are seeking professional help?  My guess is no!  Many people do not contact a therapist until there is a crisis. At that point, people just want help and are not thinking about a therapist’s credentials. Therefore, I decided to write this article. The article is not about how to find the right counselor but what to look for and what to ask before you select one.

Let’s start with the all the letter behind a therapist’s name – they are called credentials. They are earned from experience and number of hours spent counseling clients.  If someone does not have a license; LPC, ALFMT, LSW, LCPC, LMFT, Ph.D, Ed.D or Psy.D, please be very careful in seeking their advice unless they are interns.  Interns are wonderful to work with if you do not need an experienced clinician, knowing that they are being supervised by an experienced clinician. Typically, a practice offers interns when there are financial concerns since interns are typically less expensive and often times their services are free.


The beginning level of licensed clinicians have the following credentials:  LPC, ALMFT, or LSW. These are counselors that typically are either right out of school or have very little experience. They need to be supervised and complete hundreds of hours of counseling to earn the next level of license. Too many times, I have had a client share that a previous therapist was not helpful. Typically, it was because they were seeing someone with a beginner’s license and the client was not told or did not understand the differences between licenses. Therapists with LPC, ALMFT, or LSW licenses typically have 0-3 years of experience and are just beginning their careers.


The more experienced and advanced clinicians have LCPC, LMFT, and LCSW licenses. But they also may not have the experience you are looking for. Some may have just earned their higher licenses while some have had it for years. Please ask! Ask your therapist how many years they have been a therapist working with clients – one on one. It could be 3-40 years of experience. You want to know that to feel confident they are qualified to help with the issue you want to address. Ask what kind of additional training they have and/or certifications in that area. Therapists are required to earn 30 CEU (Continuing Education Units) every two years. Focus can be on areas of interest which we want to grow and develop. You will find some therapists have two or more licenses LCPC and LMFT. This means they studied and took two exams to earn those credentials.  So, more credentials mean more trainings.

The Doctoral level credentials are Ph.D, Ed.D and Psy.D  This means the therapist has spent more years in school but not necessarily has more experience. Again ask! Ask how many years they have been practicing and what are their successes in the area you need help.


Advanced clinicians have 10 or more years of experience.  Their credentials are: Ph.D , Psy.D, LCPC, LMFT, or LCSW. Many have specialties such as couples, children, adolescents, addictions, testing, or others. They know the areas they are skilled to help clients with and know the areas they need to refer to another therapist. They are confident with their skills, continue to learn and grow and provide supervision and/or consultation to the beginners and less experienced therapists. Many of them charge more because they have many hours of experience and can confidently help their clients.

My goal with this article was to educate the consumer. I have worked with too many clients that did not get the quality care they deserve due to not knowing what to ask or know the meaning of the letters behind a therapist name. They ended up with a counselor that did not specialize in the area needed. The counselors have done nothing wrong. It is important that the consumer is educated so they can be confident they are with the right therapist for them and their areas of concern. When people are hurting, often they just want to see a therapist – sometimes anyone available. That may be helpful for a session or two. But soon one may realize it is not the best fit due to lack of experience. Here are a few suggestions to consider prior to meeting with a therapist.

  1. Identify their license – beginner, or experienced
  2. How long has the therapist practiced? – experienced (5-10 years) or advanced (10 or more years)
  3. Do they specialize in your area of need?


Dr. Laura L. Bokar, LMFT, LCPC, ACS

Dr. Laura can be reached by phone at 630.718.0717, ext. 202 or email drlaura@fvinstitute.com. For immediate assistance to schedule an appointment, please connect with one of our Client Care Specialists at 630.718.0717, ext. 240.