Licensed Therapist, Unlicensed Therapist, or Intern: What’s the Difference?


Licensed, Unlicensed, or Intern?

What’s the difference?

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re in the market for a new therapist. If that’s the case, you’ve probably also encountered a TON of options on who to see. For example:

Do you want... 

a therapist with a particular specialty?

someone who’s going to “push” you?

one with a lot of experience?

a warm listener?

a more affordable option? 

the “best of the best?”

But you also need to decide if you want a licensed, pre-licensed, or intern therapist and whether you need a Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Counselor, Marriage and Family therapist, or something else. Chances are, you aren’t sure what the differences are between each of these to begin with, so how’s a new client to decide?

While there are pros and cons to each type, here’s the gist. 

“Intern therapists” are students in Masters or Doctoral programs who are earning hours towards licensure. They are learning to be clinicians. They are supervised both at their internship site (where they do therapy) and in school. A pre-doctoral intern will have had more experience and more training than a Counseling or Marriage and Family Intern. 

Obviously, all intern therapists are “green” as they are new to the field, and their fees are super low. 

Pros: Fresh-faced, eager to learn, and inexpensive

Cons: Little clinical experience, less therapy knowledge, limited availability for new patients 

“Pre-licensed therapists” have graduated from either their Masters or Doctoral programs but have not yet met the state requirements to possess a professional license. They have graduated from college and completed therapy internships. They continue to meet with a clinical supervisor. These clinicians will cost a bit more than interns. They may have 3-4 years of experience doing therapy and may already specialize in one area or another. 

Pros: More experience than interns, affordable, more available for new patients

Cons: Not reimbursable by insurance, less experience than a licensed clinician

Licensed clinicians (i.e. Psychologists, Licensed Professional Counselors, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, and Licensed Clinical Social Workers) have met ALLLLLL of the state requirements to hold and maintain a professional license. The process of getting licensed takes a lot of education and follow-through. There are state exams, several years of fieldwork, recommendation letters, etc. so you can rest assured that these therapists have earned their credentials! You will certainly find licensed therapists with niches and specialties, whereas pre-licensed clinicians are more likely to be working to find their “treatment of choice” and “best fit” client. If you see a licensed clinician, your wallet will probably know the difference. They are almost always more expensive than their unlicensed colleagues, but you will likely notice the difference that experience brings. 

Pros: Extensive experience, specializations, possibly reimbursable by insurance

Cons: More costly, less availability to take new patients

There’s a lot to think about when “playing matchmaker” with a therapist, but hopefully this clears up some of the questions. Give our office a call and we are happy to walk you through the process!