Seeing a Clinical Social Worker before seeing other mental health professionals may be helpful if you are looking for a talk therapist, because the Clinical Social Worker is specifically trained to view the whole person in their whole environment. The Person in Environment perspective, known as PIE, takes into account culture, gender, ethnicity, history, age, present circumstances, the impact of law and medicine and family and faith and … everything that might create an explanation as to what directs thinking, feeling and acting for a person. PIE is a big piece of the puzzle during an intake, assessment and in developing a treatment plan.
Not all providers of mental health do the same thing and not all consumers of mental health need the same thing. When you are seeking a medications solution, or a testing option, or a problem solving / talking option – you will want to narrow your search. Too, if you’re dependent on health insurance, you’ll want to contact your carrier to see if a provider is in network or out of network (and who pays for what and when). Clinical social workers are not the same as Mental Health Counselors, Psychologists or Psychiatrists. For more information about general categories of mental health providers take a look at this general list for help “Who Should I See?“.
Psychiatrists prescribe medications for mental health problems; psychologists primarily provide psychometric and clinical testing. The MD (psychiatrist) and the PSyD (psychologists) are doctors of varying kinds; most talk therapists (not all) are master’s level professionals. Specialists in types of talk therapy exist across multiple areas of expertise: online therapy specialists, LGBTQ specialists, couples counselors, batterer treatment providers, addictions (of various kinds), hypnotherapists and many many others (see play, art and music for example) and then there are those like LaRose who promote the eclectic model.
Social workers, not all of whom can (or many do not want to) practice mental health, are trained in finding strengths, along with finding what impacts a persons limitations related to history and environment. In this ‘PIE model’, life issues are not automatically viewed as symptoms of a mental disorder and problematic behavior patterns are not assumed to be without explanation.
I often tell clients who first come to see me that one of the advantages to seeing a clinical social worker is that we have been trained well in many theories, models and frameworks AND that we look for the strengths in people sitting across from us. Our specialty, I like to say, is that we know a little bit about allot of stuff. Can this be a disadvantage too? Sure it can. K. LaRose
The CSW will assess ALL variables looking for biological, sociological, environmental, psychological, and even spiritual influences. Because CSW’s are trained to assess people this way, you can be comfortable knowing that multiple considerations will be at work in your treatment plan— “if treatment is needed at all.” Social workers are not the same as clinical social workers, where the clinical training is a more advanced level and it involves state and jurisdictional licensing to practice in mental health.
Because you need to be comfortable with whoever you choose as your therapist, you may want to consider asking for an initial session simply to quiz the professional about his/her assessment, diagnosis and treatment perspectives. Some professionals provide an initial consultation free of charge. (Note: Free consults are limited by city and not available in all jurisdictions where LaRose is licensed).
First Published in 2005, updated in 2011. Rev on BV 2/2019 (deleted by BV) and re-revised 6/27/19; 6/29/19