Anybody who wants to can call himself a "therapist" or "counselor" (camp counselors are 15 years old!). "Psychiatrist" and "psychologist," on the other hand, are terms protected by state law pretty much everywhere in the United States. If you want to legally call yourself one of those, you need a license and several years of graduate education.

Licensed Clinical Social Workers are another type of mental health professional, often denoted by the acronym, L.C.S.W. (Keep in mind that sorting through the therapy world's forest of academic suffixes will only waste your time, so don't spend any energy trying to tell the Ph.Ds from the Psy.Ds from the Ed.Ds.)

There are, however, several basic types of mental health professionals that you should know about.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors (e.g., Frasier and Lilith on Cheers, Dr. Melfi on The Sopranos. They have completed medical school and a residency in psychiatry. The main thing to remember here is that these are the folks who can write prescriptions and give you meds. So if you want Prozac, Lithium, or any other non-over-the-counter drugs, you have to go here. These guys have M.D. after their names, and are especially expert at M.D. problems. For more info, check out the American Psychiatric Association.

Psychologists have a doctorate in psychology, and are licensed to practice in their state. (Bob Newhart on "Newhart"). They can't write prescriptions or give you Prozac, but they can talk to you for a long time about why they think you need it. Psychologists have usually slogged through eons of postgraduate study at some point in their lives. The American Psychological Association notes that psychologists have an average of 7.2 years of education and training in addition to their undergraduate education. These guys have Ph.D. or Psy.D. or Ed.D. after their names. They also get the Doctor title. But the big difference between psychiatrists and psychologists is that psychiatrists went to medical school, while psychologists went to graduate school and got a degree in psychology.

Licensed Clinical Social Workers have generally completed a two-year Master's degree in social work. (They don't make too many TV characters out of these people.) These counselors have some amount of supervised clinical training and are licensed in their state. Social workers tend to work with family problems such as domestic abuse or kids in foster care. They are given sexy titles like L.C.S.W. or A.C.S.W. or C.S.W. For more info, check out the National Association of Social Workers web page.

In addition, family therapists and psychiatric nurses are other types of mental health professionals who may be specifically licensed to practice therapy.

No one of these is better than the rest - and since therapy is such an individual and subjective experience, much of it depends on the individual counselor and client. Generally, if you think that your problem is in part related to something biological, you should go to a psychiatrist. If you just have weighty issues on the mind, a psychologist may do. One thing that will play into your choice, however, will be how much you want to spend. Psychiatrists are the most expensive and social workers are generally the cheapest. Psychologists usually fall somewhere in between. Figuring out how you will finance your therapy is an important step in finding the right person to talk to.