Therapist Credentials: What do all those letters mean?

Sometimes I feel like I need a decoder ring to understand therapist credentials.  You too?  Seriously, who knew?

Should you even care about all those letters?  Are they important?  Is it just a way to make therapists feel important?  Good questions!  Basically, those letters are just identifiers to let you know what kind of education, license, and certifications a therapist has.  This is one factor you may choose to take into consideration when searching for the mental health professional who’s right for you.

A little while ago Litsa put together a super helpful guide for understanding mental health credentials and we’re posting it here for you to use as a reference.  If you are looking for a therapist or counselor, have previously searched for one, or are open to the possibility of some day seeing one, this post should prove helpful.  Though this is not an exhaustive list,  it should be a pretty good place to start with knowing what those letters mean.

Psychiatrist

MD (they will have Dr. before their name)

Training: Medical School

Quick tips: In an outpatient setting psychiatrists typically focus on medication management, and often work with another practitioner (below) who handles the therapy. 

Psychologist: Doctorate Level

PhD, PsyD, EdD (they will also have Dr. before their name)

Training: completion of a PhD, PsyD, or EdD program in psychology.  All degrees require clinical field experience and dissertations, though a PsyD or EdD is typically more clinically focused, while a PhD is more research focused.

Quick tips: Though PhDs are often doing research, some offer therapy and private practice.  Many of these individuals will have a very specific area of interest or expertise, which can be great if their interest matches your needs!  They cannot prescribe medications, but may work with a psychiatrist who does medication management.

Find a psychologist here: http://locator.apa.org/

Psychologist: Masters Level

MA, MS, LGPC, LCPC

Training: completion of a masters program in psychology, counseling psychology, mental health counseling, or a closely related field.  Those with an “L” have completed licensure requirements which may involve state board exams and supervision hours.

Quick tips: These practitioners can diagnose, offer counseling, and many practice a range of different therapeutic approaches.  They may have additional certifications based on their specific area of interest or experience (even more letters after their name).  They cannot prescribe medications, but may work with a psychiatrist who does medication management.

Find a psychologist here: http://locator.apa.org/

Social Worker

MSW, LGSW, LCSW, LMSW, LCSW-C, LISW, LSW (and probably more, as this varies depending on state license, but will always involve an “SW”)

Training: completion of a masters program in clinical social work.  Those with an “L” have completed licensure requirements which may involve state board exams and supervision hours.

Quick tips: These practitioners can diagnose, offer counseling, and many practice a range of different therapeutic approaches.  They may have additional certifications based on their specific area of interest or experience (even more letters after their name).  They cannot prescribe medications, but may work with a psychiatrist who does medication management.

Find a social worker here: http://www.helppro.com/

Marriage and Family Therapist

MA, MFT, LMFT, LCMFT

Training: completion of a masters program in Marriage and Family Therapy.  Those with an “L” have completed licensure requirements which may involve state board exams and supervision hours.

Quick tips: These practitioners can diagnose, offer counseling, and many practice a range of different therapeutic approaches.  They may have additional certifications based on their specific area of interest or experience (even more letters after their name).  They cannot prescribe medications, but may work with a psychiatrist who does medication management.

Find an MFT here: www.therapistloctator.net

Pastoral Counseling

MA, CCPT, CpastC, NCPC, NCCA

Training: completion of a masters program in Pastoral Counseling or Pastoral Therapy.  These programs typically involve a combination of coursework in therapeutic approaches and clinical counseling skills in combination with theology, spiritual counseling, and pastoral care/chaplaincy. 

Quick tips: This is a specific degree program that differentiates a pastoral counselor from a priest, pastor, or clergy person who may provide informal spiritual support. These practitioners can offer licensed counseling services, and many practice a range of different therapeutic approaches.  Many pastoral counselors work in hospital or hospice chaplaincy, in ministry, institutions of higher education, or individual clinical practice. 

Some professionals have their advanced degrees, then they get even more letters.  These are typically for certifications obtained through a particular accreditation body or through advanced training and/or testing in a specific clinical area.   If your counselor has addition certifications, ask about it.  A quick google search should give your more information about the specific certification program if you are interested.

Please keep in mind, what type of education, license, and certification they have is less likely to impact whether they are a good fit for you as what kind of therapy they practice and their personality.  Click here to learn about what types of therapy people practice.  If you aren’t happy with your progress in therapy, let your therapist know.  Give it a few visits, but if it clearly isn’t a good fit,  find someone new.  Like any other human relationship, sometimes people just are not a match!

Subscribe to Whats Your Grief for more helpful information about seeking out counselors and therapists.  

March 28, 2017

26 responses on "Therapist Credentials: What do all those letters mean?"

  1. What does MCP mean after a counselor’s name?

  2. What does SASA stand for?? I’ve googled everywhere

  3. I am a LMHC in NY. I am applying for LPC in Texas. I am a bit confused on application form, asking my Title before my name and asked for Suffix after my name, what would Title and Suffix refer to, thanks

  4. Thank you to whoever published this website. I found it helpful to understand a number of acronyms that I did not know or had yet to hear. I am not a therapist – I am a patient. I believe all information written/discussed above is meant to be helpful. However, even having been raised by a parent with an MD and having had the fortune to speak with many MDs, PhDs, MAs, LCPCs (etc.) I still found some of the information to be a little confusing. I apologize for not having any specific question for you to answer. I just wanted to alert you that a lot of patients/people in need may visit this site looking for exact recommendations based on advice from a misinformed friend/coworker/spouse and may not get past the clinical information to discover the person that can help them. People look for “answers” (a poor term for people seeking therapy as there may be no actual answer in the end) on the internet and I would hope that this site would at least make one of its priorities to aid potential patients in finding relief.

    Thank you for your time,

    Patrick M

  5. For an instance you might notice a player having dropped back or slump who’s not assured or retaining a weakened hand, while
    a person who’s very heedful and rests construct may represent a strong hand.

  6. Can you tell me what the letters {RRE} stand for after a person’s name please Regards W Jones

  7. I have a quick question… I graduated from NCU with my Masters of Art in Marriage and Family Therapy but I am not licensed. What would my credentials be since I am not licensed? Would it be Name, MA, MFT? Or just Name, MA? I’m lost and don’t know what to put on my business card for work.
    Thanks for your help!

    • You can put your name, MA. If you register for licensure you may be able to put AMFT (Associate Marriage & Family Therapist), depending on your state. I hope this helps.

  8. What does the A.S. behind LCPC mean?

  9. What does the initials behind a therapist name mean? ACMHC. He also has MC (Masters of Counseling) and DC( Doctor of Chiropractor)

  10. Jason Michael ANDREWSMay 1, 2018 at 1:46 pmReply

    This is terrible misinformation. Therapy generally refers to a licensed counselor and while each state has different titles they constitute a huge bulk of “therapists”. they are not psychologist, and in fact are prohibited from using the word psychologist. They are licensed by a different board than psychologist, they have different educational classes and requirements. The APA does not recognize counseling unless it’s specially counseling psychology. Therefore if you want to provide quality information you need to add a category called professional counselor. Lac lpc nce nbcc etc

  11. I have two masters degree, one is in Organization Development and the other is in Social Work. I also have my license as a master level social worker. What is everyone thoughts on me putting MS, LMSW has my credentials?

  12. Where does an ED.S. fit in?

  13. I agree you forgot an entire group of therapists/counselors. If you are from California, it makes sense because they didn’t have a license like this until the law passed in 2009. Those licenses are: LPCC, LPC, LMHC, to include just a few, every state unfortunately does it differently and it is very confusing. These licensees tend to have Master’s degrees in Clinica or Counseling psychology have gone through a practicum and sometimes a paid infers hip. They also have to work supervised for several years in order to obtain their license not to mention pass exams. Just wanted you to know.

    • I believe what you’re referring to are therapists/counselors that would fall under the “Psychologist: Masters Level” listed above. In our state they are LCPC’s but as you indicated they can have different titles in different states. Obviously it’s impossible for us to list them all, but perhaps we could add a footnote indicating they have different titles in different states.

      • Would it really be that hard to list them all? There’s only 50 states and that would provide correct information to those who are looking for it.

  14. Marty Tousley @GriefHealingOctober 25, 2014 at 2:14 pmReply

    I think it’s also important to note that not every psychiatrist or psychotherapist is educated, trained and experienced in death, dying and bereavement. Grief therapy and grief counseling are specialties in and of themselves, beyond a graduate or doctorate degree. When seeking therapy or counseling specifically aimed at grief, consumers are wise to look for professionals who are experienced and skilled in that particular field, and preferably certified by a national organization such as the Association for Death Education and Counselors. See “Seeing A Specialist in Grief Counseling: Does It Matter?” http://j.mp/Rx6nI0

  15. Thank you for this post. A few notes:
    1) This page currently lists an incorrect link to the MFT directory. It should be: therapistlocator.net

    2) Commenter Matt is misinformed: MFTs are well-trained and cleared to diagnose mental health issues. Where there are questions beyond our scope, MFTs are encouraged to seek consultation (e.g., medical).

    3) Our education/licensure requirements are especially stringent within the mental health community. As a Master’s level MFT (there are also doctoral MFTs), I graduated with far more than the minimum COAMFTE-required 500 hours of direct client contact in addition to numerous hours of indirect/administrative work (not all mental health fields have to meet this standard). I had several internships spanning more than two years. I taught in the behavioral sciences department for the duration of my program. I (co)wrote several publishable research papers, including a quantitative thesis.

    I do not say all of this to boast or be argumentative; my story is not unique among MFTs, and that is the point. In any field, there is good, bad, and in-between, but it seems that most MFTs are competent practitioners (and/or researchers) dedicated to their clientele.

    Below is a link to information from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. It is important for consumers to be informed about the education/training of their practitioners.

    http://www.aamft.org/iMIS15/AAMFT/Content/consumer_updates/marriage_and_family_therapists.aspx

    Respectfully,
    Anike

    • Anike,

      The link I have for MFTs in the post above is therapistlocator.net, in the section about MFTs. If there is somewhere else you saw a different link please let me know.

      I believe what we say about MFTs in the above post is accurate and consistent with what you describe, but thanks for your clarification in response to the other comment.

      I will echo what Marty said in her comment, which is that finding someone experienced in grief counseling specifically is one of the most important things. And of course, like dating, finding the person who is the right fit for you!

  16. There are several “minor” issues I would like to bring up.
    1) A Psychiatrist can also be a DO, which is similar to a MD. A psychiatrist can legally do therapy, but most do not.
    2) Yes, experimental psychologists do typically conduct research (they all have a PhD), but the majority of clinical psychologists, rather a PhD or other will primarily focus on clinical work.
    3) There is only one state (to my knowledge) that license a clinician as a psychologist at the master level. They are typically psychological associates/practitioners if that state offers a license at the masters level.
    4) You totally forgot about licensed counselors- those individuals with master degrees in mental health counseling. This will be one of the biggest “game player” in the field of grief counseling (that is a licensed clinician). These clinicians can diagnose, treat, and assess patients- for the most part, scope can differ among states.
    5) Another one you should be aware of is Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners. These are advanced RN’s with master degrees in psych nursing or MSN with post-grad certificates in psych nursing. They are licensed to prescribe medications and are licensed (while most do not) to render therapy.
    6) In terms of grief counseling, most individuals will not need the service of a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner, and a MFT that ONLY has a license in MFT will not be able to conduct therapy outside of the realm of MFT and actually (most states) don’t allow them to engage in diagnosis.

    • Hi Matt – thanks, great clarifications! In terms of #4, we did include LG and LCPCs, who are mental health counselors, but included under master’s prepared psychology when it is technically a counseling degree. Thanks for taking the time to comment and clarify- I am sure it will be helpful to readers!

  17. Marty Tousley (@GriefHealing)May 15, 2013 at 8:55 amReply

    Helpful and informative, Eleanor ~ Thanks to you and Litsa for sharing this! I’ve added a link to your post at the base of my own article, “Professional Certification Programs in Grief and Bereavement,” here: http://www.griefhealingblog.com/2012/01/professional-certification-programs-in.html

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