What Do All Those Letters Mean? Guide to Therapist’s Credentials

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December 16, 2019
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Have you ever seen the letters at the end of a therapist’s name and wondered what they mean? There are many different degrees you can obtain to become a licensed psychotherapist. It can be quite confusing. Let’s look at the various educational paths to become a psychotherapist and decipher the meaning of all those letters.

Doctoral Degrees

The following are four doctoral degrees that allow one to practice psychotherapy, psychology or neuropsychology:

MD

Psychiatrists are the only medical doctors trained to perform psychotherapy. Most psychiatrists, however, prescribe medication rather than act as therapists.

PhD

A PhD formally stands for Doctor of Philosophy. You may be wondering why a psychologist would be getting a philosophy degree but it is really just an umbrella degree for many academic areas of study. Although it depends on the specific graduate program, a PhD tends to have more of a research than clinical focus.

PsyD

A PsyD degree is a Doctor of Psychology degree. Unlike the PhD, it has less research focus and it primarily trains psychologists to do clinical work. It requires approximately five years of graduate work and extensive clinical training, including at least a year of clinical internship.

EdD

The EdD is a Doctor of Education degree. An EdD usually has an education focus. This is often the degree you obtain to become a school psychologist. At some colleges, psychology is included in the education department. In those cases, you will receive an EdD but undertake similar training as you would for a PhD.

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Master’s Level Degrees

Most psychotherapists have master’s degrees. It involves less education and time than a doctoral degree. The factors that often discriminate between master’s level therapists are in their educational background and the requirements for licensure. 

MSc/MA

These two degrees are what you obtain after you complete a master’s program in an area of counseling or psychology. One is a Master of Science and the other is a Master of Arts degree. Having a master’s degree does not mean you are licensed; on their own, they do not enable one to perform psychotherapy. Although there are exceptions, an MSc degree may have more of an emphasis on clinical areas while someone with an MA is less likely to pursue licensure and may focus more on academic areas.

LPC/LMHC

These letters stand for Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Mental Health Counselor respectively. They are two titles for basically the same type of degree. You need to have a master’s in counseling and then must undergo 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical counseling experience.

LMFT

The Licensed Marital and Family Therapist is a master level degree with a specialized concentration in marital and family therapy. These therapists will likely focus on working with families and couples. Like an LPC, they must undergo thousands of hours of supervised experience and pass an exam to obtain licensure.

LCSW/LISW

A Licensed Clinical Social Worker may perform the same duties as other master’s level clinicians but they begin by receiving a social work degree. Looking at problems from a social work background may provide them with a community perspective on people’s issues.

Deciphering the letters at the end of a professional’s name can be its own course of study. The main difference between a therapist’s credentials is in the type of education received and an emphasis on different aspects of therapy. In the end, it doesn’t matter exactly what letters someone has following their name; if you like your therapist and you find them helpful (and they are licensed), they are qualified to help you with your problems.

MS Broudy is a psychologist, writer, and consultant. He has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and a master’s degree in Social Psychology. He has spent over 20 years providing therapy and assessment services for a diverse set of clients. MS specializes in writing about mental health, parenting, and wellness. He has his own blog, mentalspokes.com, where he writes about psychological issues.