What Do All These Letters Mean?
What Do the Letters After a Practitioner’s Name Mean?
Written by Corry Hawkins, LCSW, Clinical Director of Kranz Psychological Services
You may have noticed a variety of qualifications, licensures, and letters while looking for a mental health provider. How do you know what type of professional you need?
The truth is, there are multiple paths to the same profession, but this can be very confusing for someone who is just looking to get help. What’s even more confusing is that different states use different terms for similar licenses. For information regarding professional licenses in your state, search for your state’s licensing board online. You can even search for providers and confirm they are licensed and in good standing with the state board.
How do I choose a mental health provider?
Most mental health providers, regardless of their credentials or training, are going to agree that the right person for you meets the following criteria:
Trained to help you with the problems you are bringing to counseling
Helps you feel safe to share and be honest
Provides a helpful, therapeutic relationship based on trust and respect
Remember, professionals are people too. The first step is being able to connect in a way that is helpful to you and your goals. If for some reason the relationship is just not working, be honest with your provider and let them know. Sometimes we can make changes to suit your needs better. It is also part of our job to give you suggestions on who might be a better fit. You have a right to feel safe and secure with your provider, so be honest about what is working and what is not.
That being said, it’s good to know the differences between various licenses and what they could mean. The following list is a basic introduction to different mental health licenses you may encounter in the State of Texas. While many states use similar distinctions, please be advised that these could vary. You should always check your state’s licensure board for more information.
LPC and LPC Associate
Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) provide professional, therapeutic services to individuals and groups with a variety of mental health needs. They have completed their education and required hours of experience and received a license to provide mental health services by the state licensing board. Licensed Professional Counselor Associates (LPC Associates or LPC-As) have completed a master’s degree and are working under the supervision of an LPC.
LMFT and MFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs) also provide professional, therapeutic services to individuals and groups with a variety of mental health needs. The difference between an MFT and LPC is the master’s degree. A LMFT graduated from a marriage and family therapy master’s program and completed their education and required hours of experience to receive a license to provide mental health services by the state licensing board. A Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) has completed a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. An MFT may be working under supervision, but not always.
Remember that there are multiple paths to the same profession? Professionals who complete a marriage and family therapy master’s program may choose to then pursue a professional counselor license from the state. This can vary by state board rules, but here in Texas many MFTs choose to also become an LPC. This is why you may see “MFT, LPC” after a counselor’s name.
LCSW and LMSW
Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) provide professional, therapeutic mental health services to individuals and groups with a variety of mental health needs, similar to an LPC or LMFT. An LCSW has received at least a master’s degree in social work and has completed a minimum of two years of clinical experience and training. A Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) has completed a master’s degree in social work and, if providing clinical services, is working under the supervision of a fully-licensed mental health professional.
The difference between social workers and counselors is the breadth of training in a variety of areas typically included in social work education. Social workers can be found in numerous fields performing a variety of jobs. What this means for the average person looking for a mental health provider is that not all social workers provide counseling services. However, with clinical supervision and training, an LCSW and LMSW can provide the same counseling services as other licensed mental health providers.
Note: There are other social work licenses that provide services other than mental health treatment, such as LBSW and LMSW-AP. If you are unsure of your provider’s qualifications ask them or contact the state licensing board for more information.
Many mental health agencies often have interns working with them in a variety of capacities. Typically, the term “intern” refers to a master’s level student who is receiving required training hours in the field while completing their degree. They have more oversight from professionals than LPC-As or LMSWs, as they are supervised both by providers at the agency and by their professors. There are many benefits to working with interns, as they often have much lower rates and fees and have access to the input of multiple professionals who are overseeing their work. If you do not wish to be placed with an intern, you have the right to ask for a different provider.
Psychologist and LPA
A Licensed Psychologist has a Ph.D. or Psy.D. and is required to show competence in eight different areas for licensure: biological bases of behavior; cognitive-affective bases of behavior; social and multicultural bases of behavior; growth and lifespan development; assessment and diagnosis; treatment, intervention and prevention; research methods and statistics; and ethical, legal and professional issues. In addition to counseling, a licensed psychologist also has the training to perform psychological evaluations.
An LPA is licensed by the same licensure board as a Licensed Psychologist. While a Licensed Psychologist has a Ph.D., an LPA is only required to have a master’s degree. The best comparison for a LPA is a physician’s assistant. The LPA can do everything a psychologist can do, but he or she must do it under the supervision of a Licensed Psychologist.
Psychologists and Psychiatrists
There is often some confusion about the difference between the services provided by psychologists and psychiatrists. Psychologists often have a Ph.D. or Psy.D., as they are required to complete a doctoral degree. Psychiatrists often have “MD” or other medical qualifications, as they prescribe medications and related medical services. For more detailed information, please refer to the post on the differences here.
What about these other letters?
Don’t panic, but there are other letters out there that you may see after someone’s name. A short explanation is that some of us like to pursue additional certifications to meet specific mental health needs and/or provide specialized services. Below are a few that you may see, but if you are still unsure about a provider’s information, just ask them to explain it to you.
LPC-S and LCSW-S
That “-S” at the end of a license typically means they are a board certified supervisor. This means nothing for a person seeking mental health services. Good news! It simply means they have been working long enough and deemed qualified to supervise the practice hours of professionals seeking to be fully licensed.
LCDC - Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor
LSSP - Licensed Specialist in School Psychology
RPT - Registered Play Therapist
CAPT - Certified Child and Adolescent Trauma Professional
Here is a handy graphic to summarize all of the information:
For more general information, please see this article from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) about the types of mental health professionals. This PDF provides information about various licenses in the State of Texas. You can also find a link to perform a license search of professionals in Texas here.