THERAPY 101: THERAPIST LICENSURE AND LETTERS
Are there different kinds of therapist licensure? Yes! As we’re scrolling through therapy profiles, we might see lots of different letters and terms that are mostly meaningless to us. Should I care whether my therapist is some iteration of MFT? Or LICSW? Well, lucky for you, we are here to shed some light on the topic. Without knowing what so many terms and phrases mean, it can be more challenging to find the right therapist for you.
So, let’s break it down, shall we?
After a clinician’s name, we might see a string of initials, or credentials. These initials indicate which licensing board the person relies on for ethical and legal guidelines. They also tell us a bit of information about the education and training a person has completed. Every licensure and school of thought has a slightly different approach to how they approach change. For example, LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists) approach changes from a wide-angle. Schools that train them tend to focus on a systemic lens. That is, we look at the broad context of the lives of our clients. Other approaches might vary somewhat. No matter the credential, therapists across the board answer to licensure boards, laws, and ethical guidelines to ensure that clients are kept safe and their information private.
LMFT: LICENSED MARRIAGE AND FAMILY THERAPIST
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists get training to approach therapy from a systemic or contextual lens These folks have specialized training in working within a family system. LMFTs are trained to approach an individual’s change by addressing the systemic issues within a family, social group, or beyond. Under this umbrella, you may also see LAMFT (Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist) or MA (Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy). These indicate where the clinician is in the therapist licensure process.
LICSW: LICENSED INDEPENDENT CLINICAL SOCIAL WORKER
Similarly, social workers tend to approach change from a systemic perspective. Social workers consider where a client comes from and how the world helped to shape them. That being said, LICSWs are trained to treat clients from an individual perspective, meaning that social workers consider an individual’s social development from an inside out point of view. You might see variations on those initials. For example, you may also see LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) or LGSW (Licensed Graduate Social Worker).
LP: LICENSED PSYCHOLOGIST
A Licensed Psychologist usually has completed a Ph.D. in psychology. Meaning, that while they can and do provide therapy services, they often are also able to do additional psychological testing and more in-depth diagnostic services.
LPCC: LICENSED PROFESSIONAL CLINICAL COUNSELOR
You may also see LPC or Licensed Professional Counselor under this umbrella of terms. LPCs and LPCCs also received training to approach therapy from an individual perspective. This perspective doesn’t mean that these folks don’t consider the socio-cultural context of their clients. It mostly means their focus stays on the individual and their behavior.
LADC: LICENSED ALCOHOL AND DRUG COUNSELOR
Licensed Alchohol and Drug Counselors work exclusively with folks at various stages of addiction recovery. LADCs are specially trained to work with issues of substance and behavioral addiction. You may even see therapists and counselors who have LADC plus something else. This means they’re dually licensed–or working toward that goal!
PsyD: DOCTOR OF PSYCHOLOGY
Whereas a Licensed Psychologist (LP) tends to have a Ph.D. in psychology with a clinical focus, a clinician with a PsyD has a doctorate in clinical psychology. What this means is that a PsyD is a practical application of psychological research. Folks in Ph.D. programs tend to do a lot of research into how things work for the human psyche. People in PsyD programs focus on how best to use all of that information to make a clinical impact.
A psychiatrist usually doesn’t do much in the form of therapy but can often be an integral part of the treatment team, should they be needed. Psychiatrists are MDs (Medical Doctors) whose job is to prescribe and manage medications for the treatment of mental health concerns.
This stands for Master of Arts and Master of Science, respectively. These initials mean that someone has graduated from a Master’s program in their designated field. For example, a therapist can have an MA in Marriage and Family Therapy and be in the process of getting the requirements for further licensing. Therapists with an MA or MS following their names will have a supervisor or two and have a lot of guidance from licensed therapists.
An intern is a student in a Master of Arts or Master of Science degree in a particular field of study. An internship, or Practicum, can be a few months long or over a year, depending on the degree a student is seeking. During an internship, the therapist will have at least two supervisors and lots of very experienced licensed professionals on their team.
THERAPY 101 LICENSURE AND LETTERS: THE TAKEAWAY
Though the task of finding a therapist can feel overwhelming, most often, the license or type of therapy might not matter all that much. Folks of all licensures and training are all trained to help you work toward whatever mental wellness goals you have. More important than how your therapist got there is how you feel about the connection you have with them. The relationship built in the therapy room is arguably an essential part of the process.
Whatever the license type, you are hiring a professional who has guidelines, laws, and ethics to abide by and should at all times. These rules are more than professional courtesies. You, as the client, have rights and responsibilities in the process, too. You can find a link to Relationship Insight’s Client Rights and Responsibilities form here.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are many more licenses and methodologies for doing therapy. Like every client, every therapist is different! As a client, the best practice is to ask questions! More likely than anything, the title your therapist has isn’t the important part. The important part is whether or not you feel comfortable, safe, and a connection with your therapist.
As always, the incredible therapists at Relationship Insights are here for you. Maybe you’ve never been to therapy before, or have previously had bad experiences with therapists. Perhaps you are an old seasoned pro, or somewhere in between. No matter where you are on the spectrum, we have space, time, and a lot of great stuff to share with you!