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  • Brittany Montes, Psy. D.

What Do Those Letters at the End of My Therapist’s Name Mean?

In your search for mental health providers, you have probably noticed that they all list several letters after their names.  However, for those who are unfamiliar with the field, those letters are confusing and may leave patients unsure if that provider is the right fit for them and their needs.  As insignificant as the letters may seem, they do provide patients with a lot of information about their provider if the patient understands what they represent.


A licensed therapist working with her patient.

Like most professions requiring advanced degrees, the letters behind your therapist’s name are indicative of their level of education and degree type.  However, unlike medical providers, there are several different kinds of degrees that your provider may have completed.  The American Psychological Association (APA, 2017) notes that some of the most common degrees in the mental health field include M.A., LCSW, Ph.D. and Psy.D.


The APA (2017) notes that Ph.D.s are among the most common degrees in the field.  A Ph.D. indicates that your provider has completed their Doctorate of Philosophy.  Individuals pursuing this degree spent a large portion of their graduate program engaged in research and learning how to conduct research designed to further our understanding of mental health and viable treatment options.


Similarly, individuals with a Psy.D. have earned their Doctorate in Psychology.  Developed in the 1970’s, the Psy.D. is among the newer educational options for the field.  While individuals who have earned a Psy.D. have spent time learning how to conduct research; a majority of their time in graduate school was spent learning how to “deliver empirically based service to individuals, groups, and organizations” (APA, 2017).


Licensed Professional Counselors (L.P.C.) have earned their Master’s degrees in psychology and counseling.  Oftentimes, individuals who have earned their Master’s degrees spend less time engaged in research and learning psychological assessment.  However, they are often more focused on clinical care and learning to provide evidence-based treatments for their patients.


Similarly, providers with L.C.S.W. after their names have earned their Master’s degrees in social work.  However, it is important to note that not all social workers are required to pursue licensure (i.e. social workers working in hospital settings, military settings, child welfare agencies, etc.).  Licensed Clinical Social Workers (L.C.S.W.) are required to pursue post-graduate, supervised, clinical training prior to passing their licensure exam in order to provide mental health care.


Despite your therapist’s level of education, all providers are required to complete graduate degrees focused on psychology and the application of psychiatric principals in clinical work.  Further, all providers in the field of mental health, regardless of education level, are required to have passed a licensure exam or to be under the supervision of a licensed provider when providing clinical care.


While understanding what those letters behind your provider’s name mean can help choose a provider, it is vital to remember that no matter the education level, your provider has completed extensive graduate work and clinical training before even being allowed to take their licensure exam.  Further, it is important to remember that finding a therapist whose style and personality matches your need is just as important, if not more important, than their education level.



About the Author

Dr. Montes is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-owner of Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center in Chesapeake, VA.


References

American Psychological Association, Division 12. (2017). What is the difference between psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers?. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/psychotherapy-professionals 


Michalski, D., & Fowler, G. (2016, January). Doctoral degrees in psychology: How are they different, or not so different?. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/psn/2016/01/doctoral-degrees 


National Association of Social Workers. (2024). Clinical Social Work. NASW, National Association of Social Workers. https://www.socialworkers.org/Practice/Clinical-Social-Work 


University of Massachusetts Global. (2024b). LCSW vs. MSW: Social work credentials. www.umassglobal.edu. https://www.umassglobal.edu/news-and-events/blog/lcsw-vs-msw-comparing-social-work-credentials 


Virginia Association of Clinical Counselors. (2018). What are LPC’s? Virginia Association of Clinical Counselors . https://www.vacc.org/about-us/what-are-lpcs/ 

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