If you look closely at a therapist’s business card, you’ll usually see a string of letters after the name — something like LPC, or maybe LCSW. Here's a quick guide to what can seem like alphabet soup.
Those strings of letters can tell you about a provider's specialty or focus, which can be helpful if you're looking for help with a specific mental health issue. They can represent a degree, like a doctorate or a master's degree, or indicate the therapist has a license or certification to practice in a given area. And because licensing requirements vary by state, different titles exist across the country.
Here's a quick look at some of those abbreviations:
If you see a psychiatrist, they are likely to have an M.D., a medical degree, or they may have a D.O., a doctor of osteopathic medicine. Because they are medical doctors, psychiatrists can prescribe medication, unlike most other types of therapists.
For psychologists, you may see a range of different credentials. The American Psychological Association says at a minimum, psychologists should have a doctoral degree, so you're likely to see PhD or PsyD after a psychologist's name.
Some patients see an LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker, or an MSW, someone with a master's degree in social work. Those professionals can be trained in psychotherapy.
Another common credential is LPC, which stands for licensed professional counselor. These therapists are typically trained to treat and diagnose a range of mental health conditions. Other abbreviations include:
- CBT - Cognitive Behavioral Therapist
- LMHC - Licensed Mental Health Counselor
- DBT - Dialectical Behavior Therapist
- MFT - Marriage and Family Therapist
Databases like Psychology Today can help you find a therapist in your area. There's also a growing number of online directories for finding therapists of color. In listings like these, patients can get a breakdown of a therapist's education and background.
Of course, there are other factors to consider. It's not always easy to find a therapist who meets your mental health needs, is taking new patients, and say, takes health insurance, so the search process can involve some trial and error. In the end, patients might not even give a passing look to that little string of letters on their therapist's business card.