What do all these letters mean?



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You may have seen them before when navigating in the mental health world…MD, LPC, MFT, LCSW, PhD…what do they all mean?! Here is a very brief introduction to what some of these different letter stand for and what they might mean to you.

Social Workers: Social workers can have a wide range of specialties and skills, and the term social worker can refer to a volunteer with a little experience up to a clinical social worker with years of practice.  When receiving therapy from a social worker you want someone with a Masters in Social Work (MSW) who has a license to do therapy which could be a Licensed Social Worker (LSW) or Licensed Clinical Social worker (LCSW). Social workers are often members of the National Association of Social Workers, where you can find more information on the professional and search for clinicians.

Counselors and Therapists: This is a wide term that can encompass many different specialties and background. One of these titles is Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). This title includes someone who got a master’s degree in Psychology, Counseling, Mental Health Counseling, Human Services, or a similar field, and have a certain number of supervised practice hours. Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT) is another title you may see, which just means the counselor specializes in marriage and family therapy. The titles let you know that these counselors have the appropriate education and post-education training.

Psychologists: A psychologist will have a doctorate degree and will always have the letters PhD or PsyD after their name which means they are licensed to practice. Well it’s not uncommon to see a psychologist for talk therapy, they  are especially skilled in testing and diagnosing. You may be referred by a Social Worker or Counselor to a Psychologist for a one-time test or assessment. It is common for a psychologist to have an LPC after their name as well as the PhD or Psyd.

Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists are doctors (MDs) who went to medical school and did their residency with a mental health or psychiatry focus. Psychiatrists are able to prescribe medication, and are often referred by one of the other mental health professionals.  It is unlikely you would ever find a psychiatrist to receive talk therapy from weekly, and psychiatrists may or may not be trained in therapy. It’s common to be referred to a psychiatrist after seeing one of the other professions first.

Have you wondered what all these letters meant? Was this brief overview helpful? Let us know in the comments!


Moderator ★

Hi! The moderator is a research team member with a background in behavioral health. We're here to help answer your questions and stimulate some great conversation! We don't provide therapy and are not available 24-7 so please if you are in crisis, go to our crisis page: https://sova.pitt.edu/i-need-help-now We look forward to talking to you!

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