More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
The Sea of Titles and the Types of Mental Health Professionals
By Steve Nguyen
August 23, 2007

I came across a relatively new label in the mental health professions called, ?Mental Health Counselor.? I also noticed that universities and colleges are now offering Mental Health Counseling graduate programs. As you read through the list below taken from the Mayo Clinic, see if you?re as confused as I am with all the labels. Also, notice how similar they are and yet each has such a distinct ?title.? Please understand that I?m not saying that one field is better than the next. I?m simply saying that in this sea of helping professionals do we really need another ?title? in the already crowded and confusing mental health field?

There are many types of mental health providers. Some strictly manage your medications, some offer psychotherapy, and some help you find services in the community, for example. They may have different licenses, degrees and certifications. States generally license mental health providers and set requirements for training and skills. These requirements can vary widely, so consider reviewing your state?s regulations before treatment. The terms that describe mental health providers are used broadly and can mean different things in different states.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors (M.D.) or doctors of osteopathy (O.D.) who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illnesses. After medical school, they complete at least another four years of residency training. A psychiatrist who passes certain exams can be certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Some psychiatrists seek further training to specialize in certain areas, such as geriatric or addiction psychiatry.

Because they?re medical doctors, psychiatrists can prescribe medications. They also offer psychotherapy. They may work with you on everyday problems like stress or more complex issues like schizophrenia. Psychiatrists work in private practice, hospitals, medical centers, schools and other settings.

Psychologists are specialists in psychology ? a science that deals with the mind, mental processes and behaviors. There are many types. Those who treat mental illnesses are generally clinical or counseling psychologists. The title ?psychologist? is usually used for those who have a doctoral degree (Psy.D. or Ph.D.), advanced training, and certain licensing and certification. However, it?s sometimes used for someone who has only a master?s degree.

Psychologists provide psychotherapy for a range of issues, from marriage problems to personality disorders. They work in private practice, hospitals, schools, community agencies and other settings. Psychologists can?t prescribe medications except in New Mexico and Louisiana ? the only states with privileges for specially trained psychologists.

Psychotherapist is a general term for a mental health provider. Psychotherapists may be psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, marriage and family therapists, pastoral counselors, or others who provide psychotherapy.

Be aware that some people who set up shop as therapists have no formal training and aren?t subject to any state laws or regulations.

Social workers
Social work is a broad profession. In general, social workers help people overcome social and health problems. Most have a master?s degree in social work (M.S.W.), but training and education vary widely. To provide mental health services, they must have advanced training and be licensed by their states.

Licensed clinical social workers (L.C.S.W.) may provide therapy in private practice, psychiatric facilities, hospitals and community agencies. Others may work in employee assistance programs or as case managers who coordinate psychiatric, medical and other services on your behalf. They may specialize in certain areas, such as domestic violence or chronic illness. They can?t prescribe medications or order medical tests.

Psychiatric nurses
Psychiatric nurses are licensed registered nurses (R.N.) who have extra training in mental health. They may have an associate degree or a bachelor?s, master?s or doctoral degree. Their level of training and experience determine what services they can offer. Under supervision of medical doctors, they may offer mental health assessments and psychotherapy, and they may help you manage your medications.

Advanced practice registered nurses (A.P.R.N.) have at least a master?s degree in psychiatric-mental health nursing. In general, they can diagnose and treat mental illnesses, and in many states they?re authorized to prescribe medications. They also may be qualified to practice independently, without the supervision of a doctor.

Licensed Professional Counselors and Mental Health Counselors
Licensed Professional Counselors and Mental Health Counselors are therapists who are trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling. They often provide general psychotherapy.

Counselors may specialize in certain areas, such as career counseling, marriage issues or substance abuse. They may work in private practice, community agencies, hospitals, employee assistance programs or other settings. They offer help for a range of problems, from anxiety to depression to job stress to grief.

[I?ve edited this section to reflect the more than 100,000 professional counselors in the U.S. In 38 states, these professional counselors are referred to as Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and in 10 states they are called Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC)].

Marriage and family therapists
Marriage and family therapists evaluate and treat disorders within the context of the family. They typically have a master?s or doctoral degree. After additional experience under supervision, they may go on to take an exam to become licensed or certified. Not all states require licensing or certification, however.

Marriage and family therapy is usually brief, averaging about 12 sessions. It focuses on specific problems and solutions. You may meet with a therapist one-on-one, with a partner or with your whole family. These therapists provide help with a range of problems, such as depression, parent-child conflicts and eating disorders.

Pastoral counselors
Pastoral counselors are trained mental health providers who also have in-depth religious or theological training. They provide psychotherapy and other support in a spiritual context. Certification and licensing varies. There are several levels of certification, each with its own requirements stipulating such things as religious activity, coursework, research, publication and experience.

Pastoral counselors provide a variety of services, such as treatment of mental illnesses, wellness programs, spiritual direction, group therapy, and family and couples therapy. They may work in pastoral counseling centers, schools, religious communities or other settings.

The term ?psychoanalysis? is often used loosely. But it refers to a specific treatment that explores unconscious factors that influence relationships and behavior. It was developed by Sigmund Freud. Virtually anyone can call himself or herself a psychoanalyst, since it?s not a legal term. However, many psychoanalysts seek extensive training or certification. Those who train at accredited psychoanalytic institutes are typically medical doctors, psychologists or social workers. They generally undergo at least four years of psychoanalytic training, coursework, their own psychoanalysis, and perform supervised psychoanalysis of others.

Treatment is intensive, with several sessions a week for five to 10 years. During this time, you generally lie on a couch and talk about whatever comes to mind.

For more information on the educational backgrounds of these mental health providers, please see Mental Health Practitioners: Who?s Who?.

If someone like me who is a therapist/counselor/mental health professional (or whatever ?label? is suitable) has trouble keeping up with all the different types how can we expect clients or people seeking assistance to be able to understand all of this? (This is a rhetorical question by the way). I would love to get some comments from mental health professionals themselves as well as community members. What do you think? Confusing or not, if so why or why not?

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Mental health provider degrees and certifications

Mental health provider degrees and certifications
By Mayo Clinic Staff
Mar 19, 2007

Mental health providers can have many different degrees, licenses, certifications, registrations and other designations. You may wonder if the more initials that mental health providers have after their names, the more qualified they are to treat you. Or, you simply may find this "alphabet soup" confusing.

Although higher degrees and certifications generally indicate that a mental health provider has pursued advanced training and education, there isn't necessarily a direct correlation between the number of degrees and the quality of care you receive. You may be just as happy with a mental health provider who has a master's degree as with someone who has a doctoral degree and is board certified by several organizations.

In any case, understanding what all of those letters mean can help you sort out your choices for a mental health provider. In addition, your health insurance coverage may determine which type of mental health provider you can visit, so it pays to know the differences. Here are some mental health provider degrees and certifications that you may see.

Degrees and Certifications|Degree Meaning
A.P.R.N.|Advanced practice registered nurse
C.A.D.C.|Certified alcohol and drug counselor
C.E.A.P.|Certified employee assistance professional
C.N.S.|Clinical nurse specialist
C.Psych.|Registered Psychologist (Canada)
C.Psych.Assoc.|Registered Psychological Associate (Canada)
D.Div.|Doctor of divinity
D.O.|Doctor of osteopathy
D.S.W.|Doctor of social work
Ed.D.|Doctor of education
Ed.S.|Education specialist
L.C.S.W.|Licensed clinical social worker
L.I.C.S.W.|Licensed independent clinical social worker
L.M.F.T.|Licensed marriage and family therapist
L.M.H.C.|Licensed mental health counselor
L.P.|Licensed psychologist
L.P.C.|Licensed professional counselor
M.A.|Master of arts
M.D.|Doctor of medicine
M.Ed.|Master of education
M.F.C.C.|Marriage, family and child counselor
M.F.T.|Marriage and family therapist
M.P.S.|Master of pastoral studies
M.Sc.|Master of science
M.S.W.|Master of social work
P.M.H.N.|Psychiatric-mental health nurse
Ph.D.|Doctor of philosophy (Psychologist with thesis)
Psy.D.|Doctor of psychology (non-research degree)

joe isuzu

I suppose the real question here is, how does a person who is already struggling to hold it together find out who the right person is to see? I was hoping to find an answer in this thread, but now I have even more questions!:confused:



I think you best option is to go to your family doctor and talk to him/her about what you are experiencing and they will be able to point you in the right direction.


Resident Canuck
I went to my family doctor who is wonderful even to this day after putting up with me for the past 12 years with mental illness. lol

I am going to take a look at my Psychiatrists business card to see what all those abreviations actually mean.

No kidding it is confusing.

YIKES! M.D., F.R.C.P (C), A.B.P.N :noidea: Does this translate into anything anyone can understand. :confused:

All I know is was until very recently a researcher and card says Psychiatrist


Resident Canuck
Thanks for clearing that up for me. I always wondered why so many letters after his name lol So I guess all that is good? haa haa haa, See how comfused I still am about it? lol

Even simplified it is still hard to figure out who is the best option.

My Psychiatrist is amazing I think. It is almost like he can finish my sentances he knows me so well and I never have to feel ashamed or afraid with him. I got afraid the last time cause I kept hearing that if patients are too much work, their Psychiatrists are dropping them. I didn't want that to happen to me cause of new things happening with me.

To my friends and such I have nick named him Freud. lol "I see Freud on Monday" lol

I do consider myself to be one of the lucky ones to have good doctors, but sometimes still feel like I should try to do more to try and get better.


Thanks for the descriptions. i thought i knew that stuff but was so desperate for therapy that i settled for the first guy available. Unfortunately he was only a retired surgeon who had taken a post grad course of Murry Bowen's Family Systems at Georgetown and declared himself a therapist. He frequently broke confidentiality by telling me all about a patient or young couple who annoyed him. He certainly never received taining in how to do therapy or in ethics because one day he grabbed me in a hug and intensely professed his love for me almost to the point that he was trembling and crying. He did not know (i doubt he'd ever heard of it) what DID is or what dissociation is (which he pronounced 'dye sociation/He also told me that the infant me was partially responsible for the severe sexual abuse from my paternal parent who began in my infancyNow, whenever i hear the words "Family Systems" my amygdala fibrillates!
Within weeks of meeting with my cbt PHD, he haD dx me as having PTSD with DID. hOW CAN THAT SURGEON BE ALLOWED ANYWHERE NEAR A HUMAN PSYCHE?oR EVEN THE PSYCHE OF A CRAYFISH?
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