Alphabet Soup: Deciphering Therapist’s Titles


LPC, Ph.D., LCSW, LCAS, LMFT, the list goes on. What do all those letters mean, anyway?


If you’ve ever searched a directory of therapists, you’ve seen these acronyms. They are usually tacked on at the end of a therapist’s name. Mine reads: “Erin Shadle, LCSW.” If you’re not already familiar with these acronyms, deciphering this lexicon can be confusing at best. Here you will find a brief guide to the most common ones and what they mean.


Each of these acronyms indicates a therapist’s type of education and license to practice therapy. To become a therapist of any kind, a person must have at least a Master’s degree and is usually licensed to be a therapist by their state’s licensing board. Every state does this a bit differently. As a result, the specific letters in each acronym may differ depending on where you live.


LPC – Licensed Professional Counselor. A person with an LPC has completed a Master’s degree in counseling from a credible school and has completed steps to become licensed to practice therapy. This type of program typically focuses on one goal: becoming a therapist.


LCSW – Licensed Clinical Social Worker. This person has a Master’s degree in social work and has completed the requirements to become licensed to practice therapy. A social work degree covers an extremely diverse range of topics. Some social workers work as therapists, but others work in the government, in public health, education, or administration. Therapists who are social workers often have a wide range of interests and backgrounds.


LMFT – Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. A master’s degree in marriage and family therapy typically revolves around relationships. Similar to the LPC track, an LMFT received very specific training in working with couples and families for the purpose of becoming a therapist.


MA – Master’s level psychologist. These practitioners often become therapists but may instead choose to focus on research psychology, publishing, education, or a combination.


Ph.D – Doctorate level. This person has a doctorate degree in psychology. These degrees often take longer than a Master’s degree and include extensive practice before finishing their degree. Most Ph.Ds have a very specific practice focus based on their interests.


But who prescribes medicine? None of the above. The only professionals qualified to prescribe medication are physicians (psychiatrists, general practitioners, etc. with the letters MD at the end of their names) and psychiatric nurse practitioners.


This is not an exhaustive list. If you run across a name with several sets of letters, this most likely denotes specialized training in a specific area. There are many valid paths to becoming a therapist.  For many, the specific letters may be less important than the specialized training received through training after they finish their degree.

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