What's In a Name?: Understanding The Acronyms Behind Therapist Names

When I first started searching for my own personal therapist I was confused about all the different acronyms, prefixes, suffixes, and titles before and behind everybody's names. I started getting paranoid thinking that if I went with the LCSW I might not get as much as I could from the LPC. One LPC put M.A. before LPC, and another put it after, does that mean something? Are they better at what they do if they have more acronyms? Sense mental health licensure is determined on a state level it gets even more confusing. As a result, there's a lot of diversity in the titles across the country. Bear in mind, the emphasis of this article is particular to the state of Colorado.

Some of these names might be familiar and some might be foreign. While different professions typically offer different approaches to therapy, what matters more than the titles and names is the person of the therapist. Research indicates that therapy is less about our theoretical framework, or technique, and more about the relationship between therapist and client. If you're anything like me the first thing you noticed when searching Pyschologytoday profiles was everybody's pictures. You can trust your intuition that if you do not like their smile, or feel their hair looks funny that you might have a difficult time working with them. If once you've had a first meeting or a phone conversation and you do not feel comfortable, or even like the therapist it is best to move on to a different one. With that, here's a look at some of the common therapist titles:

M.A. (Master Degree): A master's degree is the lowest degree one can receive to be an LPC, LPCC, or LAC in the state of Colorado. Depending on accreditation, this degree is usually around sixty credits in length and about two to four years of course work.


M.S.W. (Master of Social Work): An MSW is required to become and LCSW. This degree may be anywhere between two to four years of course work.

Dr. (Doctor) or MD (Medical Doctor): Once again, we all know what this is. While there are many terminal degrees in the mental health world, the title Dr. is typically reserved for medical doctors. In particular to the mental health world, medical doctors are usually psychiatrists. Historically, there have been some medical doctors that set out more into the mental health world without a background in formal psychiatric training. Therapists in this category usually adhere to the medical model of diagnosis and treatment. They usually do not offer much in the category of talk therapy, but they do prescribe it along with medications.

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy): A doctorate of philosophy is likely to indicate that this type of therapist is also a professor at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Psy.D (Doctorate of Psychology): Someone with this degree is what we usually refer to as a psychologist. Psychologists can be involved in multiple different avenues of mental health including research, teaching, therapy, and formal diagnosis of specific mental disorders. Psychologists typically use assessment tools and focus more on behavior.

MFT or LMFT (Marriage and Family Therapist or Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist): MFTs can work with individuals, couples, and families. They typically consider therapy from a systemic lens considering the relational impact individuals have on each other. Sometimes families operate as units, and individuals function to serve the needs of the whole. MFTs look for ways to create harmony within family systems.

LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor): In comparison to MFTs, LPCs typically focus on the needs of individuals. Utilizing talk therapy as a primary modality, LPCs typically consider individual growth, confidence, and autonomy as core components of client success.

LPCC (Licensed Professional Counselor Candidate): LPCCs are counselors that are under supervision and have completed their master's degrees. If a counselor is under supervision, it means that confidentiality is likely not just between client and therapist, but also includes the LPCC's supervisor(s). This title applies to psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, professional counselors working toward licensure. LPCCs are likely in the progress of testing, registering, and working on supervision hours that will complete their full licensure as an LPC.

Master Level Intern: An intern is a counselor that is under supervision and is mostly finished with their masters' degree. If a counselor is under supervision, it means that confidentiality is likely not just between client and therapist, but also includes the intern's supervisor(s).

LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker): LCSWs can function in many different capacities. LCSWs tend to be trained with more of an emphasis on systemic issues as small as the family to as large as the local community. However, they are just as likely to be found in private practice talk therapy as they are in a hospital or homeless shelter. LAC (Licensed Addiction Counselor): LACs have the same type of mental health degree as LPCs. They are certified through a process of training specifically for addiction work.

CAC I-III (Colorado Addiction Counselor): Compared to LACs, CACs are only required to have a high school diploma or a bachelor's in behavioral health science. They are certified through a process of training specifically for addictions work with three different levels of certification.

Unlicensed Psychotherapist (originally Registered Psychotherapist): Unlicensed psychotherapists may have more flexibility in their therapeutic approaches. Types of therapy in this category may be more religious or considered outside ethical standards by governing bodies such as the American Counseling Association or the American Association of Marriage and Family.


NCC (National Certified Counselor): NCCs have completed coursework and an exam that insures portability across the country. In comparison, LPCs are only allowed to work in the state they are licensed with, much like a medical doctor.



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