Understanding Credentials

There are many credentials and abbreviations in the mental health field, which can be confusing to consumers.  The following list of what the most common credentials for therapists mean is provided to help simplify your search:

Psychotherapist – A “psychotherapist” is a general term much like “therapist” and can be used by anyone providing therapy.  “Psychotherapist” does not denote any specific education, training, or licensure.

Psychologist –  A psychologist must be licensed by the state of California as a psychologist, which requires a doctorate degree in Psychology, 3000 hours of supervised clinical training, and passing 2 comprehensive exams.  Psychologists focus on the study and treatment of clinical disorders as well human behavior, emotion, and social functioning.  Psychologists are trained in research as well as clinical treatments, and are the only mental health professional who conduct psychological assessments like personality testing, neuropsychological evaluations, and intelligence testing.

Psychologist’s degrees:
PsyD – Doctorate of Psychology, which is practice oriented
PhD – Doctorate of Philosophy, which is research oriented

Psychiatrist – A psychiatrist is an M.D. or medical doctor who has specialized in treating mental illness.  Most psychiatrists prescribe medications to treat psychological problems, and some also provide therapy.

LMFT – A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist has a license in the state of California which requires a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, 3000 hours of experience and passing exams.  LMFT’s generally focus on the treatment of systems such as couples and families, and view individuals in the context of their relationships.

LCSW – A Licensed Clinical Social Worker is licensed by the state of California, which requires a masters degree in social work, 3200 hours of supervised work experience, and passing exams.  LCSW’s are trained to provide social and clinical services.

Anyone who has a master’s in psychology (MA), a master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) or a master’s in Clinical Social Work (CSW),  Intern, “Registered Psychological Assistant”, or “Registered Psychologist” is practicing under the supervision of a licensed professional in order to provide therapeutic services to the public.



American Psychological Association (APA): Help Center
APA: How to find help through seeing a psychologist
APA: How to choose a psychologist

National Alliance on Mental Heatlh (NAMI)

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)