It can be confusing to understand the alphabet soup of mental health professionals. What do all those letters after your therapist’s name mean and what do you need to know as you look for someone to assist you on your therapy journey?
Masters-level health care professionals are trained to evaluate a person’s mental health and use therapeutic techniques based on specific training programs (counseling, social work, marriage and family therapy). Each training program has a slightly different framework: professional counselors look to their clients’ inner resources, social workers focus on engaging external resources, and marriage and family therapists address issues at the systems level. Each program offers two levels of licensure – provisionally licensed professionals (LPC, LSW, AMFT) work under supervision for 2-3 years before becoming licensed to practice independently. The word “clinical” (big C) indicates that the provider is fully licensed (LCPC, LCSW, LMFT).
Mental health professionals operate under a variety of job titles—including counselor, clinician, therapist or something else—based on the treatment setting and are licensed by the state.
Types of Mental Healthcare Professionals
- Clinical Social Worker – A counselor with a master’s degree in social work from an accredited graduate program. Trained to make diagnoses, provide individual and group counseling, and provide case management and advocacy; usually found in the hospital setting.
- Licensed Professional Counselor – A counselor with a master’s degree in psychology, counseling, or a related field. Trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling.
- Mental Health Counselor – A counselor with a master’s degree and several years of supervised clinical work experience. Trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling.
- Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor – Counselor with specific clinical training in alcohol and drug abuse. Trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling.
- Marital and Family Therapist – Counselor with a master’s degree, with special education and training in marital and family therapy. Trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling.
- Pastoral Counselor – Clergy with training in clinical pastoral education. Trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling.
- Peer Specialist – Counselor with lived experience with mental health or substance use conditions. Assists clients with recovery by recognizing and developing strengths and setting goals.
- Other Therapists – Therapist with advance degree trained in specialized forms of therapy. Examples include art therapist, music therapist.
At YFC, we have professional counselors, social workers, and marriage and family therapists at both levels of licensure. While each is rooted in their training framework, they all use a variety of evidence-based methods to help their clients experience symptom reduction and ultimately better ways of thinking, feeling, and living. This diversity provides a rich learning environment that supports the growth of our staff and encourages collaboration that strengthens the therapeutic experience we are able to offer for our clients and community.
While some counseling centers provide a range of services that includes psychiatric care (medication prescription and management), YFC does not. We focus on outpatient counseling services (talk therapy) and offer referrals to trusted providers for clients who might benefit from additional services.