Types of Mental Health Providers

“Therapist” is broadly used for professionals trained in helping patients overcome psychological and emotional issues. Regardless of their official title or qualifications, mental health professionals are all trained in some form of psychotherapy. It's important to choose a therapist whose approach you feel comfortable with, and whose specialties meet your needs.

Here are common provider types and abbreviations you may come across, and explanations of each.


Common Types of Mental Health Providers

  • Psychologist

  • Social worker

  • Counselor

  • Psychiatrist

  • Sex therapist

  • Life coach

  • Dietitian or nutritionist

  • Marriage and Family Therapist

Explanations for Common Types of Providers


Psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners are medical doctors and nurse practitioners trained to diagnose and provide medication management for mental health conditions and psychiatric illnesses.

In addition to medication management, many psychiatrists are also trained in psychotherapy, or talk therapy, and some psychiatrists in private practice will see patients for both services.

MDMedical Doctor (Psychiatrist)An MD is a medical doctor who has graduated from medical school after 4+ years of study. Psychiatry is a field within medicine in which MDs learn to diagnose mental health conditiosn and prescribe medications. Many psychiatrists are also trained to provide psychotherapy, or talk therapy. Some psychiatrists in private practice only see patients for medication management, while others offer both medication management and psychotherapy.
DODoctor of Osteopathy (Psychiatrist)A DO is a doctor of osteopathy. Like an MD, a DO is a physician and can treat medical issues. The difference is that DOs receive special training in the musculoskeletal system and often use a holistic approach to medicine.
APRNAdvanced Practice Registered NurseAn APRN is a nurse who has completed nursing school. Many nurses go into additional specializations beyond the APRN level. Most nurse practitioners with specialization in psychiatric conditions focus on medication management, not psychotherapy. They will work closesly with therapists (such as psychologists, social workers, and counselors) to monitor patient progress and health.
PMHNPPsychiatric and Mental Health Nurse PractitionerAn PMHNP is a type of nurse practitioner focusing on mental health treatment. Nurse pratitioners can work in many settings, such as clinics and hospitals, but they are also licensed to work in private practice. All nurse practitioners have master's degrees and some also have doctoral degrees. In adition to the general training as nurse practitioners, PMHNPs have additional advanced training in the diagnosis and medication management for psychiatric conditions.
PCNSPsychiatric Clinical Nurse SpecialistA PCNS has the same scope of practice as a PMHNP. They have earned at least a master's degree as well as a certification in either adult or child/adolescent mental health.


Psychologists are doctorate-level therapists who have either a PhD or a PsyD. Psychologists are trained in providing psychotherapy, or talk therapy. There are different abbreviations for different kinds of specialized degrees within psychology.

PhDDoctor of PhilosophyPsychologists with a PhD have completed 4+ years of course work in psychology, clinical psychology, or related fields and typically a few years of field training. A PhD is a research and academia-focused degree, so this kind of psychologist will usually have an extensive research background.
PsyDDoctor of PsychologyPsychologists with a PsyD have completed 4+ years of coursework focused mainly on clinical psychology theory and practice. A PsyD generally focuses more on clinical experience and less on research, compared to a PhD.

Social Workers

Social workers are a broad category of professionals educated in the provision of services to enhance social justice and welfare. Social workers who offer therapy take specific courses on mental health and receive additional training and supervision in psychotherapy, or talk therapy, to receive their clinical licensure.

In addition to their Masters in Social Work education, social workers complete additional training in clinical settings, such as hospital, treatment center, and/or group practice settings. Social workers may work in these institutional settings or start their private practice.

LCSWLicensed Clinical Social WorkerLCSWs are social workers who have received training and supervision hours to gain their clinical licensure to practice psychotherapy in clinical settings. LCSWs also have to pass a clinical licensing exam. In some states like Rhode Island, LCSWs are not able to open their own private practices -- they must work with a supervisor for a number of hours to receive their LICSW. In other states such as New York, LCSWs are able to practice independently, for example, by starting a private practice. Social workers who have received advanced education in social work but have not completed clinical training and/or supervision hours have an MSW (Masters in Social Work) degree. Social workers can become LMSWs by taking a general licensing exam after completing their master's degrees, but they cannot practice independently until they become LCSWs or LICSWs, depending on the state.
LCSW-RLicensed Clinical Social Worker - R PrivilegeThis is a level of licensure that only applies in New York State. Social workers with an LCSW-R have all the same qualifications as other LCSWs, plus an additional certifciation that designates them as able to receive reimbursement from insurance companies in New York State.
LICSWLicensed Independent Clinical Social WorkerThe LICSW distinction only exists in some states, such as Rhode Island. In these states, the LICSW is for LCSWs who have completed additional supervised clinical practice and are now authorized to work independently in a setting such as private practice.

Mental Health Counselors

Mental health counselors are a broad category of providers who offer some form of psychotherapy, or talk therapy. Many have master's degrees, and require advanced training, supervision, and licensure to be able to practice psychotherapy in a private practice setting.

Mental health counselors are trained in providing clinical, psychiatric services, and are distinct from counselors in other setting such as college counselors. Some mental health counselors may also provide adjunct services such as career counseling as well if they have received additional training in these fields.

Degree, License, or CertificationProfessionDescription
LMHCLicensed Mental Health CounselorLMHCs have master's degrees and have also passed a licensing exam to provide mental health treatment.
MAMaster of ArtsAn MA is a counselor who has a master's degree but has not yet passed the licensing exam necessary to practice in most states. An MA who has passed the exam is an LMHC. To practice independently in private practice, counselors must have an LMHC, though they may practice under a supervisor until they receive their licensure.
CAGSCertificate of Advanced Graduate StudyCAGS is a certificate program that some education institutions offer for professionals who already have a related master's degree but are not yet qualified to become counselors. Professionals from related fields who wish to pursue counseling often earn this certificate.

Other common types of therapists

Degree, License, or CertificationProfessionDescription
LMFTLicensed Marriage and Family TherapistLMFTs have completed at least a master's degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and have also passed a licensing exam to practice in a given state.
LPCLicensed Professional CounselorLPCs are very similar to LMHCs. Different states may use the two terms interchangably. LPCs have master's degrees and have also passed a licensing exam to provide mental health treatment.
LPLicensed Psychoanalyst -or- Licensed PsychologistLP can stand for either Licensed Psychoanalyst or Licensed Psychologist. A Licensed Psychoanalyst has at least a master's degree in a mental health field, as well as advanced training in psychoanalysis and a license to practice in a specific state. A Licensed Psychologist has a doctoral degree (either PhD or PsyD) as well as a license to practice in a specific state.
LCATLicensed Creative Arts TherapistLCATs have at least a master's degree in an artisitic field (such as a Masters of Fine Arts), as well as additional clinical supervision and a license to practice in a specific state. Therapy sessions with LCATs may entail both traditional psychotherapy (or talk therapy), as well as art therapy, including the use of drawing, painting and other forms of art for self expression.
ATRRegistered Art TherapistRegistered Art Therapists have a at least a master's degree in an artistic field as well as additional postgraduate clinical experience and supervision in art therapy and psychotherapy (or talk therapy). Similar to LCATS, therapy sessions with ATRs may entail both talk therapy and the incorporation of artistic therapy approaches to meet the client's needs and preferences.
ATR-BCRegistered Art Therapist - Board CertifiedBoard Certified ATR have all the same credentials as other ATRs, and they also have to pass an certification exam and complete ongoing continuing education requirements.
CASACCertified Alcohol and Substance Abuse CounselorTherapists who have the CASAC credential have dedicated a significant portion of their training and work experience to the practice of alcoholism and/or substance abuse counseling. They must have received a minimum of 6,000 hours (approximately three years) of supervised, full-time equivalent experience in relevant settings.

Academic Degrees of Mental Health Providers

Academic Degrees 
DDivDoctor of Divinity
DMinDoctor of Ministry
DODoctor of Osteopathy
DrPHDoctor of Public Health
DSWDoctor of Social Work
EdDDoctor of Education
EdMMaster of Education
MAMaster of Arts
MAHSMaster of Arts in Human Services
MCMaster of Counseling
MDDoctor of Medicine
MDivMasters in Divinity
MEdMaster of Education
MHDLMaster of Human Development & Learning
MPHMaster of Public Health
MPSMaster of Professional Studies
MSMaster of Science
MScMaster of Science
MSEdMaster of Science in Education
MSNMaster of Science in Nursing
MSSMaster of Social Science
MSSWMaster of Science in Social Work
MSWMaster of Social Work
PhDDoctor of Philosophy
PsyaDDoctor of Psychoanalysis
PsyDDoctor of Psychology
ScDDoctor of Science

Licenses and Certifications of Mental Health Providers

Licenses & Certifications
ABECSWAmerican Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work
ABFamPAmerican Board of Family Psychology
ABPNAmerican Board of Professional Neuropsychology
ABPPAmerican Board of Professional Psychology
ACSWAcademy of Clinical Social Workers
ADTRAcademy of Dance Therapists Registered
APRNAdvanced Practice Registered Nurse
ATRRegistered Art Therapist
ATR-BCRegistered Art Therapist - Board Certified
BCBTBoard Certification in Bereavement Trauma™
BCDBoard Certified Diplomate in Clinical Social Work
BCDTBoard Certification in Disability Trauma™
BCDVBoard Certification in Domestic Violence™
BCETSBoard Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress™
BCFTBoard Certification in Forensic Traumatology™
BCITBoard Certification in Illness Trauma™
BCMVTBoard Certification in Motor Vehicle Trauma™
BCPMBoard Certification in Pain Management™
BCRTBoard Certification in Rape Trauma™
BCSABoard Certification in Sexual Abuse™
BCSCRBoard Certification in School Crisis Response™
BCSMBoard Certification in Stress Management™
BCUCRBoard Certification in University Crisis Response™
CACCertified Addictions Counselor -or- Certified Alcoholism Counselor
CADACCertified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor
CADCCertified Alcohol and Drug Counselor
CAGSCertificate of Advanced Graduate Study
CAMFCertified Anger Management Facilitator
CAPCertified Addictions Professional
CARTCertified Anger Resolution Therapist
CASCertified Addiction Specialist
CASACCertified Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor
CBTCertified Bioenergetic Therapist
CCADCCertified Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor
CCDPCertified Chemical Dependency Professional
CCHTCertified Clinical Hypnotherapist
CCPTCertified Clinical Pastoral Therapist
CCMHClinical Counselor in Mental Health
CCMHCCertified Clinical Mental Health Counselor
CCSWCertified Clinical Social Worker
CEAPCertified Employee Assistance Professional
CEDSCertified Eating Disorders Specialist
CFLECertified Family Life Educator
CGPCertified Group Psychotherapist
CHTCertified Hypnotherapist
CICSWCertified Independent Clinical Social Worker
CISWCertified Independent Social Worker
CMFTCertified Marriage and Family Therapist
CPCertified Psychologist -or- Clinical Psychologist
CpastCCertified Pastoral Counselor
CPCCertified Professional Counselor
CRADCCertified Reciprocal Alcohol and Drug Counselor
CRCCertified Rehabilitation Counselor
CSACCertified Substance Abuse Counselor
CSWCertified Social Worker -or- Clinical Social Worker
CSW-CCertified Social Worker - Clinical
DAPADiplomate, American Psychotherapy Association
DCSWDiplomate in Clinical Social Work
DOT SAPDepartment of Transportation Substance Abuse Professional
DTRDance Therapist Registered
LACLicensed Associate Counselor
LADACLicensed Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor
LADCLicensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor
LAMFTLicensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist
LAPCLicensed Associate Professional Counselor
LASACLicensed Associate Substance Abuse Counselor
LCADCLicensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor
LCASLicensed Clinical Addictions Specialist
LCATLicensed Creative Arts Therapist
LCDCLicensed Chemical Dependency Counselor
LCDPLicensed Chemical Dependency Professional
LCMFTLicensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist
LCMHCLicensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor
LCPLicensed Clinical Psychologist -or- Licensed Counseling Professional
LCPCLicensed Clinical Professional Counselor
LCSWLicensed Clinical Social Worker
LCSW-CLicensed Certified Social Worker-Clinical
LGSWLicensed Graduate Social Worker
LICSWLicensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
LIMFTLicensed Independent Marriage and Family Therapist
LISWLicensed Independent Social Worker
LISW-CPLicensed Independent Social Worker - Clinical Practice
LLPLimited Licensed Psychologist
LMFTLicensed Marriage and Family Therapist
LMHCLicensed Mental Health Counselor
LMHPLicensed Mental Health Practitioner
LMSWLicensed Master Social Worker
LMSW-ACPLicensed Master Social Worker - Advanced Clinical Practitioner
LPLicensed Psychoanalyst -or- Licensed Psychologist
LPALicensed Psychological Associate
LpastCLicensed Pastoral Counselor
LPCLicensed Professional Counselor
LPCCLicensed Professional Clinical Counselor
LPCMHLicensed Professional Counselor of Mental Health
LPELicensed Psychological Examiner
LPPLicensed Pastoral Psychotherapist
LSATPLicensed Substance Abuse Treatment Practitioner
LSCSWLicensed Specialist Clinical Social Worker
LSPLicensed School Psychologist
LSWLicensed Social Worker
MACMaster Addiction Counselor - also offered by NAADAC
MFCCMarriage, Family and Child Counselor
MFTMarriage and Family Therapist
MT-BCMusic Therapist - Board Certified
NBCCHNational Board Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist
NBCDCHNational Board Certified Diplomate in Clinical Hypnotherapy
NCCNational Certified Counselor
NCPsyANationally Certified Psychoanalyst
NCSCNational Certified School Counselor
NCSPNationally Certified School Psychologist
PAPsychological Associate
PLMHPProvisionally Licensed Mental Health Practitioner
PLPCProvisional Licensed Professional Counselor
PMHNPPsychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
RASRegistered Addiction Specialist
RDTRegistered Drama Therapist
REATRegistered Expressive Arts Therapist
RNRegistered Nurse
RPCRegistered Professional Counselor
RPTRegistered Play Therapist
RPT-SRegistered Play Therapist-Supervisor
SAPSubstance Abuse Professional
SWSocial Worker
TLLPTemporary Limited License Psychologist