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Encourage Your Student to Use the Campus Counseling CenterGuest Contributor
While searching for a counselor or therapist for your young adult, you will likely see a whole bunch of letters after someone's name. While it may seem confusing and maybe a bit meaningless, those letters are a means of determining that professional's minimal formal training and discipline.
Many licensing bodies require clinicians to list their degree (e.g., Masters, Doctorate or Medical Doctorate) and their license in order to accurately and transparently communicate their level of education to the public.
For example, I'm required in North Carolina and Indiana to list myself in any professional and public manner as Rob Danzman, MS, NCC, LCMHC. This means I have a Masters of Science (MS), I’m a Nationally Certified Counselor, and I am a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC).
Most licenses are administered by a state licensing board, which is where you can go to verify a therapist's license and file a complaint against a therapist if they did something wrong while working with you.
Here is a link in Indiana to verify my license. Just type my last name (Danzman) into the search box and click enter. You will see my license information pop up. These letters are evidence I’ve been trained and have enough experience to help clients struggling with mental health challenges.
Unlike other professions like architects or plumbers, a significant range of professionals is allowed to serve clients. Here is a list of additional credentials you may see after someone's name and what they mean:
LPA – Licensed Psychological Associate
LCSW – Licensed Clinical Social Worker
LCAS – Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist
LMHC – Licensed Mental Health Counselor
LCMHC – Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor
LPCA – Licensed Professional Counselor Associate
LMFT – Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
NCC – National Certified Counselor
RN – Registered Nurse
MS – Masters of Science
MA – Masters of Arts
MSW – Masters of Social Work
DSW – Doctorate of Social Work
Ph.D. – Doctorate of Philosophy
Psy.D – Doctorate of Psychology
Ed.D – Doctorate of Education
M.D. – Medical Doctor
D.O. – Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine
In my recent book (Insider’s Guide to Parenting: How to Solve Messy Problems and Build a Great Family), I go into excruciating detail on each of these, but for our purposes today, I highlight the most common credentials you need to know.
A psychiatrist is a physician (doctor of medicine [M.D.] or doctor of osteopathic medicine [D.O.]) who specializes in mental health and often attends residency for mental health care in addition to medical school.
This type of doctor may further specialize in child and adolescent, geriatric or addiction psychiatry. Psychiatrists are the only medical professionals I refer to for medication management since general practitioners and pediatricians are generally untrained in psychiatric medications.
A psychiatrist can perform the following, though nowadays they primarily prescribe medication:
Psychologists are trained in psychology — a science that deals with thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Typically, a psychologist holds a doctoral degree (Ph.D., Psy.D., Ed.D.). A psychologist:
A psychiatric mental health nurse (P.M.H.N.) is a registered nurse with training in mental health issues. A psychiatric-mental health advanced practice registered nurse (P.M.H.-A.P.R.N.) has at least a master's degree in psychiatric-mental health nursing.
Other types of advanced practice nurses able to provide mental health services include a clinical nurse specialist (C.N.S.), a certified nurse practitioner (C.N.P), or a doctorate of nursing practice (D.N.P.).
Mental health nurses:
A certified physician assistant (P.A.-C.) practices medicine under the supervision of a physician. Physician assistants can specialize in psychiatry. These physician assistants can:
If you prefer a social worker, look for a licensed clinical social worker (L.C.S.W.) with training and experience specifically in mental health. A licensed clinical social worker must have a master's degree in social work (M.S.W.), a Master of Science in social work (M.S.S.W.), or a doctorate in social work (D.S.W. or Ph.D.).
These social workers:
Training required for a licensed professional counselor (L.P.C.) and (L.C.M.H.C.) varies slightly by state, but most have at least a master's degree with clinical experience, and some have a doctorate.
Licensed counselors focus primarily on individual and family therapy. These counselors:
Training required for licensed marriage and family therapist (L.M.F.T.) is a master’s degree or doctorate. Licensed marriage and family therapists have specialized training in working with couples and families.
Similar to LCSWs and LCMHCs, these therapists:
I’d take a professional with a master’s degree and great personality and communication skills over the most "accomplished" medical doctor.
When looking for a clinician, do your homework, verify their license, ask lots of questions, and determine if their personality will fit. These are deeply personal, intimate relationships, so I encourage clients to choose slowly and wisely.
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