Common Licensed Therapy Professionals

In addition to what's stated below, most licenses require that the professional pass an exam, be supervised by a qualified professional for a specified period of time, and meet a specific experience level.

While licenses are state regulated, you can click on the logo to the right to learn more about these professionals from the website for their national association. Note that belonging to one of these associations does not necessarily qualify an individual to provide therapy, but looking at these sites will help you learn some of the differences in their training and experience.


Degree: M.D. (Medical Doctor)

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Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have specialized in psychiatric issues. Being medical doctors, they are generally the only therapy professionals who can prescribe medications. Most psychiatrists do not focus on counseling, but prescribe and monitor medication to address the medical component of an issue. Consumers are encouraged to seek out a psychiatrist when looking for medication for counseling issues (ie: depression, ADD, mood swings).



Degree: Usually Ph.D. or Psy.D.

Psychologists usually have a doctorate (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in Psychology. This is probably the best known and largest group of mental health professionals. Providing one of the broadest forms of training, psychologists may be trained in a variety of theories, methods or speciality areas. Check to see if they have certification, training or experience in an speciality area. Depending upon your needs, you might want a child psychologist, school psychologist, organizational psychologist, or a general psychologist who specializes in your area of need.


Professional Counselor (Mental Health Counselor)

Degree: Usually MS or MA (Masters Degree)
Designation: LPC or LMHC

Professional Counselors (some states call them Mental Health Counselors) typically have a masters degree in counseling. Most counselors have training in a variety of counseling areas including individual, mental health, career, addictions, marriage and family, or school counseling. Theoretical approaches will vary, often influenced by the school. You will want to talk with the therapist to see where they have focused their training and experience. The field is too broad to be an expert in everything.


Marriage and Family Therapist

Degree: Usually MS or MA (Masters Degree)
Designation: LMFT

Marriage and Family Therapists typically have a masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. It is one of the most specific and clinically focused trainings. MFT''s are usually trained from a theoretical approach identified as "systems theory". One advantage of "systems theory" is it's focus on relationships, therefore, MFT's often focus on marriage, family, and group dynamics. MFT has one of the highest standards for clinical training when it comes to supervision of new therapists.


Social Workers

Degree: Usually MSW
Designation: LCSW

Social Workers are one of the oldest helping professional groups. Training for Social Workers is varied with the focus of most training focused on agency work (government or helping organizations). Others have clinical training that better prepares them for counseling and therapy. Like MFT's, social workers are often trained from a systems perspective (see MFT description for a brief description).


Pastoral Counselor

Degree: Usually M.Div. (Master of Divinity) and maybe an MS or MA in a counseling field.
Designation: Most states do not license pastoral counselors

Pastoral counselors are unique in that they have both seminary training and counseling training. This training is designed to help them better focus on the spiritual aspects of counseling. Consumers are cautioned not to assume that because a pastoral counselor has seminary training they have similar beliefs. Many pastoral counseling training programs are liberal in their theology