Dr. Levy's CBT Blog
Insights on Well-Being, Contentment, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
If you’re looking for a therapist and getting confused about what those letters after their names mean, you’re not alone. There are a number of licenses in California that allow a provider to offer psychotherapy services to individuals, couples and families. All of them have to do with the kind and level of courses taken in school. Here is a quick (and non-exhaustive) cheat sheet.
First, know that all therapists in California must have a graduate degree, supervised clinical experience, and a State license (that is regularly renewed) in order to serve the public. Individuals with only an undergraduate degree cannot be licensed to provide psychotherapy. Within graduate programs, here are some common credentials that you may find. All of them can offer individual, couple’s, family, or group therapy.
1) PhD: Clinical Psychologists
These are professionals who have completed usually five to six years of graduate training, a research-based dissertation in clinical psychology, plus one year of post-doctoral training after graduation before getting licensed.
2) PsyD: Clinical Psychologists
Similar to PhDs, PsyD credentials are doctorate degrees in Psychology that follow the same pre- and post-doctoral training, with a lower emphasis in primary research during graduate school.
3) MD: Psychiatrists
These are medical doctors who have completed medical school and a specialized residency of four years in mental health. Psychiatrists are the only mental health providers on this list who can prescribe medications in California. Many of them also offer psychotherapy services, although it is not the main emphasis of most programs currently.
4) MFT (or LMFT): Marriage and Family Therapists
These are therapists who have completed typically two years of graduate level courses, obtaining a Master’s degree in a mental health-related area, followed by two years or more of supervised practice before getting licensed.
5) LCSW: Licensed Clinical Social Workers
These processionals have attended graduate school in Social Work typically for two years, obtaining a Master’s degree in Social Work, followed by two years or more of supervised practice before getting licensed to provide counseling.
6) LPCC: Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor
This is a relatively new credential in California, but is similar to the ones above. These processionals have attended graduate school typically for two years, obtaining a Master’s degree in Counseling, followed by two years or more of supervised practice before getting licensed.
You can learn a bit more about the differences across these Master’s levels clinicians here.
Unlicensed Professionals/Professionals in Training
As you saw above, all mental health professionals will practice for a number of years under someone else’s supervision in order to accrue experience and develop expertise in psychotherapy. While these individuals are in training, you may meet them under the following credentials:
7) Psychology pre-doctoral intern (pre-doctoral degree, pre-licensure)
8) Psychology post-doctoral fellow or resident (post-doctoral degree, pre-licensure)
9) ASW: Associate Social Worker (post-master's degree, pre-licensure)
10) MFTi: MFT intern (post-master's degree, pre-licensure)
Each one of these professions is regulated by a different Board in the State of California; for example, psychology practice is overseen by the California Board of Psychology whereas MFTs practice according to the regulations of the Board of Behavioral Sciences.
You may find the best therapist for you at any of these training levels. Ultimately, you should be looking for someone with whom you connect, who helps you identify actionable treatment goals, and who helps you get there by combining the science of evidence-based treatments with the art of human relations.
Dr. Daniele Levy is a licensed psychologist offering CBT via Teletherapy from Menlo Park, CA. Her background uniquely combines leading edge training in behavioral sciences with deep expertise coaching and mentoring working professionals in dynamic organizations.