What Do Those Abbreviations Mean After a Psychotherapist's Name?

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Psychotherapy is conducted by a professional with specialized training, for example, a psychiatrist, a trained counselor, social worker, or psychologist.

But how do you make sense of the alphabet soup after their names? What are the qualifications of the person treating you?

Doctoral Degrees

Although it's common to associate the title "doctor" with a medical doctor, this title can refer to anyone who has an advanced degree. That being said, just because someone calls him or herself "doctor" doesn't mean they are qualified to offer you treatment. They could just as easily have a PhD in English or Archaeology. If you are in doubt, ask to see their full credentials.

Here are some professional titles you may run into:

  • MD: Stands for Medical Doctor. Psychiatrists are usually MD's. Because they possess a medical degree, they can prescribe medications, as well as administer psychotherapy.
  • PhD.: Stands for Doctor of Philosophy. PhD programs may offer degrees in many diverse areas ranging anywhere from agriculture to urban economic development. Psychologists often have this degree as well. Psychologists generally cannot prescribe medication, although in the states of Illinois, Louisiana, and New Mexico, appropriately trained psychologists may be granted the right to prescribe medications. 
  • PsyD.: Stands for Doctor of Psychology. This type of degree focuses more on the practice of psychology than scientific research and teaching. 
  • DMin.: Stands for Doctor of Ministry, a degree which may be held by a minister. Ministers may offer Pastoral Counseling.

Masters Degrees

Whereas doctors may have three to four years of education plus years of internship and residency beyond a bachelor's degree, masters programs are generally closer to two years.

Some degrees you may encounter include:

  • MSW: Stands for Masters in Social Work. This is the degree that social workers generally possess.
  • MEd: Stands for Masters in Education. Many counselors have this degree. It may be given in any field of education.
  • MSEd: Stands for Master of Science in Education. 
  • MS or MA: Stands for Masters of Science and Masters of Arts, respectively. These are the traditional degrees given by colleges of arts and sciences in the United States. Generally, a master's degree is not sufficient to be licensed as a psychologist, although some states and Canadian provinces do allow it.
  • EdS: Stands for Educational Specialist. This degree is actually intermediate between a Masters and a Doctorate. Some school psychologists and counselors have this degree.
  • MDiv: Stands for Masters in Divinity. Ministers who are pastoral counselors may have this degree.


Some states required counselors to be licensed, conferring the titles L.P.C (Licensed Professional Counselor) or M.F.C.C. (Marriage, Family and Child Counselor).

In some states, the title L.C.S.W., for Licensed Clinical Social Worker, may be used for social workers.

Special Certifications

Certifications are similar to licenses, but with a more limited scope of practice. Some certifications you may see include:

  • CSAC: Stands for Certified Substance Abuse Counselor. This person usually has at least a bachelor's degree and some additional training in substance abuse.
  • CAC: Stands for Certified Alcoholism Counselor. Similar to a CSAC, but with an emphasis on alcohol abuse. Depending on your state, CAC may also stand for Certified Addictions Counselor. In this case, the person would be qualified to deal with both drug and alcohol abuse.

Board Certifications

Physicians generally pass "specialty boards" to become "board certified" in their chosen specialty.

  • A.B.P.P: This board certification is a credential available through the American Board of Professional Psychology. Any psychologist who passes their exam may use these initials. Many psychologists do not get this certification, however.
  • F.A.C.P.: Fellow, American College of Physicians.

A Word From Verywell

It is important that you develop a trusting relationship with your psychotherapist. If you are not sure of your psychotherapist's credentials, please inquire, so you can feel at ease with your care. 

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Article Sources

  • American Psychological Association. (2016). Doctoral degrees in psychology: How are they different or not so different?
  • APA Practice Organization. About Prescribing Psychologists.
  • NetworkTherapy.com. (2016). A Mental Health Network: Credential Abbreviations.