Let's Talk Letters: A Quick Guide To The Letters After Our Names

I realize in the counseling field there are a lot of acronyms, and I thought it might be helpful to write about what all those letters mean.  Although it’s shorthand everyone in this field uses, I think we just assume others understand it too.  The world of therapy can seem so cryptic, because it’s hard to know what goes on in a therapy office unless you’ve actually been there.  I want to try to help explain things in this field, and part of that is educating others about things as simple as the letters after our names.  The credentials become more and more specific as you have more training.  Think about it like a path, and with each turn you are getting to a more specific location.

Let’s talk letters!

General Counseling Field:

In general, therapists diagnose and treat mental disorders, and address problem behaviors. 

MS, MA: Master’s degree in either science (MS) or arts (MA) -  Someone in the counseling field may have either of these designations, depending upon how their school classified their program.  This means that the person completed 4 years of their Bachelor’s degree, and then did another 2-3 years in a Master’s program.  This helps narrow their focus and deepen their training on a specific topic, so they are then a “Master” at that topic.

LPC:  Licensed Professional Counselor – This is the highest level of training someone with a MS or MA can receive after completing a certain amount of hours of supervised work and passing a clinical exam.

Social Work:

In general, social workers focus on helping people cope with their everyday lives.  This includes connecting them to resources, advocacy, and treating and diagnosing mental disorders.

MSW: Master’s degree in social work -  Someone would receive their Bachelor’s in social work, then get their MSW.

LSW: Licensed social worker – After receiving a MSW, someone would pass an exam to achieve this designation.

LCSW: Licensed Clinical Social Worker -  For a Social Worker, this the highest level of training they can achieve after completing a certain amount of hours of supervised work and passing a clinical exam.

Other categories:

MFT: Master’s degree in marriage and family therapy – Someone who has extensive training in family dynamics and relationships.

LMFT: Licensed marriage and family therapist – Received supervision beyond their Master’s degree.

CADC: Certification as a Drug and Alcohol Counselor – This person has been trained regarding drug and alcohol use.  This is not a Master’s degree, but this person has a Bachelor’s degree and then received further training.

RPT: Registered Play Therapist – This person received additional training beyond a Master’s degree to use play therapy with young children as a way to express themselves.

A few other things to note:

Some insurance companies will allow any Master’s level clinician to offer therapy.  Some require a license beyond the Master’s degree.  This is why you have to verify with your insurance to make sure who you are seeing or want to see has the appropriate credentials that your insurance will cover.

This is just a basic introduction on the acronyms within the counseling field, and there are a few other less common acronyms I didn’t cover (especially for children in play therapy and BHRS).  And, there might be some exceptions to what I’ve shared.

Please let me know if you have specific questions and I’d be happy to address that.