The easiest way to get from point A to point B is with a vehicle that runs on alphabet soup.
Imagine for a moment that you have been feeling down for a few weeks plus a little tense at times. You’ve been to your doctor, who prescribed some medications with weird-sounding names (the topic of another article in the future). Your enlightened doctor also suggested that you seek out a therapist with whom you can talk things over. You go to your insurance company’s website to find someone who has an office nearby and takes your insurance. Suddenly, as if this was really what you needed at this time, you become faced with a laundry list of names, all having letters after their names. How can you tell who is whom? Well, let’s see if I can help.
If we start at the top of the list, let’s say you find this name:
Jane Albatross, PsyD
OK, Jane has a psychologist license and has earned a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree. We know this from the four letters after her name and the absence of any other letters designating a license. How would you know that, though?
It doesn’t say “psychologist” anywhere, only the acronym for some obscure degree that you’ve never heard of before (another article, another time). Well, people licensed as psychologists don’t have a designation other than the abbreviation for their degree. People who have earned PhDs and have a psychologist license occupy the same boat (like Bob Albatross, PhD, Jane’s psychologist husband). Easy so far, huh? Well, not so fast.
Let’s say you believe Jane can do the job since she is a psychologist (you’ve heard of those) and a “doctor” after all. But you want to keep looking, just to have options beyond picking someone whose name comes first alphabetically. The next person on the list is:
Joe Ballast, PsyD, LMFT
You see the PsyD designation and think, hey, this person has a psychologist license just like Jane before him. I just learned that. Hmm, not so fast. Joe has four more letters after his name, LMFT. These stand for Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (or MFT), the official name of Joe’s license. Wait, so Joe does not have a psychologist’s license? Yes, that’s correct. While most MFTs have master’s degrees, Joe obtained a PsyD degree (and you can call him “doctor” if you wish), but he opted to get a different license than Jane (there are costs and benefits to each type of license, which is beyond the scope of this article).
So, with this other kind of license, Joe only works with people who have trouble in their marriage or have family-related issues? He cannot help you with your more individual issues? Well, no to both questions. Although Joe’s license is called “Marriage and Family Therapist,” he has training and experience in treating much the same areas as a psychologist, including individual issues such as depression and anxiety. He has training in working with couples and families AND individuals. It’s just that the name of his license leads you to believe otherwise.
So, you would go to Joe and not Jane, the psychologist, for marital or family issues? Well, not necessarily. You could certainly go to Joe for those issues, but Jane may be able to help you as well since many psychologists get training in couples or family work. (I did and I do couples and some family work although I’m a psychologist.) Confused much?
OK, so you’ve got two potential candidates to call. But, you’ve heard that therapists fill up quickly (I wish) and so you want to have a third person to call, just in case. So, you next come across:
Mary Complex, LCSW
Wow! What the heck is that? Well, LCSW stands for Licensed Clinical Social Worker. You think, that’s nice, but I don’t need someone to find me somewhere to live or get me government benefits or whatever a social worker does (my apologies to all you very hard-working social workers out there). OK, understandable. However, an LCSW (we in the biz refer to people by their license name) has training and experience in most or all of the same areas of therapy as does a psychologist or an MFT. What? How was I supposed to know that, you say? Well, I’m here to tell you. Can Mary help me with my depression and anxiety? Quite probably. Does she work with couples or families? Possibly so. We’d have to ask her.
What? You mean there’s no way to tell other than asking her? Yes, this is essentially true of all therapists. There is little to no way of telling whether any given therapist with any given license works with children vs. teens vs. adults vs. the elderly vs. couples vs. families vs. certain types of diagnoses vs. well you get the idea. Each therapist chooses the ages and areas where they want to specialize. I, for example, work with adults (college-age to 65) and the elderly (65 and up), but not children or teens. I work with individuals and couples but rarely families. I work with virtually all adult diagnoses but specialize in working with people who have suffered trauma or abuse in their past. I also do something that only psychologists are allowed to do. That is, cognitive assessments and psychological testing. We throw that in just to make things even more confusing (kidding).
Other Letters and Licenses?
There are many other sets of letters that might appear after a therapist’s name. I have covered some of the most common ones above. Here are some (but not all) more:
MD, or Medical Doctor (typically a psychiatrist)
LPCC, or Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor
ASW or LCSW Intern
IMF or MFTI, or MFT Intern
MFCC, or Marriage, Family and Child Counselor
CADC, or Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor
ABPP, or American Board of Professional Psychology
CGP, or Certified Group Psychotherapist
Someday, maybe I’ll write another article explaining what all these mean. In the meantime, I suggest trying to Google these acronyms, if you are interested. Good luck!
Copyright 2014 Daniel J. Metevier