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Alphabet soup: What do all those letters mean?

Alphabet soup: What do all those letters mean?

Inside the mental health profession.

It's time to find a mental health professional for yourself or a family member: You may get referrals from your medical doctor or turn to the phone book. Or perhaps your insurance company has pointed you to their online data base. Mental Health America offers a helpful guide to finding mental services.

mental health profession

But in your search, you'll find an assortment of letter combinations designating qualifications or specialty. What do all those letters mean? What kind of practitioner is right for you?


Here is a guide to the most common designations:


Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor or Addiction Counselor (C.S.A.C., C.A.C.)
Certified counselors trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling for individuals with addiction problems. Training may include a bachelor's degree, specific clinical training in alcohol and drug abuse, and supervised experience. Usually have state license; may also receive national certification through the National Association for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors.


ARNP-Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner. Graduate degree in an accredited advanced registered nurse practitioner education program or have graduated before July 1, 2004 from an ARNP education program accredited by a national accrediting body, board certified in the specialty for which the applicant was educated and licensed as a registered nurse.


ATR-Art Therapist Registered. Art therapists are trained in both art and therapy and hold a master's degree in art therapy or a related field. Art therapists work with individuals, couples, families or groups. (American Art Therapy Association, Art Therapy Credentials Board)


BCD-Board Certified Diplomate. This board certification is granted to practitioners-whether they are social workers, counselors, psychologists, among other mental health professionals. These individuals have demonstrated a high level of competency and experience in their field.


CAC-Certified Alcohol Counselor, see Alcohol and Drug Abuse


CBT-Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes the important role of thinking in feelings and behavior.


CCH-Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist Certified by American Council of Hypnotist Examiners.


CCBT- Certified Cognitive Behavioral Therapist


CCMHC- Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor


CFT- Certified Family Therapist, a certification by the National Credentialing Academy.


Clinical Social Worker (C.S.W., M.S.W., L.S.W., L.C.S.W., Ph.D.) Licensed social workers are mental health providers that deal with issues such as life events, family conflicts, substance abuse, and disabilities. They not only offer psychotherapy but also help patients find community care. Clinical social workers have a bachelor's degree as well as a master's or doctoral degree in social work from an accredited graduate program and have a state license. They may also be members of the Academy of Certified Social Workers.


C.M.T.-Certified Massage Therapist


CPC- Certified Professional Counselor. Certified as a professional counselor or licensed professional counselor-marriage and family therapist by a State Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists. Must hold a mental health practice license


CSAC- Certified Substance Abuse Counselor, see Alcohol and Drug Abuse


CSW - see Clinical Social Worker


D.N.B.A.O.-Diplomate, National Board of Acupuncture Orthopedics


LAC, LAc or L.Ac.- Licensed Acupuncturist. An acupuncture practitioner who is licensed and credentialed may provide better care than one who is not. Most states have training standards for acupuncture certification, but licensing requirements vary. Although proper credentials do not ensure competency, they do indicate that the practitioner has met certain standards.


LCDC- Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor. Holds bachelor's degree and has two years paid counseling experience or masters degree; completion of exams.


LCSW-Licensed Clinical Social Worker, see Clinical Social Worker


LMFT-Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Therapists who diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders, and other health and behavioral problems within the context of marriage, couples and family systems. Master's or doctoral degree in marriage and family therapy and at least two years of clinical experience, trained in psychotherapy and family systems, state licensed.


LPC-Licensed Professional Counselor, see Mental Health Counselor


LSW, see Clinical Social Worker


MA-Masters of Arts Degree.

A master of arts can be earned in counseling, psychology or related fields. It usually requires two years of post-collegiate study. See Also Mental Health Counselor; Pastoral Counselors


MD-Medical Doctor


MDiv-Masters of Divinity Degree, see Pastoral Counselors


Mental Health Counselor (M.A., M.S., N.C.C., C.C.M.C.) and Licensed Professional Counselor (L.P.C.)-Therapists trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling, and often, general psychotherapy. They have a master's degree (usually in clinical or counseling psychology) and several years of supervised clinical work experience. In many, but not all states, mental health counselors must be licensed. They may also receive certification by the National Academy of Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselors. Licensed professional counselors have a state license.


MFCC-Marriage and Family Counselor. The licensed marriage and family therapist has a graduate academic degree (a 2- to 3-year master's degree or a 3- to 5-year doctoral degree), clinical work experience and has passed a state-certified licensing exam. (American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists)


MHC-Mental health counselor or mental health counseling. These generic initials do not indicate a degree, licensure or certification by a professional organization and have no legal standing.


MS-Masters of Science Degree. A master of science can be earned in counseling, psychology or related fields. It usually requires two years of post-collegiate study. See also Mental Health Counselor; Pastoral Counselors


M.S.TCM- Master of Science Degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine


MSN- Master's of Science in Nursing


MSW-Masters of Social Work, see Clinical Social Worker


NBCCH-National Board Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist. Hypnotherapists practicing in Mental Health must hold a graduate degree in a mental health discipline; be licensed or certified in the state of practice.


NCC-Nationally Certified Counselor, see Mental Health Counselor


NP - Nurse Practitioner. A registered nurse with advanced academic and clinical experience, which enables him or her to diagnose and manage most common and many chronic illnesses, either independently or as part of a health care team.


OTR (Occupational Therapist Registered)

Occupational therapists in mental health settings treat individuals with activities that help people learn to engage in and cope with daily life. Required bachelor's degree coursework includes the physical, biological, and behavioral sciences and the application of theory and skills. Licensed.


Pastoral Counselors (M.A., M.S., M.div, D.Min)

Certified mental health professionals who have had extensive religious/theological training and clinical training in the behavioral sciences. They may specialize in marriage and family therapy, addiction, grief and other issues, including serious mental illnesses. Pastoral counselors typically have a bachelor's degree, a three-year professional degree, and a specialized master's or doctoral degree in a mental health field. Certified through the American Association of Pastoral Counselors; many are also certified and licensed as other mental health professionals.


PC-Professional Corporation


Pharm.D.-Doctor of Pharmacy


Ph.D.-Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology


Psy.D.-Doctorate of Psychology


Psychologist (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) Psychologists assess and counsel people who have mental illnesses or are experiencing life transitions. Six to seven-year Ph.D. training in either clinical psychology or counseling psychology follows a bachelor's degree.


Psychiatrist (M.D.) Medical doctors who have specialized training to diagnosis and treat mental illnesses and can prescribe medications. Training includes a bachelor's degree, medical school, and four years of residency training in the field of psychiatry. Many psychiatrists get additional training in their area of specialization.


Psychopharmacologist (M.D.) A psychiatrist who identifies him/herself as a specialist in the use of drugs for psychiatric illness and neuropsychiatric conditions. Every certified psychiatrist, however, can prescribe medications and is also trained in psychotherapy.


QCSW- Qualified Clinical Social Worker

Tthose social workers who have met the National Association of Social Workers' standards of knowledge, skill and experience in clinical social work practice and who have agreed to abide by the NASW standards of ethics and education.


RN-Registered Nurse

Hold a university degree (usually four years of full-time study) in nursing.


R Ph- Registered Pharmacist.