MDs, PhDs, PsyDs, and LCSWs: What's the Difference?

Mental health credential acronyms can be confusing. What do all of the abbreviations mean and how might they impact my experience in therapy? Here's a quick guide for the perplexed.

Doctorate-level clinicians include:

Medical Doctors (MDs) and Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs): These clinicians have graduated from medical school or osteopathic medical school and, if they are psychiatrists, have done a residency in psychiatry. In Pennsylvania, MDs and DOs are the only mental health clinicians who can prescribe medications. Most psychiatrists specialize in managing psychiatric disorders through medication. After an initial visit, most psychiatrists meet with their patients for only short sessions on a monthly basis to assess the continued effectiveness of the medication.

Doctors in Philosophy (PhDs): A doctor of philosophy in clinical or counseling (or school) psychology has completed five to ten years of graduate education in psychology. Traditionally, this involves both clinical training and research, often with an emphasis on research, although there are certainly many PhD programs with strong clinical training. PhDs are licensed by Pennsylvania as psychologists and have completed a post-doctoral internship (similar to a residency for medical students).

Doctors in Psychology (PsyDs): As a doctor in psychology, a PsyD has five to ten years of graduate training in the clinical care of clients. Traditionally, this involves both clinical training and research, often with an emphasis on clinical work, although research is certainly emphasized in many programs. In Pennsylvania, PsyDs are also licensed by Pennsylvania as psychologists and have completed a post-doctoral internship as well.

Masters-level clinicians include, but are not limited to:

Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC): LPCs are typically master's-level (although some have a doctorate) therapists treating mental, behavioral, and emotional concerns and disorders. LPCs frequently work in community mental health centers, agencies, and organizations, and they are employed within and covered by managed care organizations and health plans.

Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW): LCSWs generally have earned a Master of Social Work, which is a two-year degree. LCSWs provide therapy and act as advocates, helping clients gain access to resources while confronting personal issues, such as mental illness, addiction, and abuse.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT): LMFTs are trained to specifically treat the mental health concerns of couples and families. They have advanced training in providing therapy with more than one client in the room.

Be sure to confirm that any mental health professional you visit has a current and active license to practice in Pennsylvania. You can do that here.

Please be an informed consumer when selecting a therapist. I am a licensed clinical psychologist, with a PhD from the University of Virginia in psychology, with a focus on clinical psychology. If you would like to work with me to help reduce your anxiety or navigate relationships, please feel free to reach out directly by phone (484-222-6436) or email (drfask@fasktherapy.com). I would be happy to speak more with you.

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©2018 by David Fask, Ph.D.

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