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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): These clinicians have graduated from medical school and, if they are psychiatrists, have done a residency in psychiatry. In Pennsylvania, they 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): As a doctor of philosophy in clinical psychology has completed eight to ten years of graduate education in psychology. This involves both clinical training and research. Clinical psychologists liscensed by Pennsylvania have also completed a post-doctoral internship (similar to a residency for medical students).

Note, that some therapists have PhDs in other areas (such as history or religion). Although these PhDs may call themselves "doctor," they are not trained in the diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders or concerns. Therefore, it is important to ask what kind of PhD the individual has. Additionally, there are many different types psychology PhDs, aside from clinical psychology, including school psychology, industrial organizational psychology, and forensic psychology. If you are looking for a therapist, be sure to confirm that the practitioner has a PhD in clinical psychology and is licensed by Pennsylvania as a clinical psychologist.

Doctors in Psychology (PsyDs): As a doctor in psychology, a PsyD has eight to ten years of graduate training in the clinical care of clients. Typically, a PsyD program focuses more on applying the research conducted by PhDs to clinical settings than conducting independent research. In Pennsylvania, PsyDs can also be licensed as clinical psychologists.

Masters-level clinicians include:

Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC): LPCs are typically master's-level (although some have a doctorate) therapists treating mental, behavioral, and emotional problems and disorders. LPCs frequently work in community mental health centers, agencies, and organizations, and 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.

Licensed Social Worker (LSW):  

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 (123-456-7890) or email ( I would be happy to speak more with you.


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