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Making sense of all the letters: MFT, LPC, LCSW, CSWA, PhD...

Updated: Jun 15, 2019

The mental health world LOVES acronyms. Here's a quick guide to help you make sense of them.



One question that always comes up at the beginning of the search for a counselor:

“What do all those letters mean??”

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the various acronyms after our names. Here's a quick guide to help you along your search.


Counselor/Therapist: I find that this title is often used interchangeably in the mental health world. In the state of Oregon, counselors are generally either LMFTs or LPCs.

  • LMFT stands for "Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist." LMFTs have completed a Master's program that required additional training in working with couples and families. The "Licensed" part means that after graduating with their Master's, they completed 2400 additional hours of supervised counseling work and passed several licensing exams. Supervision = meeting with a licensed, specially trained counselor once or twice a month to make sure you're maintaining ethical standards and providing best practice to your clients.

  • "Registered MFT Intern" or "LMFT Intern" (means the same thing) refers to someone who graduated with a Master's degree, with special training in couples and families, but who has not yet reached the 2400 supervised hours. Interns receive regular supervision until they reach that goal and pass the licensing exam. Benefits of working with a LMFT Intern is that their fees are generally more affordable than a licensed therapist, and you also know that they are receiving regular supervision from a highly skilled therapist.

  • LPC stands for "Licensed Processional Counselor." A LPC completed a Master's program in counseling, and may or may not have taken additional courses to work with families or couples- it's not required for them. Similarly to LMFTs- LPCs have reached the required supervised hours and taken the licensing exams, and "LPC Interns" have not yet reached that goal. Again, LPC Interns may be able to offer more affordable services, with the added bonus of their supervisor's expertise.

Social Worker: Social work is a little different. A Master's degree in social work may involve coursework on assessment and case management, and there are different social work tracks- some more focused on counseling, some more focused on case management and resource connection.

  • LCSW stands for "Licensed Clinical Social Worker." You can probably guess by now: LCSWs have obtained a certain number of post-graduate hours under supervision, and passed a licensing exam. CSWA stands for "Clinical Social Work Associate," which is the name for a social work graduate who has not yet obtained licensure.

PsyD. or Phd.: If someone has these credentials, it means they have a doctorate in clinical psychology, counseling psychology, counselor education, or some related degree. They likely have experience researching psychology or teaching at a graduate level.


Other: LAT = Licensed Art Therapist. LCAT = Licensed Certified Art Therapist. RPT = Registered Play Therapist. CDAC = Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor. And there are more!!


I hope this offers a starting point to make sense of our complex credentialing systems. A few closing thoughts:

  • Working with interns/associates can be an affordable option, especially if you can't find a licensed counselor that will work with your insurance.

  • It's your right to know about your counselor's experience and certifications. Don't be afraid to ask them to clarify anything.

  • Even if you found a counselor with dozens of impressive letters after their name: remember that FIT is often most important. Ask for a free consultation and assess how you feel talking to them- you should feel comfortable, heard, and respected.



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