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Mental Health Professionals - Degrees & Scope of Practice

Updated on March 8, 2011

Whether you are you looking for counseling or considering a career in psychology, it can be difficult to tell exactly which professionals provide which services. When a therapist's business card reads "MSW," what is that person qualified to do, exactly? What degrees does someone need to be a clinical psychologist? Inform yourself. Find out the precise difference between a licensed professional counselor and a counseling psychologist. From highest level of education and on downwards, the main categories of mental health professionals and their scope of practice can all be found below.

A psychiatrist has achieved a medical degree (M.D. or O.D.), as well as completed a residency in psychiatry, and is qualified to provide psychotherapy, as well as prescribe medication and hospitalize patients for serious psychological disorders.

A psychoanalyst possesses an M.D., Ph.D., or Psy.D., with additional specific training in psychoanalysis, a branch of psychology founded by Sigmund Freud and highly influenced by the work of Carl Jung. Psychoanalysts practice a particular kind of therapy that is not necessarily well-suited to all clients, so before choosing to receive treatment from one, further reading on the theories surrounding psychoanalysis is recommended.

A clinical psychologist has a Ph.D. or Psy.D., and has successfully completed an internship in clinical psychology. Clinical psychologists are qualified to diagnose and treat psychological disorders and perform psychological testing. In some cases, after additional training, they may prescribe drugs in some medical settings.

A counseling psychologist has either a Ph.D. or an Ed.D., with an internship in counseling psychology. Like a clinical psychologist, a counseling psychologist can perform psychological testing. In addition, he or she may assess and provide therapy for the normal problems of life.

A school psychologist may have a Ph.D., an Ed.D., or a master's degree, in addition to an internship in school psychology. Along with psychological testing, a school psychologist can assess and treat school (and other related) problems in children and adolescents.

A social worker must have at least a master's degree (M.S.W.), and may have done additional course work and training to pass accreditation tests as an L.C.S.W., or licensed clinical social worker. These professionals may diagnose and treat psychological disorders, and are often instrumental in helping individuals identify community services that may provide ongoing support. They often work in conjunction with institutions such as hospitals.

A licensed professional counselor (L.P.C.) also has a master's degree, as does a marriage and family therapist (M.F.T.), but these professionals emphasize private practice, and may specialize in relationships, day-to-day life problems, and/or psychological disorders.

A licensed chemical dependency counselor (L.C.D.C.) may have little or no post-secondary education, depending on standards which vary from state to state, and are often former addicts themselves. They may provide counseling and education for substance abuse problems, but may not diagnose or provide official treatment.


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    • profile image

      candace g 912 

      7 years ago

      I donot feel that you answers my question of what PCC stands for and does, nor did you answer if a PCC authority in ohio

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      It may be useful to the readers of this post to periodically check with the U.S. Department of Labor for a more accurate description of Clinical Social Work. For instance, since World War 11, 62% of all Mental Health Services in the U.S. have been provided by Clinical/Psychiatric Social Workers.

      All Psychiatric Hospitals in the U.S. including the Veterans Administration as well as Military Hospital worldwide must have Clinical Social Workers on staff. All branches of the Military have Psychologists, Psychiatrists and Clinical Social Workers as Officers who provide mental health services to military personnel and their dependents.

      There are no LPCCs, or MFTs anywhere in the Federal Government.

      Finally, 99% of the graduate training of Social Workers in funded by County, State and Federal Grants as well as loan forgiveness.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      surely there is a scope for msw clinical and psycharist.shall i choose!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      It's funny after being at weekly different mental health doctors for over 20 years, I confess I never paid attention to their areas of expertise. Primarily because it was so confusing to me and I was too embarrassed to ask.

      This has really clarified the channels and many things make much more sense now. We shouldn't be afraid we are insulting the doctor by asking their credentials, but i admit I always was.

      Thank you again for the clarification, I won't fear asking or knowing who is treating me


    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Vern - My counselor (all counselors should have their own counselor, btw...) gave me a great visual recently. She said when I feel that way (somewhat as you described when someone reminds you of your father) to acknowledge that feeling/own it, drop it on the floor about ten feet away (mentally speaking obviously), and then decide what to actually absorb into my emotions based on whether I want that to have power over me or not. It also helps to think that anyone behaving in the manner that makes me feel that way probably has as many (if not more) issues and needs help too... =) So empathy/distance observation helps sometimes. Not always though. Depends on the situation.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      In Texas, there is an LCDC - Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor. I am getting mine through my minor along with my major for my B.S. Rehab Studies undergrad at UNT. The LCDC is on it's way out. Most drug and alcohol rehabs will require a Masters in Counseling (LPC, LMFT, etc.) in addition to an LCDC to treat/counsel addicts. =) Hope that helps!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      FYI Marriage and Family Therapists at the very least have a Master's and are not always concerned with private practice. By law we can diagnose and treat.

    • kimh039 profile image

      Kim Harris 

      9 years ago

      Maddie, not only do the credentials vary in different countries, but in each state of the US. As concerns counselor credentials, Ohio and Texas have the highest standards. In Ohio, there are Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC or PC) and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCC or PCC). LPCCs (aka PCCs) are independently licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders. The LPCC requires 3 years of graduate studies, internship, a 2 year residency, passing a State licensure exam, and 30hrs/yr of continuing education. The independent license for Social Workers in Ohio is LISW. In some states it's LCSW, and some states distinguish between clinical track and administrative concentrations. I believe Ohio is still the only state that licenses chemical dependency professionals. They typically are certified rather than licensed. In W. Virginia there are laws on the books that allow for some psychologists with a Master's degree to practice at an independent level under a grandfathering clause. There are also APRNs and CNP/CNS credentials. These are advanced practice nurses who can prescribe medications. Typically, if you want meds you see an MD psychiatrist or a CNP. If you want therapy, you can see an MD, and an advanced practice RN, a PhD or PsyD psychologist, or an independently licensed counselor, social worker or marriage and family therapist. Some states use LMHCs, licensed MH counselors and LMFTs, Licensed marriage and family therapists. I believe these are also independent licenses in most if not all states now. The particular letters vary by state but the license to practice independently to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders is what you're looking for in a therapist. Ohio now has an LICDC credential which is a licensed independent chemical dependency counselor. This independent licensure only relates to chemical dependency, although some counselors at that level are dual credentialed in CD and mental health. In addition to the credentials and education, it is important to find a good fit. The research that I'm familiar with doesn't support the idea that more education produces better therapy. Rather the therapeutic relationship is what most predicts a good outcome. Sorry to go on like this here. I should have just written another hub! It's a topic that I think is unnecessarily complicated and confusing to consumers of all these good services. And as donotfear points out there are bachelor level providers, LSWs, RNs, QMHPs, LCDCs who provide valuable services as well. I recommend that people google their state license boards; ie Ohio Counselor and Social Worker Board or West Virginia Board of Psychology, etc for correct information for their state in the US and even contact the board if needed.

    • shareitt profile image


      9 years ago

      There is a big difference between the providers of mental health services. Thanks for the info.

    • profile image

      Dr.Ali Haider 

      9 years ago

      Very useful link for psychology finders.

    • donotfear profile image

      Annette Thomas 

      9 years ago from Northeast Texas

      You forgot to mention us little known QMHP's (Qualified Mental Health Professionals)with our Bachelor Degrees in Psych-Behavioral Science. We're your case managers and crisis screeners, intake, etc. We gotta hard job...not licensed, per say, but end up doing a lot of leg work and "supportive listening" "motivational interviewing". May as well be counselors, but we aren't.

    • ftwells profile image


      9 years ago

      It would have been extremely helpful if you had noted where the criteria you outlined for certification is applicable. I am not an American citizen. However, we do have some of the same health professionals, but the criteria for certification is not the same as what you delineated. For example, here certified counsellors have a vast array of educational bakcgrounds (e.g., Masters in Counselling Psychology, Masters in Nursing), but to practice as a certified counsellor one has to meet criteria set forth by and be certified with the CCA. There is a different criteria for psychologists, and so forth.

    • nadia12345 profile image


      9 years ago from New York City USA

      great resource of information about mental health


    • vrbmft profile image

      Vernon Bradley 

      9 years ago from Yucaipa, California

      Great job in "running it down." I, myself, am a licensed Marriage Family Therapist LMFT in the state of California, although, I have to admit, sometimes I'm in other states (of mind). A funny! I have been in practice for 27 years and in the mental health profession for 42 years. I consider myself like a family practitioner in that I have considerable in-depth experience (and training)in working with a wide variety of psychological problems, some fit nicely into DSM categories and some do not. My perspective is one of "development" in the big scheme of development. You know, I am 64 years old, but when I'm giving a presentation in front of a large group of folks and someone confronts me (and he or she just happens to remind me of my Dad!), I feel like I'm three years old or at best maybe 12!! Why is that? I find those questions interesting, important, and the answers often profound. So the next question is, how can I remain 64 whether I am standing up in front of an audience or lying in bed next to my wife!! Well, I suppose in the latter case, it might be worthwhile feeling more like 32!! No, not 18!! So I find that often what keeps us from being "successful" in relationships of all kinds, is our capacity to be as grown up as we are or not. And then what's getting in the way. Usually it's some kind of emotional event that gets stuck in our amygdala and keeps firing off when we least suspect and robs us of our general level ofi ntelligence! Anyhow, good job of informing the publlic or reading audience of good solid info.


    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Hey, I just re-read what you posted about MFTs and LPS. You added dealing with psychological disorders. Thanks!

    • Freudulant profile image


      10 years ago from North Carolina

      The public is generally unaware of and uninterested in the differences between providers of mental health services.

    • chicgurl profile image


      11 years ago

      This is a great resource- the many mental health professions can be confusing to sort through. FYI- a masters degree is not required in order to be a social worker. Many schools offer undergrad degrees in social work. States offer a licensure for social worker at this level- "social service worker" where I am from. A social worker at the undergrad level cannot offer therapy nor can they diagnose or offer treatment for any mental illness as defined by the DSM. A social worker at the undergrad level typically holds jobs such as the well-known child welfare worker- but this is just one example.

    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 

      11 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Brilliant. Most people dont know this. Also even though someone may be qualified it does not mean they will successfully treat and diagnose your condition accurately..


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