Types Of Mental Health Providers

“Therapist” is broadly used for professionals trained in helping patients overcome psychological and emotional issues. Regardless of their official title or qualifications, mental health professionals are all trained in some form of psychotherapy.

Here are common provider types and abbreviations you may come across, and explanations of each. Whatever type of therapist you choose, it's important to find a provider whose approach you feel comfortable with, and whose specialties meet your needs.


Psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners are medical doctors and nurse practitioners trained to diagnose and provide medication management for mental health conditions and psychiatric illnesses.

In addition to medication management, many psychiatrists are also trained in psychotherapy, or talk therapy, and some psychiatrists in private practice will see patients for both services.

MDMedical Doctor (Psychiatrist)An MD is a medical doctor who has graduated from medical school after 4+ years of study. Psychiatry is a field within medicine in which MDs learn to diagnose mental health conditiosn and prescribe medications. Many psychiatrists are also trained to provide psychotherapy, or talk therapy. Some psychiatrists in private practice only see patients for medication management, while others offer both medication management and psychotherapy.
DODoctor of Osteopathy (Psychiatrist)A DO is a doctor of osteopathy. Like an MD, a DO is a physician and can treat medical issues. The difference is that DOs receive special training in the musculoskeletal system and often use a holistic approach to medicine.
APRNAdvanced Practice Registered NurseAn APRN is a nurse who has completed nursing school. Many nurses go into additional specializations beyond the APRN level. Most nurse practitioners with specialization in psychiatric conditions focus on medication management, not psychotherapy. They will work closesly with therapists (such as psychologists, social workers, and counselors) to monitor patient progress and health.
PMHNPPsychiatric and Mental Health Nurse PractitionerAn PMHNP is a type of nurse practitioner focusing on mental health treatment. Nurse pratitioners can work in many settings, such as clinics and hospitals, but they are also licensed to work in private practice. All nurse practitioners have master's degrees and some also have doctoral degrees. In adition to the general training as nurse practitioners, PMHNPs have additional advanced training in the diagnosis and medication management for psychiatric conditions.
PCNSPsychiatric Clinical Nurse SpecialistA PCNS has the same scope of practice as a PMHNP. They have earned at least a master's degree as well as a certification in either adult or child/adolescent mental health.


Psychologists are doctorate-level therapists who have either a PhD or a PsyD. Psychologists are trained in providing psychotherapy, or talk therapy. There are different abbreviations for different kinds of specialized degrees within psychology.

PhDDoctor of PhilosophyPsychologists with a PhD have completed 4+ years of course work in psychology, clinical psychology, or related fields and typically a few years of field training. A PhD is a research and academia-focused degree, so this kind of psychologist will usually have an extensive research background.
PsyDDoctor of PsychologyPsychologists with a PsyD have completed 4+ years of coursework focused mainly on clinical psychology theory and practice. A PsyD generally focuses more on clinical experience and less on research, compared to a PhD.

Social Workers

Social workers are a broad category of professionals educated in the provision of services to enhance social justice and welfare. Social workers who offer therapy take specific courses on mental health and receive additional training and supervision in psychotherapy, or talk therapy, to receive their clinical licensure.

In addition to their Masters in Social Work education,  social workers complete additional training in clinical settings, such as hospital, treatment center, and/or group practice settings. Social workers may work in these institutional settings or start their private practice.

LCSWLicensed Clinical Social WorkerLCSWs are social workers who have received training and supervision hours to gain their clinical licensure to practice psychotherapy in clinical settings. LCSWs also have to pass a clinical licensing exam. In some states like Rhode Island, LCSWs are not able to open their own private practices -- they must work with a supervisor for a number of hours to receive their LICSW. In other states such as New York, LCSWs are able to practice independently, for example, by starting a private practice. Social workers who have received advanced education in social work but have not completed clinical training and/or supervision hours have an MSW (Masters in Social Work) degree. Social workers can become LMSWs by taking a general licensing exam after completing their master's degrees, but they cannot practice independently until they become LCSWs or LICSWs, depending on the state.
LCSW-RLicensed Clinical Social Worker - R PrivilegeThis is a level of licensure that only applies in New York State. Social workers with an LCSW-R have all the same qualifications as other LCSWs, plus an additional certifciation that designates them as able to receive reimbursement from insurance companies in New York State.
LICSWLicensed Independent Clinical Social WorkerThe LICSW distinction only exists in some states, such as Rhode Island. In these states, the LICSW is for LCSWs who have completed additional supervised clinical practice and are now authorized to work independently in a setting such as private practice.

Mental Health Counselors

Mental health counselors are a broad category of providers who offer some form of psychotherapy, or talk therapy. Many have master's degrees, and require advanced training, supervision, and licensure to be able to practice psychotherapy in a private practice setting.

Mental health counselors are trained in providing clinical, psychiatric services, and are distinct from counselors in other setting such as college counselors. Some mental health counselors may also provide adjunct services such as career counseling as well if they have received additional training in these fields.

Degree, License, or CertificationProfessionDescription
LMHCLicensed Mental Health CounselorLMHCs have master's degrees and have also passed a licensing exam to provide mental health treatment.
MAMaster of ArtsAn MA is a counselor who has a master's degree but has not yet passed the licensing exam necessary to practice in most states. An MA who has passed the exam is an LMHC. To practice independently in private practice, counselors must have an LMHC, though they may practice under a supervisor until they receive their licensure.
CAGSCertificate of Advanced Graduate StudyCAGS is a certificate program that some education institutions offer for professionals who already have a related master's degree but are not yet qualified to become counselors. Professionals from related fields who wish to pursue counseling often earn this certificate.

Other common types of therapists

Degree, License, or CertificationProfessionDescription
LMFTLicensed Marriage and Family TherapistLMFTs have completed at least a master's degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and have also passed a licensing exam to practice in a given state.
LPCLicensed Professional CounselorLPCs are very similar to LMHCs. Different states may use the two terms interchangably. LPCs have master's degrees and have also passed a licensing exam to provide mental health treatment.
LPLicensed Psychoanalyst -or- Licensed PsychologistLP can stand for either Licensed Psychoanalyst or Licensed Psychologist. A Licensed Psychoanalyst has at least a master's degree in a mental health field, as well as advanced training in psychoanalysis and a license to practice in a specific state. A Licensed Psychologist has a doctoral degree (either PhD or PsyD) as well as a license to practice in a specific state.
LCATLicensed Creative Arts TherapistLCATs have at least a master's degree in an artisitic field (such as a Masters of Fine Arts), as well as additional clinical supervision and a license to practice in a specific state. Therapy sessions with LCATs may entail both traditional psychotherapy (or talk therapy), as well as art therapy, including the use of drawing, painting and other forms of art for self expression.
ATRRegistered Art TherapistRegistered Art Therapists have a at least a master's degree in an artistic field as well as additional postgraduate clinical experience and supervision in art therapy and psychotherapy (or talk therapy). Similar to LCATS, therapy sessions with ATRs may entail both talk therapy and the incorporation of artistic therapy approaches to meet the client's needs and preferences.
ATR-BCRegistered Art Therapist - Board CertifiedBoard Certified ATR have all the same credentials as other ATRs, and they also have to pass an certification exam and complete ongoing continuing education requirements.
CASACCertified Alcohol and Substance Abuse CounselorTherapists who have the CASAC credential have dedicated a significant portion of their training and work experience to the practice of alcoholism and/or substance abuse counseling. They must have received a minimum of 6,000 hours (approximately three years) of supervised, full-time equivalent experience in relevant settings.