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The Acronyms of Therapy Part 2

The more letters after their name, the more qualified they are, right?

We've covered many of the acronyms used in therapists' profiles to denote what kind of therapy models or theories they use (See The Acronyms of Therapy), but we haven't examined those acronyms that therapists have after their name. So let's dive in.


Firstly, these acronyms can tell you a little about the education level and certifications your therapist might hold, but they won't tell you all of it, so be sure to visit their online profiles such as on their website for more detailed information.


There may be 100s or even 1000s of these acronyms and boy do some therapists love to collect them! The reason why there may be so many is that certification programs are always being developed by continuing education institutes and online learning centers all the time. So although you may not see your therapist's acronym here, I'll try to hit on the major ones you might see. I'll use myself as an example to get you started.


Heather McPaul, MS, LPC, NCC, GC-C, ACS

After 4 acronyms, I have stopped listing the first one but this is one you may see a lot.


The first acronym after a therapist's name usually denotes their level of education. Here are some of the biggies:

  • MS = Masters of Science

  • MA = Masters of Arts

  • M. Ed. = Masters of Education

  • MSW = Masters of Social Work

  • MSS - Masters of Social Services

  • MAT – Master of Arts in Teaching

  • PsyD = Doctor of Psychology

  • PhD = Doctor of Philosophy

  • DSW - Doctor Of Social Work


Those master's or doctoral degrees can be in any number of psychological or clinical areas. For example, I have a Masters of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.


The rest of the acronyms can be in many different orders but I like to list them in the order I received them. So going with my example, the next aconym denotes my licensure. Every state has a variation of these but here are New Jersey's and some of the variations you might see from other states.

  • LAC = Licensed Associate Counselor (a provisional license under the supervision of an LPC) a variation of this can be LAPC

  • LPC = Licensed Professional Counselor or a variation of this may be LMHC - licensed mental health counselor or LCMHC - Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor

  • LSW = Licensed Social Worker (if in a clinical setting, under the supervision of an LCSW) another variation might be LMSW – Licensed Master Social Worker

  • LCSW = Licensed Clinical Social Worker

  • LAMFT = Marriage and Family Therapist (a provisional license under the supervision of an LMFT)

  • LMFT = Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

  • LCADC - Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor

  • LPAT - Licensed Professional Art Therapist


Generally, if you've got a PsyD or PhD, you may not list a licensure acronym unless there is another type of licensure. You may see a PsyD or PhD with an LPC, LCSW, etc.


Next up, are board certifications.

  • NCC. Many counselors (LAC, LPC or versions of those) may also get the NCC designation. This is given by the Board of Certified Counselors. It stands for Nationally Certified Counselor. Although it's a national certification, it does not mean your therapist can practice anywhere in the United States (which is a whole other blog post). The NCC designator signifies a certain level of mastery within the counseling profession that meets national standards. It is mostly meant to show a level of reputation and credibility.

  • BCBA - Board Certified Behavior Analyst

  • BCBA-D - Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral


Many of the acronyms after that are certifications a therapist has accumulated.


Here are some of the popular ones:

  • ACS - Approved Clinical Supervisor - can supervise and sign off on LAC hours for full licensure

  • CADC - Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor

  • CCS - Certified Clinical Supervisor for licensed alcohol and drug counseling

  • NCPsyA - Nationally Certified Psychoanalyst

  • ATR-P - Provisional Registered Art Therapist

  • ATR - Registered Art Therapist

  • RPT/S – Registered Play Therapist

  • CST- Coordinated Services Teams - for social workers

  • PMH-C - Perinatal Mental Health Certification

  • GC-C Certified Grief Counselor

  • CMAT - Certified Multiple Addiction Therapist

  • (SAC-IT) - Substance Abuse Counselor in Training

  • SAC - Substance Abuse Counselor

  • CSAT - Certified Sex Addiction Therapist

  • CGT - Certified Gottman Method Couples Therapy

This list could literally go on and on because, as I said earlier, organizations and continuing education programs keep inventing their own certification programs with specific designators.


So if we go back to my example:


Heather McPaul, MS, LPC, NCC, GC-C, ACS


You can surmise that I have a master's of science, I'm a licensed professional counselor, a nationally certified counselor with a grief counselor certification who is able to supervise LACs for their hours towards full licensure.


Does this tell you everything you need to know about how I do therapy and what tools I use? No, but now you know what many of those fancy acronyms mean. And, maybe it will make a difference to you, or maybe it won't but it can be informative when shopping around.


I hope that's helpful!

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