The field of mental health is broad, with countless titles and acronyms that seem to be second nature for practitioners, though they can be quite confusing for individuals seeking services. This article will explore a number of terms and provide brief descriptions for many of the common roles and titles within the mental health world. Some terms are considered relatively universal, while others are used differently in various settings. Some terms are meant to distinguish between various forms of licensure, while others are to denote the level of education and program of study, and still others are meant to describe the role and services offered by the provider. It is important to note that this is not an exhaustive list of all the possible terms for mental health service providers. 


Credentials: MD or DO

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who diagnosis and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. What makes their role particularly unique among mental health professionals is they can prescribe medication. Some may also provide therapy and counseling services, while others only prescribe. Psychiatrists work with patients of all ages in a variety of settings ranging from private practice to university medical centers to community agencies.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified

Credentials: PMHNP-BC

A PMHNP-BC holds a U.S. nursing license, a master’s degree, postgraduate, or doctoral degree from a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner program, completed a minimum of 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours and passed the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Although PMHNPs are not medical doctors, they can prescribe medicine. PMHNPs practice in behavioral health/addiction clinics, mental health facilities, and private practices.

Licensed Psychologist

Credential: PhD, PsyD, LP

A license is necessary to practice psychology in North Carolina. At the doctoral level it requires a PhD or PsyD in Clinical Psychology, Counseling Psychology, School Psychology, or combined Professional-Scientific Psychology, passage of the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) and the North Carolina (NC) State Examination as well as 3,000 hours of supervised experience in the practice of psychology. Psychologists who work at a college or university, state, or federal institution, research laboratory or a corporation may be exempt from licensure. LPs provide individual, couples, and family therapy, evaluations (attention/emotional/personality/behavioral/forensic), and consultation services. Common employment settings include private practice, educational institutions, government agencies, prisons, and veteran hospitals.

Licensed Psychological Associate 

Credential: MS, MA, LPA

A license is also necessary to practice psychology at the master’s level. Requirements include a master’s degree in psychology, passage of the EPPP and NC State Examination as well as 3,000 hours of supervised experience in the practice of psychology. LPAs work with individuals of all ages in settings similar to those of LPs. There are three levels of supervision for LPAs, versus LPs who do not need supervision once licensed. The least restrictive is one hour quarterly after a minimum of five calendar years of at least 7500 hours of post licensure supervised practice.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker  

Credential: MSW, DSW, PhD, LCSW

To apply for a license, a social worker is required to earn a master’s degree and complete a minimum of 3000 hours of post MSW paid clinical employment appropriately supervised accumulated in no less than two years, nor more than six years. A minimum of 100 hours of supervision from a LCSW or MSW with additional two years post clinical social work practice are required. The passage of a clinical exam is also necessary. Clinical social workers perform individual, group, and family therapy in a variety of settings including private practice, hospitals, community mental health, primary care, and agencies. 

Licensed Clinical Social Worker Associate

Credential: MSW, DSW, PhD, LCSWA

This credential is for social workers who have earned a master’s degree but not satisfied the experience requirements for LCSW. Although no experience is required for this license, LCSWAs must document their supervision and practice to the Board every 6 months.

Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor

Credential:  MS, MA, LCMHC

This credential is for graduates of master’s level programs in counseling (versus psychology). LCMHCs are eligible for licensure after meeting the necessary pre-requisites for the LCMHCA credential. LCMHCs work in private practice, non-profit organizations, and other counseling settings. 

Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate

Credential: MS, MA, LCMHCA

This license is a pre-requisite for LCMHC license for new graduates or new counseling professionals. In order to meet requirements for an LCMHC license, LCMHCAs must complete at least five to eight years of professional counseling experience, complete the minimum education requirements, and a minimum of 3,000 hours of supervised professional practice from a qualified clinical supervisor; at least 2,000 hours must be direct counseling services. 

Marriage & Family Therapist 

Credential: MS. MA LMFT

A licensed marriage and family therapist must complete at least 1500 hours of documented clinical experience (face-to-face therapy) in the practice of marriage and family therapy at least 1000 of which were obtained after the degree was granted. A minimum of 200 supervision hours are required with an Approved Supervisor. LMFTs work in a variety of settings ranging from private practice to mental health centers to hospitals.

Marriage & Family Therapist Associate 

Credential: MS. MA LMFTA

This credential is for those who have not gained the required hours to apply for Licensed Marriage Family Therapist (LMFT). LMFTAs must practice under Approved Supervision. LMFTAs have up to three years from the date of initial licensing to acquire the clinical and approved supervision hours required for conversion to an LMFT.


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