what do all the letters in therapists names mean?

What do all those letters mean? – LPC, LCSW, LMFT, PsyD…?

We have a team of amazing therapists here at Claibourne Counseling and each of them specializes in different things. We’ve worked hard to build a well-rounded team of counselors who are able to work with anyone who calls our office needing help. We’ve got counselors who can help with anything from a six-year-old who can’t sit still at school to a fifty-year-old struggling with unhealed trauma. People usually know what they need help with, but when it comes to picking the right therapist, one question we get a lot is, “what do all of those letters mean after the therapists’ names?” We get it. There are SO many letters! Hopefully, this blog will help clear some of that up.

Education Requirements for a Therapist

First, let’s start with education. A licensed therapist, no matter which letters they have after their name, is required to complete a bachelor’s degree plus a master’s degree. During school, they must complete a practicum and an internship, in addition to a period of supervised clinical hours. In total, masters programs can be completed in 2 years if the student is full time – or it can take longer depending on their pace and schedule. This does not include the option to continue school to receive a doctoral degree, which is another 2-3 years.

Once licensed, each state then has its own set of requirements. Arizona, for example, requires that each therapist meet all education requirements listed above, pass a background check, and pass a licensing exam. Then, once you become a licensed therapist, you must renew your license every two years by completing 30 hours of continuing education. Plus, there are additional trainings and certifications for specialties, such as EMDR Therapy and The Gottman Method for couples counseling.

It’s during each internship, supervised clinical hours, and in school that the training therapist decides which level of licensing credential they would like to obtain and practice under.

Counselors – LAC and LPC

LAC – Licensed Associate Counselor

This is the first step to becoming a counselor as an independent practitioner. In short, they must finish their bachelor’s degree, and master’s degree, and meet all of their state’s requirements. In the state of Arizona, this means completing at least 3,200 hours of supervised work within a minimum of 24 months.

So, if you’re looking for a therapist and you see LAC after their name. This means that they are still in the process of completing their requirements to become a fully licensed professional counselor. They have finished school. They are being supervised by a licensed professional counselor. They are usually just finishing up those hours to earn their full LPC.

Where can an LAC practice?

Licensed Associated Counselors may practice in any facility with a qualified supervising practitioner. This can be a hospital, private practice, school, etc.  

Is an LAC right for me?

Typically, the fees to see an LAC are lower than those to see an LPC. So, if you need therapy on a budget and don’t mind seeing someone with a bit less experience, an LAC may be a good option for you. Remember they are working under the supervision of a highly experienced therapist. This means that they may discuss your sessions with their supervisor for guidance and support. In this case, you have two sets of eyes on your needs, which is often a better way to find a resolution.

LPC – Licensed Professional Counselor

Once a therapist has completed their 3,200 hours of supervised work, as well as passed the state exam, and met each of the other state requirements – they are granted their LPC – licensed professional counselor credential. 

Where can an LPC practice?

Licensed Professional Counselors may practice in any facility without supervision. This can be a hospital, private practice, school, etc.

Is an LPC right for me?

Licensed professional counselors practice a broad range of therapy modalities. Most therapists are either LPC or LCSW (next section). An LPC has more experience than a LAC and because they’ve completed their 3200 hours of supervision and then some, they’re able to help if you’ve been to therapy before and didn’t find the results you were looking for. If you’re looking for help with stress, anxiety, trauma, depression, working on recovery, grief, addiction, shame, or any number of other areas of healing – and LPC may be right for you. Ask about the modalities they practice and if they think one may be helpful for you.  

lpc - licensed professional counselor scottsdale.

Social Workers – LMSW AND LCSW

LMSW – Licensed Master Social Worker

A licensed master social worker (LMSW) credential allows its holder to practice social work, therapy, counseling, and other mental health services in the state in which their license was granted. In order to provide independent therapy practice, the LMSW must practice under a supervisor. They are required to have earned a bachelor’s degree in social work or some other type of social service degree, as well as a master’s degree in social work. License holders must also pass their state’s exam. During their time as an LMSW, the social worker will work to complete their 3,200 hours of supervised post-graduate work to receive their LCSW. Those hours have a specific breakdown of how they must be earned.

Where can an LMSW practice?

Many social workers begin their careers as LMSWs while they complete their LCSW requirements. They can work in private practices, under the supervision of an LCSW. They can also work in schools, hospitals, correctional facilities, or as community organizers as long as there is a qualified supervisor present.

Is an LMSW right for me?

Much like the LAC, the fees for an LMSW are going to be a bit lower. Also similar to a LAC, an LMSW will have less experience and will be working to accrue their clinical hours. Our Clinical Director, Claire Karakey, LPC-S, has said many times that she loves working with LACs and LMSWs because their passion, resilience, and knowledge are so much fresher than those of a more experienced therapist.

LCSW – Licensed Clinical Social Worker

A licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) is able to practice independently of supervision. They can practice social work, therapy, counseling, and other mental health services in the state in which their license was granted without supervision. The LCSW is also able to provide supervision for an incoming LMSW. An LCSW is often able to work “within the system” better than other types of therapists. They have more extensive training in working within the court system, the medical community, and our education system.

Where can an LCSW practice?

An LCSW can open their own private counseling practice. They can also provide crisis intervention, and substance abuse support, work in hospitals, schools, elder care facilities, and often work in the justice system. The LCSW license offers the freedom to practice in places that most other therapy credentials do not.

Is an LCSW right for me?

While an LCSW works well with and can offer individual counseling services to anyone for any reason – stress, anxiety, depression, etc… they excel in instances of life transition like divorces, families in custody, any setting that requires a larger support system – like those in medical settings, substance abuse, when the justice system is involved, or if other community resources are needed.

licensed clinical social worker scottsdale 

Marriage and Family Therapists – LAMFT AND LMFT


LAMFT – Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist

A licensed associate marriage and family therapist is similar to a LAC or LMSW, but for marriage and families. An LAMFT is required to have received a bachelor’s degree, as well as a master’s degree in marriage, couple, and family counseling, or another area of behavioral health science. They are able to practice therapy under supervision for treating depression, anxiety, child-parent problems, sexual problems, intimacy, marital stress, sibling problems, child behavior, drug and alcohol abuse, and more.

In the state of Arizona, an LAMFT must complete several hours of specified coursework, 300 client contact hours under direct supervision, plus the same 3,200 as their LAC and LCSW counterparts.

Where can an LAMFT practice?

Also similar to the LAC and LMSW, counselors with the LAMFT credential are working to obtain their LMFT. As such, they can work in many of the same places as an LMFT, under a qualifying supervisor. LAMFT license holders can practice in outpatient care centers, hospitals, private practices, schools, substance abuse and addiction centers, mental health facilities, nursing, and residential care facilities, correctional facilities, churches, and more.

Is an LAMFT right for me?

Again, harkening back to the same similarities as the LAC and LMSW, an LAMFT will have less experience than an LMFT. This means that their fees will usually be lower. The details of your session will also likely be shared with the supervising counselor. It’s good to view this as a positive, two minds are better than one, especially when it comes to your mental health or that of your loved ones. 

LMFT – Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

A licensed marriage and family therapist is an experienced counselor who can help individuals, couples (married or not), children, and the overall family unit with all that is involved in better communication, relationship-building, emotional health, mental health, behavioral, and interpersonal disorders. LMFT counselors are trained in a broad variety of modalities and a full range of mental health disorders. A recent study showed that over 98% of clients of LMFT counselors reported their services were good or excellent.

Where can an LMFT practice? 

According to a recent study, there are currently over 125,000 marriage and family therapists in the United States and over half of them work in private practices. The other half work in places like outpatient care centers, hospitals, schools, substance abuse and addiction centers, mental health facilities, nursing and residential care facilities, correctional facilities, churches, and more.

Is an LMFT right for me?

LMFT counselors are able to help anyone who is struggling within a family unit or couple. You do not have to be married. LMFT counselors see clients on an individual basis, as well as in a family setting. They can help families with everything from communication issues all the way to infidelity or substance abuse problems.  

licensed marriage and family therapist counseling teenager in Scottsdale.

Doctoral Level Therapists – Ph.D and PsyD

Ph.D. – Doctoral of Philosophy

Psychologists who hold a Ph.D. in psychology have earned their Doctorate in Philosophy. Typically, this role is reserved for more of a research-based clinician, rather than one who sees clients face-to-face. Most professors teaching psychology classes will hold this title, as will researchers performing studies on mental health advancements. Those perusing new scientific knowledge, techniques, and experience typically choose this option.

Where can a Ph.D. in Psychology work? 

Those holding a Ph.D. in Psychology typically work in higher education as teachers, in research labs, or in applied practical roles.

Is a therapist with a Ph.D. right for me?

Though it’s not unheard of for a Ph.D. holder to see clients face-to-face, that role is typically held for PsyD psychologists. 

PsyD – Doctoral of Psychology

Psychologists with a PsyD in psychology are the counterpart to the Ph.D. These are the clinicians whose role is typically used to see clients face-to-face. While a PsyD is more similar to the role of a therapist, they tend to be a bit more clinical, dealing more with specific mental health disorders than general therapy. Check out our blog on Differences Between Counselors, Therapists, Psychologists, and Psychiatrists and Which Should I Choose? to learn more about the roles each professional plays.

Where can a PsyD Psychologist work? 

Most psychologists have private practices, work in social work, government human services, or consulting.

Is a PsyD psychologist right for me?

PsyD psychologists are great for anyone seeking therapy with diagnosed mental health disorders. This can be anything from addiction to a sleep disorder. Psychologists are not able to prescribe medication. However, they may be able to dig deeper into a mental health disorder than a therapist can, through diagnostic testing, health care consultations, and research.

psychologist scottsdale.

Key Takeaways

We know there’s a lot to understand when it comes to all those letters after a therapist’s name. The important thing to remember is that it all comes down to their education. We hope that by breaking them down into counselors, social workers, marriage and family therapists, and lastly doctorate-level therapists, we’ve been able to help clear up some of the confusion for you.

Here at Claibourne Counseling, we have a wonderful administrative assistant who helps place you with the correct therapist when you call. If you have questions about which therapist is right for you, don’t hesitate to ask. Finding the right therapist can be tough. The good news is, we’re all on your team, and making sure you’re comfortable is the most important factor, even above the letters after anyone’s name.


Where To Find Us!

Monday – Friday | 9am – 5pm
10613 N Hayden Rd, Ste J-100
& 10617 N Hayden Rd, Ste B-100
Scottsdale, AZ 85260

(Note we have 2 suites. Please check with your therapist to confirm where to go!)

Counselors in Haden Park Area