Psychotherapist is just a general term that describes anyone who provides “talking therapy.” Licensure is not required for a person to call himself or herself a “psychotherapist.”
NOTE: Unfortunately, a person’s degree does not, alone, reveal whether that person is an effective psychotherapist. There are effective and ineffective providers in each of the categories listed below. Furthermore, it is important to remember that some therapists are very effective for some clients and yet not as effective for some other clients. In the end, the client and therapist need to be open to evaluating the effectiveness of their particular “work team.”
A psychologist is a licensed or registered person who has earned a doctorate in a type of psychology (typically, psychologists who are licensed to provide psychotherapy have been trained in Clinical Psychology or Counseling Psychology). The doctorate degree might be a Ph.D., an Ed.D., or a Psy.D. Although there are some differences in training between Clinical Psychologists and Counseling Psychologists, for licensure purposes, there is no difference—the correct term for each in California is “Licensed Psychologist.”
How do you know whether your therapist is a licensed psychologist?
Good question. Licensed psychologists in California must provide the license number right on their business card. In California, this number begins with PSY. If the number begins with “MFC” the person is licensed as a Marriage and Family Counselor. If the number begins with “LCS,” the person is licensed as a clinical Social Worker. This is something some therapists who have earned a doctorate choose to do because they choose not to seek licensure as a psychologist. It is accurate for them to be called a “doctor” because they earned a doctorate degree, but it would not be accurate to call them a “psychologist” (note that in some states it may be correct to call them a psychologist).
This is a “Doctor of Philosophy” degree with an emphasis in Psychology. This is the degree that was originally required to become a Psychologist. It involves a combination of extensive research plus an extensive amount of training in psychotherapy. It usually takes about 5-7 years to earn a Ph.D. A Ph.D. requires a “dissertation.” A dissertation is a labor intensive study involving in-depth research and often requiring complex statistical analyses. Dissertations generally take 2-3 years to complete.
This a newer degree that formed to provide an alternative to the Ph.D. This degree is a “Doctor of Psychology” degree. It differs from the Ph.D. in that the Psy.D. does not require as much focus on research and does not require the same type of research study to serve as the basis for the final doctoral paper (a Psy.D. requires a “doctoral project” rather than a dissertation). Normally, a Psy.D. is earned in 4 years.
The Ed.D. is a doctorate in Education with an emphasis on a form of Psychology. Often, people with Ed.D. degrees focused their study on either Educational Psychology or Counseling Psychology.
The APA is the American Psychological Association. The APA accredits certain Doctorate degree programs and certain Internship programs. The programs that have been accredited are more difficult to gain admission into and, many professionals would assert, provide better training. One way to assess the quality of your psychologist’s training is to determine whether the training your psychologist received was from APA accredited programs.
A Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) is someone who earned a Masters degree in Social Work (MSW) and then completed the clinical requirements necessary to become licensed. Some MSW programs have more of a focus on psychotherapy training while others focus more on case management skills.
Marriage and Family Therapist (sometimes called “Marriage and Family Counselor”)
A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFC, sometimes called an “LMFT”) is someone who has earned a Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and has then completed the number of clinical hours necessary for licensure and has taken and passed the LMFT licensure exam in that state.
A Psychiatrist is a medical doctor (physician) who received specialized training in the treatment of psychiatric illnesses. Some psychiatrists provide psychotherapy but many provide strictly drug therapy. It is not uncommon for a patient to receive drug therapy from a psychiatrist while receiving psychotherapy from a provider of psychotherapy. There is a fair amount of research support for the proposition that drug therapy is more effective if it is combined with psychotherapy than if it is provided without psychotherapy.