Deciphering Your Doctor's Or Therapist’s Credentials

You know you need to see a therapist, but “therapist” is a vague and general word, sort of like “doctor.” Navigating the pool of professionals who qualify as therapists can be daunting enough without having to drown in a sea of credentials. Where do you start? Right here.

Psychiatrist: A psychiatrist is a physician, either an MD (Doctor of Medicine) or DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine). Though some psychiatrists do provide therapy, many primarily diagnose disorders and prescribe meds to their patients, while another professional handles the therapy.

Psychologist: A psychologist has a doctorate (PhD, PsyD, or EdD) and is licensed by the state. Psychologists can provide psychological testing and evaluation, treat emotional and mental disorders, and provide therapy.

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Social Worker: A social worker can hold several types and levels of degrees, from a bachelor’s to a master’s to a doctorate. Social workers are generally licensed, and their credentials can vary, but are often LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker). Social workers typically need at least a master’s degree to assess mental disorders and provide psychotherapy.

Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner: Psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP) have a four-year nursing degree as well as a master’s or doctorate in nursing. They are licensed by the state and often provide diagnostic services and therapy and prescribe medications under the supervision of a psychiatrist. 

Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse: A psychiatric/mental health nurse (PMHN) can have a range of degrees, from an associate’s to a doctorate, and is licensed by the state. In some states, PMHNs can prescribe meds.