Descriptions of Counseling and Mental Health Professionals


In addition to a master’s and/or doctoral degree and supervised experience, the professions below require completion of the appropriate state examination process to obtain a license to practice. In all cases, continuing education is required to maintain an active license. Be aware that academic degrees (e.g., M.D., Ph.D., M.MFT), though they sometimes sound similar, are not the same as the licenses issued by the state (e.g., LPC/MHSP, LCSW, LMFT).

Advance Practice Registered Nurse (APRN): An APRN has completed a master’s degree or higher in a particular area of nursing, such as psychiatric-mental health. An APRN is credentialed by the American Nurses’ Association and may be certified by the state licensing board to prescribe medications and treatments in his/her area of expertise. A psychiatric APRN is educated and experienced to provide individual, family, and couples psychotherapy. All advanced practice credentials have requirements such as continuing education and periodic re-examination to maintain the credential.

Counseling or Clinical Psychologist: Refers to someone who has obtained a doctoral degree (Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D.) in Counseling or Clinical Psychology, which includes six years of graduate training, including a full time one-year pre-doctoral internship. In order to diagnose and treat those with mental disorders, psychologists must become licensed and obtain designation as a Health Service Provider (HSP). This requires an additional one-year post-doctoral internship and passing of exams required by the state. Psychologists are usually able to provide a wide variety of therapies as well as psychological testing, and often serve in a supervisory capacity in counseling or clinical settings.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW): Requires a master’s (M.S.W. or M.S.S.W.) in Clinical Social Work plus two years of postgraduate training and completion of state examinations. Social workers have a wider focus than other mental health professionals in their concern with the broadest reaches of a person’s life. They assist individuals and families with personal, family and environmental issues. Often they are the catalyst for collaboration and planning that brings together several disciplines.

Licensed Marital and Family Therapist (LMFT): At a minimum, these therapists have master’s degrees (M.MFT) from programs that focus on interpersonal relationships and family systems. They must also have a two-year period of supervised practice by a specially trained therapist certified by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Additionally, they must meet other specific state requirements, and pass written and oral exams. Though they frequently work with couples or families, many also provide therapy for individuals.

Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC/MHSP): These individuals must have a minimum of a master’s degree in general counseling (M.A.) or closely related field, and must complete a post-degree period of supervised experience that spans two to four years. They must also meet other state requirements including passing three exams.  In addition to providing general counseling services, LPCs with the additional Mental Health Service Provider (MHSP) designation are qualified to diagnose and provide therapy for mental health disorders.

Licensed Senior Psychological Examiner (LSPE): In order to obtain a license as a Psychological Examiner, an individual must have completed a master’s degree (M.A. or M.S.) in Counseling Psychology or Clinical Psychology, and must have passed written and oral state examinations. New LPE licenses are no longer available in the State of Tennessee. Those already holding a license as an LPE may, after five years of supervised experience and 200 hours of continuing education, become a Licensed Senior Psychological Examiner (LSPE). Upon becoming an LSPE, an individual also becomes a Health Service Provider (HSP) and can practice independently. LSPEs provide psychotherapy as well as psychological and psychoeducational testing.

Pastoral Counselor: This designation refers to a  professional who has been specifically trained in counseling techniques and theory, as well as theology. The American Association of Pastoral Counselors is the certifying organization in this discipline. Some states provide an opportunity to become certified or licensed as a Pastoral Counselor.

Psychiatrist: Psychiatrists have completed medical school, obtained a Doctor of Medicine degree (M.D.), and gone on to complete a specialization in psychiatry (as opposed to surgery, pediatrics, etc). They must pass the state’s requirements for licensure plus an additional examination process to become Board Certified. Psychiatrists diagnose and treat mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. Psychiatrists are specialists in prescribing the medications used to treat mental disorders, especially those that are more severe or complex. Psychiatrists also often serve as supervisors or directors at mental health facilities.

Psychotherapist: A general descriptive term for any mental health professional (licensed or unlicensed) who provides psychotherapy.