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Discern Different Types of Degrees

Therapists come from a variety of academic backgrounds, including psychology, social work and education. Consequently, there are a number of different paths to becoming a mental health provider.

Type of Academic Degrees:

PhD: Doctor of Philosophy degree in Psychology
A PhD in clinical or counseling psychology qualifies the holder to become a researcher as well as a practitioner. A PhD program emphasizes research design and statistics related to clinical issues in addition to requiring clinical field experience. Psychologists with a PhD will frequently work in an academic setting and/or clinical practice. PhDs are trained in psychological assessment, diagnosis and treatment of the full range of psychological disorders, from adjustment difficulties to chronic mental illness.

In contrast to a clinical PhD, a PhD in counseling psychology will have a greater emphasis on issues in educational and occupational fields.

A PhD degree requires four to five years of post-bachelor’s degree study of psychology. An individual may enter a master’s program after undergraduate study or may immediately enter a doctoral program, where in some cases a master’s degree is awarded after completion of part of the doctoral requirements. A PhD degree requires a research dissertation to be designed by the candidate on a specific area of investigation.

PsyD: Doctor of Psychology
A PsyD is a professional degree that prepares psychologists to be clinical practitioners and interpreters of research. A PsyD is similar to a PhD program in that psychologists are trained in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of the full range of psychological disorders. However, a PsyD program has an intense emphasis on fieldwork and clinical experience rather than research. The PsyD degree trains psychologists to understand and apply research in their practice and clinical work. PsyDs work in a variety of clinical settings, but less often in academic or university settings.

A PsyD degree requires four or more years of post-bachelor’s degree study of psychology. An individual may enter a master’s program after undergraduate study or may immediately enter a doctoral program, where in some cases a master’s degree is awarded after completion of part of the doctoral requirements. A PsyD degree may or may not require a dissertation to be written on a specific area of interest, dependent on the program.

MD: Psychiatrist-Doctor of Medicine
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in the treatment of patients with psychological disorders. Similar to clinical psychologists, a psychiatrist is trained in the assessment, diagnoses and treatment of the full range of psychological disorders. The major difference is that psychiatrists are also trained in the biology and medical aspects of psychological disorders. Psychiatrists undergo four years of clinical training after receiving their medical degree. This training is highly variable. Some psychiatrists use these four years to become experts in psychotherapy; others learn a little about therapy but instead specialize in the use of psychiatric medications.

MA: Master of Arts degree in Psychology
Individuals with an MA in psychology have a background in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders and emotional issues. An MA degree is essentially a counseling degree with an emphasis on clinical experience and psychotherapy.

A Master of Arts degree in psychology requires two years of post-bachelor’s degree study in psychology. Not all MA programs require a written thesis. Many MA degrees in psychology are in general psychology or non-clinical/counseling fields of specialization.

MS: Master of Science degree in Psychology
Individuals with an MS degree in psychology have a background in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders and have a focus on clinical research. Those with an MS degree often are more inclined toward research than clinical practice and usually have a specific emphasis area or focus. Many MS degrees in psychology are in general psychology or non-clinical/counseling fields of specialization.

An MS degree in psychology requires two years of post-bachelor’s degree study in psychology and a written research thesis.

EdD: Doctor of Education
An individual with an EdD has a thorough background in education, child development and learning disabilities, education policy, and clinical/counseling psychology. Individuals with this degree are particularly adept at developmental and educational assessment, educational planning and treatment of developmental issues.

As with other doctoral degrees, a doctoral degree in education requires four or more years of study after obtaining a bachelor’s degree in education, psychology or a related field. Not all EdD degrees imply expertise in education, child development, learning disabilities and education policy. They may be awarded by clinical or counseling programs that happen to be housed in a school or department of education rather than a department of psychology, e.g., Columbia Teachers College.

EdS: Education Specialist degree
An EdS is a degree obtained in conjunction with, or after completion of a master’s degree in school psychology. An individual with this degree generally identifies and addresses academic, emotional and behavioral problems through assessment, educational planning and behavior modification.

An educational specialist degree requires coursework that complements a master’s degree in school psychology. A master’s degree in school psychology is usually completed through two years of study after a bachelor’s degree in psychology, education or a related field.

MSW: Master of Social Work
An MSW is a social work degree that prepares an individual to diagnose and treat psychological problems and provide mental health resources. Some social workers specialize in traditional “concrete” services instead. Social workers provide services to individuals, families and small groups and work in mental health centers, counseling centers, hospitals and schools. Social workers are trained in counseling, life issues and psychotherapy, but are not trained in psychological testing.

An MSW degree requires two years of study in social work after the completion of an undergraduate degree in social work, psychology or a related field.

Licenses
Licenses that may be obtained in association with psychology, education and social work degrees include:

LCSW: Licensed Clinical Social Worker
An individual with a master’s or doctoral degree in social work can be licensed as an LCSW.

There are many types of social workers, and every state has its own requirements. However, to become licensed to provide counseling in most states, an individual must have at least a master’s degree in social work from an accredited program. Upon completion of a degree program, the person must complete at least two years, or 3,000 hours, of supervised clinical experience to be licensed. A candidate must also pass a state board exam that may consist of a written part, an oral part or both. In some states, levels such as intermediate, advanced and clinical are delineated according to years of post-degree experience and examination.

Social workers may also be licensed and referred to as:

LISW: Licensed Independent Social Worker
LSW: Licensed Social Worker

MFT: Marriage and Family Therapist
An individual with a master’s degree or higher in Marriage and Family Therapy, or an equivalent field, is eligible to become licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist. Equivalency of degrees is determined by each state, and may include degrees in fields such as psychology, education and social work.

Upon graduating from an accredited academic program, the candidate must complete two years of supervised clinical experience in marriage and family practice before licensure or certification. Supervised clinical experience usually includes 1,000 hours of face-to-face contact with couples and families for assessment and intervention purposes. The therapist must also pass either a state licensing exam or the national examination for marriage and family therapists.

Licensed marriage and family therapists apply therapeutic techniques with individuals, families and couples. Psychotherapy usually focuses on issues of human development, communication skills and interpersonal relationships.

LPC: Licensed Professional Counselor
An individual with a master’s degree or higher in counseling psychology or a related field such as social work or education is eligible to become a licensed professional counselor.

Upon graduating from an accredited academic program, two years or 3,000 hours of direct, supervised counseling experience is required. The therapist must demonstrate professional competence by passing a state board examination in professional counseling.

Licensed professional counselors sometimes carry the following titles, depending on which state they practice in:

CPC: Clinical Professional Counselor
LMHC: Licensed Mental Health Counselor
LPCMH: Licensed Professional Counselor of Mental Health
MHC: Mental Health Counselor
CMHC: Clinical Mental Health Counselor
LCPC: Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Licensed Psychologist
Licensure for the independent practice of psychology requires a doctoral degree in clinical psychology, counseling psychology or educational psychology, in most states. Upon receipt of a PhD or PsyD, a candidate must pass the national Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology and an oral examination focused on the individual’s emphasis and on legal and ethical issues. In addition to supervised clinical experience during the doctoral program, the last year of study is a supervised internship. Supervision requirements for licensure as a psychologist, inclusive of internship, are 3,000 hours. Most states require 1,500 of the 3,000 hours to be completed after finishing the doctoral degree.

The public often gets confused by the term “psychologist.” A licensed psychologist is an individual who has completed a doctoral degree in psychology, finished the necessary supervision, passed the psychology board examination and holds a license to practice psychology. This person is able to charge consumers for their services. Researchers who are not licensed and do not practice professionally may also refer to themselves as psychologists, because this is their area of expertise.

As new academic programs continue to develop, licensing requirements continue to change. Moreover, each state has slightly different conditions for licensure.

reprinted with permission from here2listen.com.


Disclaimer:   I am not a health care professional. I am an abuse survivor. The resources on this site are for information and education only. Information on this website is meant to support not replace the advice of a licensed health care or mental health care professional. Please consult your own physician for health care advice.

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last revised: 12/18/04