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Types of Mental Health Practitioners

Degrees Explained

Doctoral Degrees

M.D.—Medical Doctor: Degree awarded psychiatrists and other doctors such as internists, cardiologists, etc.


D.O.—Doctor of Osteopathy: Degree with same residency training as M.D., but emphasis on natural and alternative therapies.

Ph.D.—Doctor of Philosophy: Degree awarded psychologists. Also a traditional academic doctorate which enables the degree holder to teach at a college or university. Ph.D.'s are also awarded in social work and nursing.

Psy.D.—Doctor of Psychology: Degree awarded to psychologists. Emphasis on practice rather than research.

D.S.W.—Doctor of Social Work: Degree awarded social workers. Advanced degree held by educators in social work.

Ed.D.—Doctor of Education: Degree conferred by Schools of Education with emphasis on teaching in the respective field.

D.Sc.—Doctor of Science: Degree similar to the Ph.D. but more emphasis on practical, real-world experience rather than research. More common in Canada than the U.S. and in public health programs.

Master's Degrees

M.S.W.—Master of Social Work: Traditional degree for social workers, same level as Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

L.C.S.W.—Licensed Clinical Social Worker: Social worker who has been licensed by the state to practice counseling.

M.Ed.—Master of Education: Degree awarded by Schools of Education.

M.S. or M.A.—Masters of Science or Master of Arts: Traditional master's degree given by colleges and universities in the United States. A master's degree in psychology in the United States is not considered a terminal degree.

Ed.S.—Educational Specialist: This degree involves more training than a Master's degree but less than a doctorate. Counselors and school psychologists often have this degree.

M.Div.—Master of Divinity: Degree conferred to ministers or pastoral counselors.


There are many certifications available in the mental health field, with emphasis on different mental disorders such as alcoholism, substance abuse, etc. Certifications are often provided through professional organizations and the required training, testing and examinations vary considerably. The most common certifications are:

C.S.A.C.: Certified Substance Abuse Counselor

C.A.C.: Certified Alcoholism Counselor

L.P.C.: Licensed Professional Counselor

M.F.C.C.: Marriage, Family and Child Counselor

C.C.M.H.C.: Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor

N.C.S.C.: National Certified School Counselor

N.C.G.C.: National Certified Gerontology Counselor

Dr. Grace Tsai received her doctorate from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health with an emphasis on Social and Behavioral Sciences. She investigated mental health issues in Asian and Asian American communities for her doctoral dissertation. She has served as a Psychiatric Epidemiologist in the Department of Mental Hygiene at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Tsai has also researched other mental health topics such as depression and suicide. She writes on mental health issues for various health organizations.