The Scoop on Alphabet Soup: A Counselor's Education
The mission of Living Story Therapy, PLLC is focused on empowering individuals to access their worth, develop direction, and create meaningful life story through intentional and compassionate care. One way of fulfilling this mission is through educating the public on how and what to look for when searching for a mental health and/or substance use provider.
This Alphabet Soup series was designed to offer guidance for those feeling confused and/or intimidated by the mixture of letters and credentials behind your prospective or current provider’s name. This particular post is focused on the educational degrees necessary for becoming a Master’s-level clinician.
Professional counseling requires a solid academic foundation. The following offers a key for credentials behind providers’ names that relate to their educational background.
Obtaining a Bachelor’s degree typically takes 4-5 years to complete at a university or college. While having an undergraduate degree in any discipline can possibly lead to a future in counseling, the areas most commonly pursued include Psychology, Sociology, or Education.
Upon completing an undergraduate degree, an individual who wants to become a professional therapist is required to pursue some form of higher education *. The following are credentials you’ll see behind a Master's-level therapeutic provider:
Obtaining a Master’s degree in Counseling, Counseling Psychology, Psychology etc. typically takes 2-4 years, and will involve coursework, along with some forms of a clinical experience (i.e., supervised practice working with actual clients), most commonly called a practicum and/or internship. Depending on the specific program, one may need to pass a national comprehensive examination and/or write and defend a dissertation. Additionally, counseling Master’s programs will often have speciality tracks. For example, the University of Colorado Denver (my alma mater) offers four separate tracks for specifying one's education: Clinical Mental Health, Couples & Family, Multicultural, or School Counseling.
Your Right as the Client
In the state of Colorado, counselors are required to include information about their educational background in their Disclosure statement, which you will review and sign at the start of therapy. You—the client and consumer of services—have a right to be informed about the education and training your provider has received for treating your presenting concerns. So, feel free to ask your provider about their degree(s) and educational background... It’s necessary, not nosy, to ask.
Beyond the Masters...
* While the scope of this post does not cover Doctorate-level practitioners, some common credentials you’ll see are PhD (Doctor of Philosophy, most likely in Clinical Psychology, Counseling, Counselor Education or a specialized therapeutic field) or PsyD (Doctor of Psychology). These clinicians are most often called psychologists, rather than counselors or therapists.
If searching for a psychiatrist or a clinician who can prescribe psychiatric medications, you will most commonly see MD (Medical Doctor) or DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine). Depending on where you live, Psychiatric or Mental Health Nurse Practitioners may also have prescribing privileges. These clinicians will typically have a Master of Science (MS) or doctorate (PhD) for their education.