Know Your Acronyms for Behavioral Health Professionals

Our world is full of acronyms for very important things and places and most of all people. Join me as we clarify the basic acronyms used to differentiate the people of the behavioral health professions.

June 15, 2019

What does LMFT or LICSW really mean?  Know your acronyms and

your behavioral health professionals!


In today’s world, there are many kinds of behavioral health specialists, but which one is right for you? How do you decide which field and professional are going to suit your needs best? Are they even licensed to practice properly? There are many different things to consider when you choose your behavioral health professional and it’s best to do your research on them before you decide to see them. This can save you time, money and the potential disappointment of selecting the professional that isn’t right for you. Here are several different kinds of licensed behavioral professionals, their requirements and where to find more information about them.


LICSW – Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker

  • Master’s or doctoral degree in social work from an educational program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
  • A minimum of 4,000 hours of postgraduate, supervised experience over a minimum three-year period.
  • Pre-Licensed Associate Social Workers can practice under an LICSW, but not independently. LICSWs can practice independently though.
  • The American Association of Social Worker Boards (ASWB) exam is required for licensing. The clinical exam is required to be an LICSW
  • Find more information on LICSWs here.

LMFT – Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

  • Applicants must complete all requirements for a Pre-Licensed Marriage and Family Associate before applying to be a LMFT.
  • A minimum of two years of full-time marriage and family therapy and at least 3,000 hours of experience.
  • Applicants who have completed a master’s program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Educations of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (COAMFTE) will be credited 500 hours of direct client contact and 100 hours of formal meetings with an approved supervisor.
  • A Licensed Marriage and Family Associate cannot practice independently, but an LMFT may practice independently once licensed.
  • The Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) exam is required to be licensed.
  • Find more information on LMFTs here.

LMHC – Licensed Mental Health Counselor

  • Masters or doctoral degree in mental health counseling or a behavioral science masters or doctoral degree in a field relating to mental health counseling.
  • A minimum of 36 months of full-time counseling or 3,000 hours of supervised postgraduate mental health counseling is required.
  • All Pre-Licensed Mental Health Counselor requirements must be met.
  • Either the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) exams must be passed:  National Counselor Exam (NCE) or National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (NCMHCE)
  • Find more information on LMHCs here.

Certified Counselor

  • Bachelor’s degree in a counseling-related field
  • Washington State Certified Adviser Exam in risk assessment, ethics and appropriate screening using the global assessment of functioning scale, client referral and Washington State law
  • Must work with supervision
  • Find more information on Certified Counselors here.

Licensed Psychologist

  • Doctoral degree from a regionally accredited institution. See link below for more information on non-APA (American Psychological Association) degrees.
  • Pre-internship with up to 1,500 hours of experience and internship with at least 1,500 hours to be completed in 24 months. The internship must be accredited by the APA.
  • Unlicensed, pre-internship and interning psychologists may not practice independently
  • Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) and the Washington State Jurisdiction Exam (Washington State specific) are required
  • Find more information on Licensed Psychologists here.

 How do I know if my behavioral health specialists license is valid?

            It’s always good to do some background checking on your specialist and the State of Washington Department of Health provides a credential data search tool that is open to the public. Visit the Health Care Provider Credential Data site to search your specialist.

 There are many other mental health professionals out there and it’s a best practice to research and review professionals before utilizing their services. For more information on mental health professionals and other similar topics, visit the Washington State Department of Health website.

By Cindy Perryman, PRN 365, Founder.

Consolidated by Staci Graves, PRN365, Staff Creative Writer.

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