In California, several types of licensed mental health professionals provide psychotherapy. Many people do not understand the differences between mental healthcare treatment providers. This table is designed to give you a general idea of the history, guiding principles, and clinical training required for each type of license. In this document, “Supervised Clinical Experience” refers to actual face-to-face contact with patients prior to candidate licensure that is supervised by an already licensed mental health professional. Italics emphasize some of the core distinctions within each licensed group. Keep in mind that this information is meant as a general guideline and that each professional is unique in his or her approach to therapy. Furthermore, requirements for licensure often change, so if you want the latest information, Dr. Gretchen-Doorly recommends researching the requirements through the CA Board of Psychology (for psychologists), CA Psychiatric Association (for psychiatrists), or the CA Board of Behavioral Sciences (for LCSW, LMFT, and LPCC). Finally, although it is always good practice to be a well-informed consumer through research, the best way to determine if a therapist is a good fit for you is to meet in person to discuss your needs.

CA Licensed Mental Health Professionals

Psychologist (PhD, PsyD, EdD)

Description of Profession: “Psychologists are trained to help people cope more effectively with life problems, using therapeutic techniques based on the best available research and their own clinical skills and experience.

Psychologists take into account each person’s unique values, goals and circumstances and work collaboratively with the client to identify the goals of treatment and to decide how progress will be defined.”a

Psychology as a scholarly study of the mind and behavior dates back to ancient Greece and Egypt. The American Psychological Association was founded in 1892 by G. Stanley Hall at Clark University.

Required coursework: Requires at least three years of academic study (about 72 graduate semester units) before supervised clinical experience can be completed.

Required Supervised Clinical Experience: 3,000 hours of supervised experience, which must be completed within a minimum of two years.

Average time to obtain degree after completing a Bachelor’s degree: 6 to 8 years (PhD); and 4 to 6 years (PsyD and EdD).

Psychiatrist (MD)

Description of Profession: “A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental health, including substance use disorders.”b

Dr. Benjamin Rush is considered the “Father of American Psychiatry” and founded the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane (AMSAII) in 1844, the precursor to the American Psychiatric Association, which began in 1921.

Required coursework: Standard medical school curriculum, with specialization in psychiatry. Psychiatrists have limited training in psychotherapy. In fact, the Residency Review Committee (RRC) requires training in only 3 areas: psychodynamic therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and supportive therapy.c

Required Supervised Clinical Experience: 48 months of full-time clinical work. Full-time work is defined as no more than 80 hours per week, averaged over a four-week period.

Average time to obtain degree after completing a Bachelor’s degree: Approximately 8 years.

Notes: In CA, psychiatrists are the only practitioners who can both prescribe medication and conduct psychotherapy.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

Description of Profession: “Social workers help people increase their capacities for problem solving and coping, and they help them obtain needed resources, facilitate interactions between individuals and between people and their environments, make organizations responsible to people, and influence social policies.”d

The first Social Work class was offered at Columbia University in 1898. The National Association of Social Workers was founded in 1955.

Required coursework: Most programs require at least 60 semester hours or 90 quarter hours of coursework.

Required Supervised Clinical Experience: 3,200 hours of experience, which must be completed within a minimum of two years.

Average time to obtain degree after completing a Bachelor’s degree: 2 to 4 years.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)

Description of Profession: “LMFTs are relationship specialists who treat persons involved in interpersonal relationships. They are trained to assess, diagnose and treat individuals, couples, families and groups to achieve more adequate, satisfying and productive marriage, family and social adjustment.”e

The formal development of family therapy dates to the 1940s and early 1950s with the 1942 founding of the American Association of Marriage Counselors (the precursor of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists).

Required coursework: The graduate program must be at least 60 semester hours or 90 quarter hours.

Required Supervised Clinical Experience: 3,000 hours of supervised experience in no less than 104 weeks.

Average time to obtain degree after completing a Bachelor’s degree: 2 to 3 years.

Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCC)

Description of Profession: “The professional counseling field emerged from school and career counseling. As such, LPCs (or, as they’re known in California, LPCCs — the extra “C” is for “Clinical,” to denote that theirs is specifically a mental health license) are likely to see problems as an individual, developmental issue.f

“LPCCs are mental health service providers who have earned a master’s degree and are trained to work with individuals, families and groups in treating mental, behavioral, and emotional problems and disorders.”g

LPCC is the newest behavioral therapy license designation. The LPC was passed into law for the first time in 1979 in the state of Alabama. The first LPCCs in CA were licensed in January 2012.

Required coursework: The degree must contain not less than 48 graduate semester or 72 graduate quarter units of instruction.

Required Supervised Clinical Experience: 3,000 of post-degree hours in no less than 104 weeks.

Average time to obtain degree after completing a Bachelor’s degree: 2 to 3 years.

Notes: In CA, LMFTs and LCSWs can apply for dual licensure as an LPCC.

Footnotes

a Definition provided by the California Psychological Association at cpapsych.org
b Definition provided by the American Psychiatric Association at psychiatry.org
c For more detailed information on the clinical training of psychiatrists see the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education’s Psychiatry section at acgme.org
d Definition provided by the National Association of Social Workers California Chapter at naswca.org
e Definition provided by the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists at camft.org
f Definition provided by Caldwell, B.Basics of California Law for LMFTs, LPCCs, and LCSWs: 2014 edition.
g Definition provided by the California Association for Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors at calpcc.org