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Licensed Psychotherapists in California
California law restricts the use of the term "psychotherapist" to four specific disciplines and licenses. The specifics vary from State to State.
In the state of California (and perhaps in others) the use of the word to describe one's activities, are legally limited to those with specific training and state licensure.
There are four professional categories and four only, of people who are permitted to use the term 'Psychotherapy' or "Psychotherapist' to describe themselves of what they do. These four groups are 1) Board Certified Psychiatrists (MDs or DOs with specific training in psychotherapy and psychopharmacology,) 2) Licensed Clinical Psychologists (LCP,) 3) Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) and 4) Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT.)
There is no legal restriction on anyone doing literally anything calling themselves a 'therapist.' The "Psycho" in Psychotherapist is different. It is important for consumers to understand this and for people offering help to operate within the definitions of the laws in the State in which they work.
Each of the four groups permitted to use the designation of Psychotherapist is trained somewhat differently. What they have in common is recognized training, qualifying them for a license to practice psychotherapy.
A little information about the core training elements for each as they differ may be helpful in understanding what a person's license (the letters after their name) mean.
A Psychiatrist is a physician. They are trained in medical schools (as either MDs of DOs) and initially, after many years of training, internships and residencies, initially licensed as General Physicians and Surgeons. To become Board Certified in Psychiatry, additional training and practice in that specialty is required as are qualifying examinations. Any Physician can call themselves a "Psychiatrist" but to call themselves a Psychiatrist, they must be Board Certified in that Specialty.
A Licensed Clinical Psychologist, in California, is a person with a non-medical Doctorate (PhD or PsyD) in Psychology who has completed their degree and post-doctoral training and has achieved the license issued by the California Board of Psychology to practice as a Licensed Clinical Psychologist. (The law requires that for each of these disciplines, their license to practice, or a copy of it, is to be posted visibly in their primary place of practice.)
Only MDs can prescribe medicine. Licensed Clinical Psychologists are also specifically trained in the practice of psychometrics - or psychological testing.
Licensed Clinical Social Workers are graduates of accredited graduate schools of Social Work and have MSW (from some schools, MS) degrees and are trained in psychotherapy as well as systems theory, community organization and a broad range of other activities involved in understanding the larger field that people exist within in order to assess and treat their issues in a broader, more inclusive, context.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists are generally trained in the specific practice of psychotherapy. Like Clinical Social Workers, their graduate programs are generally two years (full time) long, yield Masters degrees and licensure requires two years of supervised, full time, post-graduate practice. Rigorous and thorough examinations are also required before clinical licenses to practice psychotherapy are issued to any of these four groups of clinicians.
Those four groups and ONLY those four groups of licensed professionals are allowed, under the terms of the Business and Professions Codes of the State of California, to use the word 'psychotherapist' to describe themselves or 'psychotherapy' to describe the service they provide.
Both LCSWs and LMFTs are licensed by the California State Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) in Sacramento and licensure can be confirmed via their public website.
So, in seeking out help, there are a plethora of therapies available - many with no restrictions on the words used to describe what is done. In seeking out a psychotherapist - certainly in California- the use of the term and the license to practice that specific activity is limited to the four groups described above. Consumers need to know.