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What do the letters mean after the name?

Mastering the Material


Updated June 06, 2014

A master's degree involves a shorter training program, often around two years past the undergraduate bachelor's degree. Relevant degrees include:

M.S.W. - Master's in Social Work. This is the traditional degree for social workers, and L.C.S.W. means a person passed the licensing exam that comes after the degree. It allows for more independent practice.

M.Ed. - Master's in Education. Many counselors have this degree or the similar M.S.Ed. It is given by schools of education in almost any field of Education. Some states also license Counselors:

L.P.C. - Licensed Professional Counselor.

M.F.C.C. is used in some states to identify a Marriage, Family, and Child Counselor.

M.S. or M.A. - Masters of Science or Masters of Arts. These are the traditional degrees given by colleges of arts and sciences. In the United States, a master's degree in psychology has not been considered a "terminal degree." A psychologist (other than a school psychologist) generally needs a doctorate to be licensed. Some Canadian provinces license psychologists with a master's degree. A few US states are also beginning to do this.

Ed.S. - Educational Specialist. This is a degree that involves more training than a master's degree and less than a doctorate. Some school psychologists have this degree, as do some counselors.

M.Div. - Master's of Divinity - another degree that ministers get - some of whom are pastoral counselors.

Certifications - Other initials stand for "certifications" in certain areas. A certification is similar to a license, but with a more limited scope of practice. Some common certifications are:

CSAC - Certified Substance Abuse Counselor. This is someone with extra training in substance abuse. They generally have at least a bachelor's degree (the basic four-year college degree). In most states they cannot practice independently.

CAC - Certified Alcoholism Counselor. Similar to a CSAC, but with an emphasis on alcohol.


Physicians generally pass "specialty boards" to become "board-certified in psychiatry" or other specialties.

A.B.P.P - Stands for American Board of Professional Psychology: Psychologists can also become board certified, but this is an extra credential that many psychologist do not get. The American Board of Professional Psychology allows psychologists who pass their test to use these initials.

F.A.C.P. - is a Fellow, American College of Physicians

B.C.F.E. - Stands for American Board of Forensic Examiners. Some specialty boards are suspect because they allow almost anyone to pay a hefty fee and get the credential. Until recently, many professionals could use these initials with modest training and without passing any test. This board has plans to "certify" professionals in psychology and other disciplines. The main advantage of this certification seems to be the extra letters after your name.

What if it's just "Doctor"?

If you read an article which is written by a "doctor," and the author does not specify what type of doctor they are, then be skeptical. One prominent example is the popular "Doctor Laura" on the radio. She is not a psychologist nor a psychiatrist. Her doctorate, in fact, is in Physiology and she is licensed as an M.F.C.C. This does not mean that she can't give helpful advice, it means that her doctorate does not qualify her to do what she does. Be careful out there!

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