A Guide to Acronyms in the Helping Professions


Are you confused by those strings of letters that appear on the business cards and telephone listings of helping professionals? Here is a helpful list of some of the most common abbreviations and acronyms. The designations are broken down into several categories for your convenience. If you do not see the acronym you are looking for in one category, check out the others. This is not an exhaustive list, so the acronym you are looking for may not be here.Many professionals will list both a license and a national certification. For example, a professional counselor may place both LPC (for Licensed Professional Counselor) and NCC (for Nationally Certified Counselor) after his/her name and degree.

Some helping professions, such as art therapy, are not licensed separately in many states. In such cases, practitioners will be licensed in a related professional field, and certified by a national association in their chosen profession. In the example above, a Registered Art Therapist (ATR) may be licensed as a psychologist (Licensed Psychologist), clinical social worker (LCSW), or professional counselor (LPC).

Other professionals may have dual credentials, such as being licensed both as a professional counselor (LPC) and a marriage and family therapist (LMFT). A clinical social worker (LCSW) may also be certified as an employee assistance professional (CEAP). This makes for extra designations on their business cards, letterheads, and phone listings.

All of the helping professions have associations composed of persons who belong to that profession or who share an interest in the advancement of that particular field. Not all practitioners belong to the professional associations of their fields. Those who do demonstrate a commitment to the standards of their profession.

Each helping profession has its own set of educational requirements. Some professions, such as psychiatry and clinical psychology, require their practitioners to earn doctorates (such as an MD, PhD, or PsyD). Others, including professional counseling and social work, require only a master’s degree (such as an MA, MS, or MSW). In the fields that allow a master’s degree for licensure, some practitioners earn a doctorate in order to obtain advanced training and to teach in graduate programs in their fields.

Some graduate training programs in the helping professions are offered by seminaries and religiously-oriented colleges and universities. Degrees from these institutions may reflect the religious content of the training (such as DMin, MDiv, or MAR). Others offer the more familiar degrees as well (such as MA or MS).
Back to Top

Professional Degrees

Almost all of the helping professions require training beyond a bachelor’s degree. Most master’s degrees consist of from 36 to 60 semester hours. The Specialist in Education degree requires additional training, usually 72 semester hours. Doctorates typically require 90 to 100 semester hours.

To make it all more confusing, please be aware that some institutions of higher learning reverse the order of the initials. For example, Master of Arts may be abbreviated A.M. instead of the usual M.A.

Acronym Degree
DC Doctor of Chiropractic
DD Doctor of Dentistry
DDS Doctor of Dental Surgery
DMin Doctor of Ministry
DNP Doctor of Nursing Practice
DO Doctor of Osteopathy
DPT Doctor of Physical Therapy
DSN Doctor of Science in Nursing
DSW Doctor of Social Work
EdD Doctor of Education
JD Doctor of Jurisprudence
MD Medical Doctor
OD/DO Doctor of Optometry
PharmD Doctor of Pharmacy
PhD Doctor of Philosophy
PsyD Doctor of Psychology
EdS Specialist in Education
MA Master of Arts
MAR Master of Arts in Religion
MC Master of Counseling
MDiv Master of Divinity
MEd Master of Education
MHSc Master of Health Science
MN Master of Nursing
MNNP Master of Nursing, Nurse Practitioner
MPH Master of Public Health
MRC Master of Rehabilitation Counseling
MRE Master of Religious Education
MS Master of Science
MSN Master of Science in Nursing
MSS Master of Social Services
MSW Master of Social Work
MTh Master of Theology

Back to Top


Issued by states to allow professionals in the specified field to practice in that jurisdiction. Each state sets its own requirements for education and training for each profession it recognizes, although this is usually similar to national certification standards (see next section). Typically, each state’s Department of Health has a division of health-related boards to oversee the licensure process. Some states register or certify cetain professions rather than issuing licenses. In such caes, the appropriate acronym will be in the next section, Certifications

Acronym Credential
* Licensed Physician
* Licensed Psychiatrist
* Licensed Psychologist
LAMFT Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist
LAPC Licensed Associate Professional Counselor
LCDC Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor
LCPC Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
LCMHC Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor
LCPT Licensed Clinical Pastoral Therapist
LCSW Licensed Clinical Social Worker
LD Licensed Dietitian
LMFT Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
LMHC Licensed Mental Health Counselor
LOT Licensed Occupational Therapist
LPT Licensed Pastoral Therapist
LPT Licensed Physical Therapist
LPCC Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor
LPC Licensed Professional Counselor
LPN Licensed Practical Nurse
LSW Licensed Social Worker
RN Registered Nurse
RNP Registered Nurse Practitioner

Back to Top


Issued by boards created by professional associations to certify that a professional has met the educational and training requirements to practice in the specified field.

NOTE: Some states register or certify certain professions rather than issuing licenses. In such cases, the certification or registration is from the state rather than from a professional association or other credentialing body.

Acronym Credential
ADTR Academy of Dance Therapists, Registered
AT-BC Art Therapist, Board Certified
AT-R Art Therapist, Registered
AVA Accredited Valuation Analyst
BC-DMT Board Certified Dance/Movement Therapist
CA Chartered Accountant
CADAC Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor
CAP Certified Addictions Professional
C-ASWCM Certified Advanced Social Work Case Manager
CCH Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist
CCMHC Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor
CDVC Certified Domestic Violence Counselor
CEAP Certified Employee Assistance Professional
CFA Certified Financial Analyst
CFE Certified Financial Examiner
CFP Certified Financial Planner
CFE Certified Fraud Examiner
CHT Certified Hypnotherapist
CIA Certified Internal Auditor
CMBC Certified Master Business Coach
COMS Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist
CPA Certified Public Accountant
CPC Certified Pastoral Counselor
CPC Certified Professional Counselor
CPT Certified Poetry Therapist
CRC Certified Rehabilitation Counselor
CRT Certified Rehabilitation Teacher
DAPA Diplomate of the American Psychotherapy Association
DTR Dance Therapist, Registered
MAC Master Addictions Counselor
MCC Master Certified Coach
MFCC Marriage, Family, and Child Counselor
MT-BC Music Therapist, Board Certified
NCAC Nationally Certified Addiction Counselor
NCC Nationally Certified Counselor
NCCC Nationally Certified Career Counselor
NCGC Nationally Certified Gerontological Counselor
NCSC Nationally Certified School Counselor
PA-C Physician’s Assistant, Certified
PCC Professional Certified Coach
RCC Registered Corporate Coach
RD Registered Dietitian
RPT Registered Poetry Therapist
RN Registered Nurse
RPh Registered Pharmacist

Back to Top

Related Designations

Acronym Designation
BCD Board Certified Diplomate (in a specialty)
CDF Career Development Facilitator
CDP Chemical Dependency Professional
CDS Chemical Dependency Specialist
CEDS Clinical Eating Disorders Specialist
CS Clinical Specialist (nursing)
MHPP Mental Health Paraprofessional
MHS Mental Health Specialist
MHSP Mental Health Services Provider
PA Physician’s Assistant
QCDC Qualified Chemical Dependency Counselor
QCSW Qualified Clinical Social Worker
QMHP Qualified Mental Health Professional
QMRP Qualified Mental Retardation Professional

Back to Top

Certification Boards

These are bodies that are formed by professional associations in order to establish standards for education and training for members of the profession. Boards create exams that ensure prospective professionals can demonstrate a knowledge of critical elements of the profession. Boards usually also set standards for continuing professional education, and monitor members in compliance.

Acronym Board
ADT Academy of Dance Therapists
ABE American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work
ABPTS American Board for Physical Therapy Specialists
ANCC American Nurses Credentialing Center (and other boards for various specialities)
ACPE Association for Clinical Pastoral Education
AER Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired
CCE Center for Credentialing and Education
CRCC Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification
CBMT Certification Board for Music Therapists
FBPT Federation for Biblio/Poetry Therapy
NBCCH National Board of Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists
NBAE National Board Of Addiction Examiners
NBCC National Board for Certified Counselors
NBCOT National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy

Back to Top

Professional Associations

Most national associations have regional and state affiliates or chapters as well. This list is limited to the United States unless designated as “international”. Many other countries have similar associations of their own.
Acronym Professional Association
AANP American Academy of Nurse Practitioners
AAPC American Association of Pastoral Counselors
AATA American Art Therapy Association
AAACM American Association of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine
AACM American Association of Chinese Medicine
AAMFT American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
AAPH American Association of Professional Hypnotherapists
ACA American Chiropractic Association
ACA American Counseling Association
ADTA American Dance Therapy Association
ADA American Dietitic Association
AMA American Medical Association
AMHCA American Mental Health Counseling Association
AMMA American Medical Massage Association
AMTA American Massage Therapy Association
AMTA American Music Therapy Association
ANA American Nurses Association
AOA American Optometric Association
AOA American Osteopathic Association
APA American Psychoanalytic Association
APA American Psychiatric Association
APA American Psychological Association
APA American Psychotherapy Association
APTA American Physical Therapy Association
APHA American Public Health Association
AOTA American Occupational Therapy Association
ASCA American School Counselors Association
ABMP Associated Bodyworkers and Massage Professionals
CSWF Clinical Social Work Federation
EAPA Employee Assistance Professionals Association
IAC International Association of Coaches
ICF International Coach Federation
NAADAC National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors
NAFC National Association of Forensic Counselors
NAPT National Association for Poetry Therapy
NASP National Association of School Psychologists
NASW National Association of Social Workers
NECA National Employment Counselors Association
OAA Opticians Association of America
WABC Worldwide Association of Business Coaches

Back to Top

Governmental Agencies

Here are a few of the acronyms of U.S. and U.N. agencies related to the helping professions.

Acronym Agency
CDC Centers for Disease Control
CMHC Community Mental Health Center (many centers across the nation)
CMHS Center for Mental Health Services (HHs)
EPA Environmental Protection Agency
FDA Food and Drug Administration
FEMA Federal Emergency Management Agency
HHS Department of Health and Human Services
NIH National Institute of Health
NIMH National Institute of Mental Health
WHO United Nations World Health Organization
VA Department of Veterans Affairs

Back to Top

Corporate Titles

Here are a few of the acronymsfor the most common senior executives in corporations.
Acronym Agency
CAO Chief Administrative Officer
CCO Chief Communications Officer
CEO Chief Executive Officer
CFO Chief Financial Officer
CIO Chief Information Officer
COO Chief Operating Officer
CTO Chief Technical Officer
CD Creative Director
HRD Human Resources Director

Back to Top

Peer Support Groups

Self-help groups are composed of individuals who share a common experience who meet together for support and recovery. Although these groups are not organized or conducted by professionals, their acronyms are frequently encountered in publications and discussions of mental health issues, and are included here.
Acronym Support Group
AA Alcoholics Anonymous
ACOA Adult Children of Alcoholics
Al-Anon Family Support Group for Alcoholics Anonymous
Al-Ateen Child Support Group for Alcoholics Anonymous
CA Cocaine Anonymous
CODA Co-Dependents Anonymous
Debtors Anon Debtors Anonymous
FAA Food Addicts Anonymous
GA Gamblers Anonymous
MA Marijuana Anonymous
NA Narcotics Anonymous
OA Overeaters Anonymous
SLAA Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous

Back to Top

Diagnostic Systems

There are two major systematic classifications of diseases and conditions in use in the United States. Both systems are regularly updated as scientific knowledge increases and opinions of professionals change about the nature of disease. Below are the more common acronyms still in use today.
ICDAInternational Classification of Diseases, Adapted for the United States.

Acronym System
DSM-III Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition. (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1981.)
DSM-III-R Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition, Revised. (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1987.)
DSM-IV Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1994.)
DSM-IV-TR Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2000.)
DSM-V Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.)
ICD-9 International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision. (World Health Organization, 1977.)
ICD-9-CM International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification. (World Health Organization, 1979.)
ICD-10 International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision. (World Health Organization, 1989.)
ICD-10-CM International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision, Clinical Modification. (World Health Organization.)

Back to Top

Theories of Psychotherapy

There are more than five hundred theories of counseling and psychotherapy. Many of these are not referred to by acronyms, such as psychoanalysis, gestalt therapy, and client-centered therapy. Here is a partial list of some of the theories that do use an abbreviation. Some of these theories or methods are not accepted by all mental health professionals.

Acronym Theory
ABA Applied Behavior Analysis
BM Behavioral Medicine
BT Behavioral Therapy
CI Crisis Intervention
CT Cognitive Therapy
CBT Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
EMDR Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
NLP Neuro-Linguistic Programming
PET Parent Effectiveness Training
PCP Personal Construct Psychology
PCT Personal Construct Theory
REBT Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy
RET Rational-Emotive Therapy
RT Rational Therapy
STEP Systematic Training for Effective Parenting
TA Transactional Analysis
TM Transcendental Meditation

Back to Top

Assessment Instruments

This is a list of some of the more popular tests and measures used by helping professionals. There are many hundreds of measures that have been published, so this list contains only a fraction of those available.

Acronym Instrument
BDI Beck Depression Inventory
BVMGT Bender Visual Motor Gestalt Test
CAT Children’s Apperception Test
CPI California Psychological inventory
CTP California Test of Personality
JPI Jackson Personality Inventory
MBTI Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
MMPI Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory
MMPI-2 Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, Second Edition
16PF Sixteen Personality Factor Scale
STAI State-Trait Anger Inventory
STAI State-Trait Anxiety Inventory
SB-LM Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, Forms L and M
SB-IV Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, Fourth Edition
SB-V Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, Fifth Edition
TAT Thematic Apperception Test
WAIS Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale
WAIS-R Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, Revised
WAIS-3 Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, Third Edition
WISC Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children
WISC-R Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Revised
WISC-3 Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Third Edition
WPPSI Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence
WPPSI-R Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence, Revised
WPPSI-3 Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence, Third Edition

Back to Top

Forms of Businesses

A professional practice that has established a partnership or corporation for tax and other legal purposes will have one of the following acronyms as part of the name of the company. A Professional Association (PA) is a group practice comprised of a number of professionals in the same field who have formed separate corporations or partnerships as well.
Acronym Business
* Sole Proprietorship
* General Partnership
DBA Doing Business As
LLC Limited Liability Company
LLP Limited Liability Partnership
PA Professional Association
PC Professional Corporation
PLLC Professional Limited Liability Company

Back to Top