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Mental Health Licenses

Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors.

Choosing the right license for your career in therapy, counseling, or social work can be daunting. It can also have a major impact on starting a small business in the psychology industry. There are many types of mental health licenses to choose from, and your licensure can affect your career and business.

Each license can also have a legal impact on the actions you can and cannot take with a patient, such as prescribing medication or offering certain types of therapy.

Different Licenses or Master's Degrees and Their Legal Implications

Licenses may change per state law or vary in the specific field you enter. It is important to know the qualifications and limitations you face so you don't face business law issues or professional malpractice lawsuits.

 Type of degree Typical Duties ​Can They Prescribe Medication?
​Master of Arts (MA) in Mental Health Counseling 

 Master of Science (MS) in Mental Health Counseling

  • These master's degrees often do not allow you to complete class 1 assessments
  • May focus on wellness counseling instead of medicine-based counseling
  • They often do not allow you to teach at some universities and do not usually involve completing research
​No
School Psychologist

  • Advanced degree and training to work specifically with students and school staff
​No - unless your state specifically allows it
​Clinical Psychologist
  • A doctoral degree to diagnose and provide therapy
​​No - unless your state specifically allows it
​Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
  • A master's degree that focuses on relationships and human development during marriage and family therapy
​No
​Licensed Psychologist (LP) or Licensed Psychological Associate (LPA)
  • LPs can provide direct clinical help to patients, diagnose, and create treatment plans
  • Some states require LPAs to be supervised by LPs during their clinical or one-on-one client activities
​No
​Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) or Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
  • A collaborative, hands-on approach with patients. Licensed by your state board and follows strict ethics and confidentiality practices
​No
​Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) or Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)
  • Licensed by your state board to provide social work-based mental therapy or conduct research
  • Case management role or individual-based therapy
​No
​Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Psychology
  • A doctoral-level degree that focuses on hands-on clinical work and your professional private practice more than research and data
​No
​Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Clinical Psychology
  • This doctoral degree usually involves researching ideas, experiments, and analyzing the research data more than doing in-clinic work with patients
  • You may go on to teach or consult with universities or hospitals
​No
​Psychiatrist

  • A medical doctor who diagnoses and treats mental health disorders
  • Often does not do therapy or counseling
​Yes
​Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (MHNP)
  • Cannot offer therapy or counseling
​Yes
​Physician's Assistant
  • Cannot offer therapy or counseling
​Yes
​Nurse Practitioner
  • Cannot offer therapy or counseling
​Yes

Starting a Mental Health Practice

The degrees and licenses you have may determine the career you can legally follow or if you can open your own mental health professional practice. It can also depend on the organization you are licensed through, such as being accredited through The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs(CACREP).

The industry of psychological services is highly regulated in each state and may have requirements on part-time or full-time clinical practice. An attorney that focuses on business compliance can help determine the steps you need to take to start a business compliant with your state, licensing organizations, state boards, and local organizations.

Lawsuits in Mental Health Practices

If you are facing a professional malpractice suit for an alleged illegal action outside of your degree or license, you need to speak with a malpractice defense attorney right away. 

Next Steps

Contact a qualified business attorney to help you navigate your business's legal and regulatory landscape.

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