Deborah J Vinall, LMFT license # 45229
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What is an LMFT?

When it comes to selecting a mental health professional to meet your needs, you have several options.

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT) are mental health professionals whose emphasis is on facilitating healing in the context of relationships or as emotional / psychological conditions affect relationships.  For example, an MFT may help a couple work through relationship issues, a widow deal with the loss of her partner, or a child deal with trauma from an abusive relationship.  When it comes down to it, most of life's problems either stem from or affect relationships with others.   Here's where an MFT comes in.  Formerly called Marriage, Family, and Child Counselors (MFCC), the name was changed in 1999 to shorten the title, reflect the concept that children belong in families (thereby making the extra word seem redundant), and emphasize that our work is to help the client develop healing (therapy), rather than talk to or at them or give advice (counseling).  Marriage and Family Therapists have undergone an extensive graduate school program and will have either an M.A. or an M.S. degree.  Upon graduation and completion of a Practicum as a Trainee (MFTT) as part of the graduate program, MFTs register with the state Board of Behavioral Sciences as an Intern (MFTI) for 2-6 years, while they accumulate a minimum of 3,000 hours of direct counseling experience.  Upon completion of this internship, the MFT must sit for a series of state board examinations before applying for Licensure as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).  LMFTs maintain their license through continuing education courses annually.


Clinical Social Workers (CSW) are similar to MFTs in that they also undergo an extensive graduate program and internship, with approximately half of their intern hours completed through administrative tasks, and sit for state board examinations.  A post-degree, pre-licensed CSW is referred to as an Associate Social Worker (ASW), and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker is referred to by the acronym LCSW and is also licensed by the state Board of Behavioral Sciences.  CSWs provide mental health services to individuals, families, and groups or organizations within a systems perspective and provision of services is often community-based.


Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) fall under a newer license designation in California since 2012. Their educational requirements are similar to that of the longer-standing MFT license in California. While completing internship hours of experience, they would practice as Professional Clinical Counselor Interns (PCCI).


Licensed Educational Psychologists (LEP) are mental heath professionals who hold a master's degree and are licensed to provide mental health services including assessment, diagnostic testing, and counseling in educational settings for matters related to the learning process or educational setting.  LEPs take post-graduate classes to become credentialed (60 hours) and complete 2-3 years post-graduate internship hours prior to sitting for a state board license exam.  LEPs are also licensed through the state Board of Behavioral Sciences.


Psychologists are mental health professionals who have earned a doctorate degree (either a PhDor a PsyD) and completed an internship as a Psychology Assistant. PhDs will have also completed a dissertation and have a slightly longer degree program than PsyDs; the former being more research oriented and the latter more clinically oriented.  In addition to the services that may be rendered by an MFT or CSW, psychologists can do psychological testing as independent consultants. (MFTs may do psychological testing as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for a client they are seeing).  Psychologists in the United States are licensed by the American Psychological Association.


Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MD) with advanced training in neuroscience and psychology. At present they are the only mental health professionals with authority to prescribe psychotropic medication.  Your MFT may refer you to a psychiatrist for a consultation if it appears that medication may be a useful adjunct to your treatment, and with your written consent, the two mental health professionals would consult in order to coordinate treatment.  Psychiatrists are licensed by the state Medical Board.


Psychotherapist is a term that can refer to any mental health professional that provides therapeutic psychological services, to include MFTs, CSWs, LEPs, and psychologists.  It is not a licensing designation.


Psychoanalyst is a term that refers to a mental health practitioner operating from a Freudian perspective, which involves the subjective application of interpretation to the client's subconscious thoughts, feelings, and motivations, often expressed in dreams or through defense mechanisms.   This term is popular due to its historical place in the development of contemporary psychology; however at present there are numerous philosophical and treatment approaches which may be more client-centered or systems-oriented.  (more about therapeutic approach)