If you are seeking a therapist, you will likely encounter a variety of titles and acronyms to explain that therapist’s level of licensure. Some may disclose that they are in practicum. Other therapists might disclose that they are “pre-licensed.” So what exactly does all of that mean? This blog will explain the difference so you can make the most informed choice for your mental health.

To become a therapist, an individual must obtain an undergraduate and graduate degrees. One can take a few degree paths to become a therapist: social work, clinical mental health, integrative psychology, marriage and family, and others. Whichever graduate program they choose, they must have some pre-graduate and post-graduate experience before applying for their license.


A practicum therapist—sometimes called an intern—is an individual who is still in the process of obtaining their graduate degree. They have generally taken most, if not all, of their required credits and are ready to apply their knowledge in the field. A practicum intern receives therapy training and works under the mentorship of their assigned supervisor to ensure that they are practicing ethically and effectively. If you are seeing a therapist who is in practicum, it’s like you are getting TWO therapists for the price of one. Having a supervisor means that extra individuals are involved in ensuring you receive the best treatment possible. Practicum students often receive training on the latest therapy models and are privy to the most recent updates in the field of psychotherapy.


Once a practicum therapist graduates, they can begin working full-time at a therapy site while they accrue the necessary hours to apply for their licensure. Some pre-licensed therapists may have already passed their state licensure exam, in which case, they may describe themselves as “provisionally licensed.” A pre-licensed—or provisionally licensed—therapist still has a supervisor. Because they have more experience and their degree, they are much further along in the process of becoming licensed. You may also see the term “mental health practitioner” as a title for a pre-licensed therapist. This term is very broad and applies to other individuals working in mental health, including skills group leaders, ARMHS workers, and behavioral specialists.


A licensed therapist is the end goal, the finish line! For every therapist, it is the culmination of years of hard work. They have gotten the degrees (some may have even gotten doctorates), written their thesis, passed the required exams, seen a required number of clients, and obtained the necessary number of supervised working hours. The number of hours varies by state and by license. For example, a social worker license must meet different requirements from an alcohol and drug counselor or a marriage and family therapist. Getting to licensure takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Licensed therapists no longer need regular supervision; by this point, they have years of experience. Licensed therapists also offer supervision and mentorship to practicum and pre-licensed therapists.

In summary, the biggest difference in licensure is the amount of time a therapist has been practicing. It is similar to doctors in residency versus licensed MDs. Some individuals are comfortable having a newer doctor, while others feel better with a seasoned professional. At Water’s Edge Counseling & Healing Center, we have therapists at all levels of licensure. Contact us at 952-898-5020 to schedule an appointment with one today.

– Amber Dahl, MA, Therapist (Provisionally Licensed)