Overarching Guidelines to Consider
If you’ve been in the field of mental health for a while, it’s likely you have received awards, honors, certifications, and at least one license to practice in addition to your academic degrees.
All those post-nominal credentials can be confusing to the general public and maybe even to you.
Just in case you didn’t know . . . there is etiquette and a preferred order to list your qualifications so that your business card and letterhead don’t look like alphabet soup.
And, to complicate matters, the proper way to list your credentials varies from country to country!
Here are some overarching guidelines for mental health professionals in the United States to remember:
- In mental health, you should never list more than three credentials after your name on your business card.
I know you’ve worked hard for them but just don’t do
Wrong: Ashley R. Dorr, MA, LCAT, CAC-II,
Right: Ashley R. Dorr, MA, LCAT, ATR-BC
- If you do have more than three credentials, you can still can include as many as you wish in the following circumstances:
- When you are being introduced for a presentation you are giving,
- In the appropriate areas of your resume / vita i.e. under the section noting education you can include Doctor of Jurisprudence (JD) or Master in Business Administration (MBA), and
- In legal and legislative settings.
- You have the option of spelling out your credentials or using post-nominals for all or some; however, you should not spell them out and use post-nominals. [Thanks, Chris Swenson, for the reminder!]
Wrong: Chris Swenson, MS, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family
Right: Chris Swenson, MS, LMFT or
Chris Swenson, MS
Licensed Marriage and Family
- Legal documents (like progress notes and contracts) only require that you include the credential(s) required by the state to practice in your discipline.
- Use consistent punctuation across all credentials.
Wrong: Angela Koenig, M.Ed., LPC
Right: Angela Koenig, MEd, LPC
- When post-nominal letters are used, do not use courtesy titles such as Dr., Ms., Miss, Mr., or Mrs..
Wrong: Ms. Jennifer Whitlock, MEd, LPC, ACS
Right: Jennifer Whitlock, MEd, LPC, ACS or
Ms. Jennifer Whitlock
Credentials to Exclude
Many of you have chosen mental health as a second career choice.
In doing so, your clinical work is quite possibly informed by a lengthy and successful training / work history that includes your experience in other fields such as human resources, business, education, information technology, medicine, and / or law.
Such academic and work histories are not typically recognized by licensing and certifying bodies in mental health as qualifying you for clinical, educational and / or supervisory work in mental health.
Although you may have worked hard in those other areas, it’s important to remember that it can be considered unethical and illegal to include degrees alongside your name that are not directly related to the work you do in the field of mental health.
Language commonly associated with such practices includes ” misrepresentation of credentials,” “deceptive advertising,” “fraud” and “false advertising.” [updated 06-22-17]
How to List Your Credentials
First – Highest Degree Earned
The first credential listed after your name on your business card should always be the highest degree earned (not an honorary degree) in your field.
That’s because this is considered to be a permanent credential that cannot be taken away from you except under highly unusual circumstances.
Wrong: Melissa Gressner, BS, MA, PsyD
Right: Melissa Gressner, PsyD
Second – Credentials That are Required
The second credential that should be noted is your license or other state requirements that enable practice in the field of mental health.
Typically, this credential permits you to practice or practice in a more advanced capacity as in independent practitioner and / or in a training / supervisory capacity.
Wrong: Megha Pulianda, LPC-I, MS
Right: Megha Pulianda, MS, LPC-I
Third – National Certifications
The third credential to be listed should be any national certifications that are voluntarily sought and awarded by accredited / legitimate certifying bodies.
These credentials are typically listed in the order of difficulty to obtain and begin with the most difficult.
Certifications such as NCC, CAC, and CBT are included in this category.
Wrong: Christine J. Harris, MS, CBT, LMFT
Right: Christine J. Harris, MS, LMFT, CBT
Fourth – Outstanding Achievements
The fourth type of credential that can be added to your business card / letterhead includes any type of awards and honors that recognize your outstanding achievements
Wrong: Perry Little, PhD, AP-LS Fellow, RDT
Right: Perry Little, PhD, RDT, AP-LS Fellow
Fifth – Additional Skills
And, the last type of credential that you may consider adding to your business card is any other mental health-related certifications that recognize additional skills that you have earned.
But, remember – only three credentials total!
Otherwise, it starts to look like alphabet soup!
Final Thoughts on Listing Mental Health Credentials
Have I forgotten to address something related to listing your credentials or confused you in some way?
I don’t claim to be the all-knowing style guide on this issue but I’m happy to help if I can!
Let me know if you’ve still got questions.
And, if you do notice that you’ve been doing it all wrong, then just bite the bullet and go have some new business cards printed up!
That’s better than colleagues and clients thinking that you’re a little confused about displaying the credentials you’ve earned!