Mental Health

The Benefits of Working with a Provisionally-Licensed Mental Health Therapist

By December 18, 2023March 22nd, 2024No Comments

Whether you’re choosing a psychotherapist for the very first time or are interested in making a change from your current therapist, one important decision is whether to work with one who is provisionally-licensed or fully-licensed. People can sometimes feel hesitant about working with a provisionally-licensed psychotherapist, thinking they’d prefer a fully-licensed clinician or someone with more experience. These sentiments are common first reactions, but are usually based on a lack of information. In fact, provisionally-licensed clinicians have the knowledge and skills needed to provide high-quality, effective treatment for a wide range of clients and concerns. Plus, there are several important benefits to working with them!

This blog provides insight into: (1) what ‘fully-licensed’ and ‘provisionally-licensed’ mean, (2) how the licensure process works; and (3) some of the benefits of working with provisionally-licensed therapists that you may not have considered.

What Do Those Letters Even Mean?
While researching therapist bios online, reviewing health insurance provider directories etc., you may notice a cluster of letters at the end of a therapist’s name. These acronyms can be confusing if you aren’t familiar with the field of psychotherapy, but understanding them can be helpful for your therapist search because they can provide details about a therapist’s coursework, training, specialties, additional certifications, licensure status, etc.

Here are some of the more common psychotherapy designations / certifications you may run across as you research psychotherapists, and what they represent:

  • MA (Master of Arts): a graduate degree focused in the humanities, social sciences or fine arts, required in order to apply for a counseling license or to a PsyD program
  • MAAT (Master of Arts Art Therapy): graduate level degree with an emphasis in Counseling
  • MS (Master of Science): a graduate degree focused on research or analysis, or for an opportunity to apply for a counseling license or a PhD program
  • LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor): denotes licensed with a Master’s degree in counseling
  • LCPC (Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor): denotes licensed with a Master’s degree in counseling. This is a higher designation than an LPC, and is often required for supervisory / management positions.
  • MSW (Master of Social Work): a graduate level degree
  • LSW (Licensed Social Worker): a trained MSW who has passed their examination(s) for licensure
  • LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker): additional state licensure designation (often required for supervisory / management positions) available after earning an MSW and corresponding state license (LSW)
  • QMHP (Qualified Mental Health Professional): a Master’s level mental health professional who has completed a defined number of clinical hours and is licensed to provide counseling and therapy.
  • PhD (Doctor of Philosophy): a postgraduate degree culminating in the creation, submission, presentation and defense of a research dissertation. It is similar to the PsyD.
  • PhD-L (Licensed Doctor of Philosophy): licensed PhD level therapist
  • PsyD (Doctor of Psychology): a postgraduate degree that usually requires a dissertation or equivalent doctoral project. It is similar to the PhD.
  • PsyD-L (Licensed Doctor of Psychology): licensed PsyD level therapist

Provisionally-Licensed vs. Fully-Licensed Psychotherapists
In the context of psychotherapy, the term “provisionally-licensed therapist” refers to a mental health professional who:

  • Has completed all of their graduate or doctoral-level coursework in psychology, counseling, social work or a related field,
  • Has received their diploma, and
  • Is registered with their future licensing board to provide mental health services under supervision

The licensure process for psychotherapy works similarly to a medical residency for doctors. Provisionally-licensed psychotherapists have completed their education and are highly qualified, but are still gaining the professional experience (between 1,500 and 6,000 of supervised clinical hours, depending on the state) that’s required before they can take the Board licensure exam(s) and practice independently.

In contrast, a “fully licensed therapist” refers to a mental health professional who was previously provisionally-licensed, but has since:

  • Completed the required number of supervised clinical hours,
  • Taken and passed their board licensing exam(s), and
  • Received and now holds an active license to practice independently in their state

Group psychotherapy practices and other organizations that provide mental health counseling services (e.g. hospitals, in-patient / out-patient psychiatric facilities, community health centers, other counseling centers, etc.) can hire provisionally-licensed psychotherapists to work with clients under supervision. During a usually-specified period of time, provisionally-licensed therapists accrue the hours of clinical experience needed to become eligible for their licensure exam(s). In the state of Illinois, where IntraSpectrum Counseling’s offices are located, the average number of hours required by the professional boards is approximately 3,100 hours. Provisionally-licensed therapists also spend at least one hour a week in supervision with an experienced and fully-licensed clinician, who guides them and helps them develop skills and experience. And many, like the provisionally-licensed therapists at IntraSpectrum Counseling, may spend more time in consultations throughout each week, refining their skills and approaches.

The Therapists at IntraSpectrum Counseling
At IntraSpectrum Counseling, our team of skilled and devoted clinicians includes both fully-licensed and provisionally-licensed therapists:

  • We support the hiring and development of provisionally-licensed clinicians – it’s consistent with our adherence to a medical model and our mission to expand access to, and awareness of, affirming mental health services
  • We recognize the value of provisionally-licensed and fully-licensed clinicians, to our clients and to furthering the base of knowledge in mental health treatment and theory

IntraSpectrum Counseling’s Pre-Licensure program employs provisionally-licensed therapists (post-graduate fellows who have their degree and are registered with their state licensing board to provide mental health counseling services under supervision). We are extremely selective in our hiring process, and we closely supervise each provisionally-licensed clinician to ensure quality of treatment and adherence to state requirements. In addition to providing supervision, our Licensure Training Program meets weekly to continue the clinical development of provisionally-licensed clinicians covering an array of topics such as LGBTQ+ identities, kink-friendly sex positivity, and intersectionality.

Benefits of Seeing a Provisionally-Licensed Psychotherapist
Here’s why we think it’s a great idea to consider working with a provisionally-licensed therapist:

  1. Provisionally-licensed therapists get ongoing clinical guidance from an experienced, licensed therapist. Provisionally-licensed therapists meet on a weekly basis with their supervisor, who is an experienced, fully-degreed and fully-licensed therapist. Supervision can be thought of as a version of “two heads are better than one”. You see your provisionally-licensed therapist weekly, and they consult with their supervisor, who offers clinical guidance and may have additional insights about how to help you feel better and achieve your goal for therapy. Supervision also increases a provisionally-licensed clinician’s confidence in their own abilities, and helps them apply their training and expertise to you and your treatment plan. All of this means that as a client, you have additional attention and care devoted to you outside of your sessions. (NOTE: Part of working with a provisionally-licensed therapist is understanding that they will consult / share information about clients with their supervisor and / or director. This is detailed in the informed consent form that new clients sign as part of onboarding).
  2. Provisionally-licensed therapists are typically more affordable. Provisionally-licensed therapists often have lower session rates than their licensed counterparts, which can mean significant financial savings when you consider the long-term costs of seeking treatment. And for people with high-deductible insurance plans, paying out-of-pocket for a provisionally-licensed therapist sometimes saves you money versus submitting those sessions through your health insurance plan.
  3. Provisionally-licensed therapists usually have more schedule flexibility. They may have more open spaces on their calendar, fewer pre-existing long-term clients to work around, and / or more weekend / evening session availability.
  4. Provisionally-licensed therapists tend to make better connections with younger clients. Sometimes, it takes a younger clinician to connect with kids and teens, and since most provisionally-licensed therapists are just joining the field they can often fulfill this need / preference. Children and adolescents are sometimes hesitant to start counseling, or can be reserved and resistant to opening up. A younger clinician can help them let down their guard and feel more able to trust, connect and share.
  5. Provisionally-licensed therapists are up-to-date on the newest research. As they’re more recently educated and trained, provisionally-licensed therapists often have insight into the latest modalities, best practices and approaches to therapy. (NOTE: fully-licensed clinicians further this training through enrolling in mandatory Continuing Education offerings).
  6. Provisionally-licensed therapists have awareness of affirming competencies. Provisionally-licensed therapists who are just joining the field benefit from the most current teachings on competencies such as multiculturalism, LGBTQ+ identities, kink-friendly sex positivity, child / adolescent support, burn-out and counselor self-care. At IntraSpectrum, our Licensure Training Program continues our provisionally-licensed therapists’ clinical development on these topics, and our fully-licensed therapists further these competencies through mandatory Continuing Education courses.
  7. Provisionally-licensed therapists bring fresh energy and enthusiasm. They are ideally motivated to use their education, training and experience to help their clients enhance their lives and support their mental health journeys.

Conclusion: include provisionally-licensed therapists in your search!

We hope this information is helpful as you decide on a new therapist. Remember that a trusting relationship with your therapist is the most important consideration, and is the key to effective therapy. Thankfully, trust can just as readily be found with a provisionally-licensed therapist as with a fully-licensed one. And by opening your search to provisionally-licensed therapists, you’ll have a larger pool of candidates to consider and may be able to connect with a new therapist more quickly.


IntraSpectrum Counseling is Chicago’s leading psychotherapy practice dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community, and we strive to provide the highest quality mental health care for multicultural, identity, kink, polyamorous, and intersectional issues. Click the links for more information about choosing a psychotherapist and getting started with therapy. And for anyone needing affirming and validating support (or even just answers to a few questions), please click here, email us at, or leave a message on our callback line: 312-379-9476.