Career Advice

LCSW vs. LMFT: Job Descriptions and Key Differences

There are various job opportunities available to those who are interested in assisting people in finding solutions to personal problems. Two well-liked professions that concentrate on assisting people during emotionally trying situations are certified clinical social workers and licensed marital and family therapists. Your choice of career may be influenced by your understanding of the contrasts between these two professions.

For you to make a smart career choice, we will explain what LCSWs and LMFTs are as well as how the two professions differ in this post.

What exactly is a licensed marriage and family therapist?

A trained psychotherapist with a license to practice marital and family therapy (LMFT) specializes in working with families. Additionally, they assist married couples and those with family problems. The ability to identify and treat psychological and emotional illnesses is granted by an LMFT’s licensure.

Relationships are viewed as being of utmost importance in marriage and family therapy while analyzing and treating the health of a patient. These therapists offer counseling to families, spouses, and people of all ages to help them get through life’s obstacles.

LMFTs can deal with anything from major life transitions like death or unemployment to recurring issues like money disputes or parent-child conflict. Many families start seeing therapists to deal with their emotions, work through work issues, or talk about household responsibilities like taking care of kids or aging parents.

LMFTs use their patients’ stories to identify and treat mental and emotional issues. The therapist determines what has compromised the patient’s health and how they might collaborate to restore it via psychotherapy and other techniques.

If an LMFT thinks that the patient’s medical issue can be treated with medication, they could work with a psychiatrist to develop a treatment plan. Averaging 12 sessions per family, LMFT is a temporary solution-based approach. To establish attainable objectives for their interactions, the therapist collaborates with the patient or family members.

Additionally, they receive instruction on how to comprehend and assist families with problems like:

  • Alcoholism and addiction
  • Domestic abuse
  • Divorce
  • Marital problems
  • Abandonment

Licensed marital and family therapists make an average of $62,589 per year.

How to Get a Job as an LMFT (Licensed Marital and Family Therapist)

An LMFT or MFT, also known as a licensed marriage and family therapist, works with people of all ages to address negative behaviors and circumstances that lead to relationship difficulties and personal hardships. A job in marital and family counseling may be a suitable fit for you if you appreciate assisting others in improving their quality of life and creating strong bonds with one another. Finding out more about LMFTs and your options for pursuing this career might help you decide if it’s the best choice for you.

How to train as a family and marriage counselor

Here are the six common steps you can take to become a certified marital and family therapist:

1. Obtain a bachelor’s degree

Getting a bachelor’s degree is the initial requirement for becoming an LFMT. You can become ready to take advanced training in these disciplines at the professional level by studying an area of study like psychology, sociology, social work, or another related discipline in the humanities and social sciences. Typically, four years of full-time study are required to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Being an LFMT normally requires a master’s degree or above to practice, so if you’re an undergraduate interested in this line of work, be aware of that fact. Although many master’s programs allow applicants with bachelor’s degrees in other fields, others may favor applicants with previous experience in psychology or the social sciences.

While you are still an undergraduate, think about considering looking into master’s programs to find out about the requirements so you can enroll in courses that will assist you be admitted into your top choice school. As an undergraduate, you might emphasize the following courses:

  • Research techniques
  • Statistics
  • Human advancement
  • Psychology
  • Family Research

2. Complete a master’s program.

It’s essential to have a master’s degree if you want to work as a family and marriage therapist. A professional degree can help you acquire the knowledge and abilities necessary to carry out diagnostic evaluations and develop treatment strategies for patients with psychological conditions.

Graduate programs in psychology and counseling frequently provide a range of specializations, such as social work, family counseling, research, aging and development, and substance use counseling, It’s critical to pick a program with a concentration on family and marriage counseling as many of them offer a specialty or emphasis in one of these areas.

Two years of full-time study are typically required to earn a master’s degree in family and marriage therapy. Throughout their degree, students study classroom-based courses and conduct practical clinical training.

You might also take part in research or run your research project, depending on the curriculum. When choosing a program, be sure to pick a university that is accredited. Consider the following accreditations while picking a university:

  • Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
  • Master’s in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC)
  • Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)

3. Finish your clinical hours.

The quantity of clinical hours you must accrue as part of your license requirements is set by your state. While some states demand 1,000 hours, others demand 3,000. Your clinical experience gives you the chance to put what you’ve studied into practice while being supervised by a qualified practitioner. You can select any location that provides services for mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders, including private offices, colleges, nonprofits, and charities.

4. Acquire a state license.

The National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) or the Marriage & Family Therapist (MFT) National Exam administered by the Association of Marital & Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) is the two exams that every state requires licensed marriage and family therapists to pass.

You might be able to select the exam you take in your state, but before you study, be sure you meet these and any additional requirements. Programs for obtaining a license differ from state to state, and requirements may alter over time.

5. Decide on a workplace

While completing your education or gaining clinical experience, you may pick where to start your professional life in marriage and family therapy. Serving at a medical center or treatment facility, a private practice, an in-home care setting, or a telehealth setting are a few options.

Think about the clinical groups you are most interested in counseling when selecting an environment. For instance, although some LMFTs favor working with families, others prefer working with single clients. Additionally, you might favor working with certain ages, like adults or teenagers.

6. Keep on learning.

The last stage in becoming a certified marital and family therapist is still being completed. For your license to be renewed annually or every two years, you must complete a set amount of continuing education credits provided by the state.

Which activities—whether online classes, workshops, or managing others in a clinical setting—meet this criterion depends on your state. By training new clinicians for these credits, you can advance the field and your skill set. Maintaining current knowledge of clinical best practices requires continuing your education.

What exactly is a licensed clinical social worker?

A licensed individual who assists people in locating the services and support they require is known as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Although LCSWs can offer direct support, they typically become aware of regional support networks and use this information to steer their clients toward the resources that will most likely help them resolve a problem. LCSWs’ areas of specialization can include:

  • Mental Health
  • School-based social work
  • Households with children
  • Abuse of drugs
  • Kid removal

A licensed clinical social worker’s yearly pay is on average $68,777.

Various social work levels

You can pursue careers in one of the following three levels of social work:

Micro social work

To address issues with mental health and behavioral behavior, micro-social work entails collaborating with individuals, couples, families, and other small groups. These social workers may work for an organization where a doctor may watch their therapy sessions and provide the client medication based on their circumstances and condition. Additionally, micro-social workers have the option of opening a private practice.

Social work in a mezzo

Mezzo social work is carried out in a group setting. In most cases, these social workers work with family groupings and don’t provide individual counseling. This level employs an integrated model, which means they combine their community work, administrative, and assessment skills with their social work and group capabilities. These people frequently work on several projects at once, which calls for great multitasking abilities and attention to detail.

Macro social work

Macro-level social workers typically deal with the community, the government, or other major client systems. Their main areas of interest are policy administration, leadership, and community organization. The major objective of macro social work is to address systemic issues that have an impact on vast populations and cultures.

Social worker obligations

Social workers often have the following roles, though these can vary depending on their employer, area, or specialty:

  • Consult with clients to determine their needs and circumstances
  • Obtain patient data to determine the most effective course of therapy or counseling.
  • Supporting clients going through difficulties, like being unemployed
  • Directing customers to other resources or experts
  • Keeping track of clients’ development and keeping case files
  • Encourage clients to speak up for local needs by acting as an advocate for them
  • Collaborate with groups or legislators to create or implement social initiatives or local resources for social change

The distinctions between LMFTs and LCSWs

Although LMFTs and LCSWs can assist people in resolving comparable personal concerns, there are several distinctions between both of these fields that you should take into account:


LCSWs are required to hold a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in social work or a closely related subject. Licensing organizations demand that social workers obtain their degrees from institutions that have been approved by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

LMFTs may complete a bachelor’s degree program in psychology, psychotherapy, or a similar subject. A master’s degree in marriage and family therapy is required to practice as a licensed professional in the field. To obtain their license, LMFTs must also graduate from a university that has been approved by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE).

Training LMFTs are required to finish an internship with a certified marital and family therapist. To get expertise in treating people, trainees must invest a specific amount of time—which differs by state—in one-on-one sessions with clients. Additionally, interns gain expertise in:

  • Patient triage
  • Setting up meetings
  • Screening, evaluating, and analyzing clients
  • Recognition and therapy for mental illnesses
  • Directing therapy sessions for families, kids, and individuals

LCSWs are likewise required to conduct supervised internships, albeit the focus of their education extends beyond family therapy. Internships for LCSWs may give them exposure to:

  • Promoting social justice
  • Client counseling
  • Gathering health histories
  • Keeping client health records up to date
  • Counseling similar groups, such as racial or gender-based groups
  • Collaborating with neighborhood support groups, such as drug rehab centers
  • Choosing the assistance systems that could aid a client the most

Certification and licensing

Both LCSWs and LMFTs are required to obtain licenses. Each of these licenses needs:

  • Obtaining a master’s degree
  • Getting an internship done
  • Completing the state licensing test

These standards are relatively similar across the nation, albeit they vary significantly between states.

These permits, however, provide each position with extremely varied abilities. While LCSWs are qualified to operate in hospitals and clinics, their licensing only permits them to advise their clients. A licensed LMFT is qualified to diagnose mental health conditions, provide medical advice, and recommend treatments.

Areas of emphasis

LCSWs study a variety of economic and social groups, problems, and potential solutions both in the classroom and during their training. As they start their careers, this affords them a variety of possibilities. Although LCSWs can focus on particular problems, they can practice their specialty in one of three general areas. These include:

  • Micro: The LCSW may meet with people and smaller groups for individual therapy sessions in this section, which focuses on them.
  • Mezzo: In this field, the emphasis is on broader social or economic groups. This includes ethnic and gender categories, those who are struggling financially, as well as other groups that enable the LCSW to concentrate on more significant societal issues.
  • Macro: In this field, LCSWs indirectly support large-scale social issues. This typically entails collaborating with governments and other organizations to support local, regional, state, and even national organizations in need.

LMFTs frequently limit their attention to the “micro” realm, providing one-on-one counseling to people and families.

Job Responsibilities

LMFTs often carry out the following daily tasks:

  • Talking with customers about their mental health
  • Assisting clients in processing their emotions and assisting them in developing healthy responses to stimuli
  • Assisting clients in choosing healthful options
  • Making use of other beneficial sources if necessary
  • Keeping and updating customer records

LCSWs may complete the following duties on a regular day:

  • Identifying those who require assistance
  • Studying clients to determine their requirements and current situation
  • Having discussions with medical experts to determine diagnoses and remedies
  • Choosing the social initiatives that will best assist clients
  • Supporting the relatives of clients

Working environment

Many LMFTs run their private practices. However, some people can work in places like:

  • Hospitals
  • Healthcare facilities

Government institutions

  • Corporations
  • Rehab centers
  • Schools

The type of environment an LCSW works in varies on their chosen field of study. Like their LMFT colleagues, some social workers are employed by schools and medical facilities. Additionally, they may work in their practice. Most have a place of business open for clients to drop by, although they can also hang out in:

  • Psychiatric facilities
  • Childcare facilities
  • Facilities for socioeconomic group assistance, like homeless shelters
  • Facilities for the treatment of drug abuse
  • Prisons, government structures


Both LMFTs and LCSWs need a specific set of abilities. Some talents are comparable, while others are unique to their line of work. Social workers and therapists must both exhibit:

  • Empathy
  • Active hearing
  • Successful communication
  • Patience

Additional abilities that LMFTs may find useful include:

  • Comprehensive understanding of psychological and psychology interventions
  • Addressing complicated problems
  • Negotiation
  • System research
  • Utilizing science as a guide

Skills that LCSWs find beneficial include:

  • Networking
  • Advocacy
  • Creating boundaries
  • Care coordination
  • Understanding of intervention techniques


In conclusion, LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) and LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist) are both vital professions in the field of mental health. While there are similarities in their job descriptions and areas of expertise, there are key differences that set them apart. LCSWs focus on providing comprehensive social work services to individuals, families, and communities, with an emphasis on addressing social and environmental factors.

LMFTs specialize in providing therapy and counseling to couples and families, focusing on relationship dynamics and family systems. Understanding the distinctions between these professions can help individuals choose the right path based on their interests and career goals. Both LCSWs and LMFTs play crucial roles in supporting the mental well-being of individuals, families, and communities, contributing to the overall improvement of mental health in society.

Frequently Asked Questions about LCSW vs. LMFT

  • Are LMFTs qualified to make diagnoses of mental health issues?

Individual, child, and adult psychotherapy is a treatment modality used by licensed marital and family therapists to identify and address mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Additionally, they offer services for group, family, and relationship therapy.

Following the completion of their licensure requirements and the acquisition of a master’s degree, these practitioners are qualified to treat mental health disorders. A professional degree gives them the ability to perform psychological assessments, which entails mastering the use of diagnostic instruments to provide precise examinations.

  • How are psychologists and psychiatrists different from therapists?

A person’s mental, emotional, and behavioral health are all things that therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists work to help with. Clinical work is conducted similarly by therapists and psychologists. A licensed therapist is qualified to make diagnoses and provide treatments after earning a master’s degree and putting in a sizable amount of supervised clinical time. A psychologist is a person with a Ph.D. in psychology who can perform research or provide clinical treatment. Psychologists and therapists are unable to suggest or write prescriptions for drugs.

A medical degree must be followed by a four-year residency in psychiatry before a psychiatrist can practice, therefore they are regarded as medical doctors. They may concentrate on chemistry problems in the brain and can also prescribe medication. Like a psychologist or therapists, they can offer therapy and counseling services in addition to prescription psychiatric drugs. Additionally, some psychiatrists may engage in professional consulting or research activities.

  • How much do family and marital counselors typically make?

A family therapist makes, on average, $66,647 a year. Your geographic location, place of employment, amount of education, duration of experience, and area of specialty or subspecialty can all affect your compensation. An experienced expert who owns a clinic, for instance, might make more money than a recent college graduate who is employed by a small family practice. Additionally, LFMT can increase its income by earning credentials in specialist fields, like pediatric counseling.

  • What are the employment prospects for family and marital counselors?

At present, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that between 2021 and 2031, employment for marital and family therapists would increase by 14%. The expansion in comprehensive medical services, which take into account physical as well as psychological treatments for individuals, and the increased social acceptability of mental health therapy may be two factors contributing to this growth. There will undoubtedly be a greater need for qualified specialists as more patients seek out mental health treatment.

  • What is the main difference between an LCSW and an LMFT?

An LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) and an LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist) have different areas of focus in their work. LCSWs address social and environmental factors that impact individuals, families, and communities, while LMFTs specialize in providing therapy and counseling specifically for couples and families.

  • Can an LCSW work with couples and families, or is that exclusive to LMFTs?

While an LCSW’s primary focus is on addressing social issues and providing support to individuals, families, and communities, they can also work with couples and families as part of their practice. However, LMFTs receive specialized training in couples and family therapy and typically have a more concentrated focus on relationship dynamics and family systems.

Note: It’s important to remember that licensing requirements and scope of practice may vary by state or country. It’s recommended to consult the specific regulations and guidelines of the relevant licensing board for accurate and up-to-date information.

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