Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) vs Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW)

Both licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) and licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) use counseling best practices to help people overcome challenges and improve their communities’ well-being. To achieve these goals, they each apply a different but complementary skill sets. LCSWs typically work with patients in hospitals and other healthcare settings (e.g., physical therapists, at-home care). LMFTs, on the other hand, often help married couples and families identify problems and propose solutions.

In this article, you can learn how to become an LMFT or LCSW, the professions’ salary and job outlooks, and licensure requirements. Although this article presents the most up-to-date information, be sure to confirm it with your state’s licensure board before planning your career.

LMFT vs LCSW: At a Glance

Job Description
LMFTs talk to clients about problems that strain family relationships. After identifying the underlying cause(s), LMFTs offer strategies and outside resources that clients can use to make adjustments.
LCSWs spend much of their time talking to clients one-on-one in clinical settings. Much of their responsibilities involve determining which social services their clients need.
based on 2018 BLS data
Degree Requirements
Master’s degree
Master’s degree

How to Become an LMFT

Start by researching your state’s requirements for licensure. Licensure requirements include earning a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. Some universities offer these programs entirely online. The best online and on-campus two-year master’s programs use cohort learning models so that students can forge valuable professional relationships.

In class, students analyze child and adolescent development, trauma and crisis counseling, and family systems therapy, among other topics. LMFT master’s programs usually include at least two practical experiences wherein students work under an experienced LMFT.

After earning their degrees, graduates must meet their states’ licensure requirements. Once professionals gain licensure, they can explore career opportunities that maximize their earning potential.

How to Become an LCSW

LCSWs earn a master’s degree in social work or clinical social work. Typical master’s programs include coursework, practica, and internships. During internships earn experience hours that LCSWs need for licensure. Full-time students can complete these programs in approximately two years.

Earning a master’s degree is the first step. Next, counselors must earn licensure. You can learn more about licensure requirements in the last section of this article

After earning licensure, LCSWs can pursue positions in more than just clinical settings. Some LCSWs who specialize in children and young adults work in schools.

LMFT Salary and Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that between 2016-2026, the need for LMFTs should increase by 23%, more than three times the average projected growth rate for all professions. However, as job growth does not occur evenly throughout the country, you should also research the states and metropolitan areas that employ the highest number of LMFTs.

As of May 2018, Hawaii, Maine, Colorado, New Jersey, and Utah offer the highest average salaries for LMFTs: $70,960-$79,660 – more than $20,000 more per year than the national average. These salaries reflect both these states’ costs of living and their need for highly trained therapists. However, aspiring LMFTs living in other states should not consider moving until they research whether their states’ average salary can support their lifestyle.

LCSW Salary and Job Outlook

According to the BLS, the average social worker in the U.S. earns $49,470 and the social work profession should grow 16% over the period of 2016-2026. These impressive figures demonstrate the continuing need for social workers in the mdoern landscape. It is also worth notinfg that LSCW salaries often exceed the average for all social workers, as earning the license includes rigorous education, experience, passing exams, and recertification requirements.

As of May 2018, LCSWs in California, New York, Florida, Massachusetts, and Texas enjoyed the highest salaries. Before you consider moving to one of these states, research the cost of living. More expensive rent, utilities, and other expenses might offset the benefits associated with a higher salary.

LMFT and LCSW Licensure Requirements

After graduating, LCSW licensure candidates spend at least one year working under an LCSW. Tennessee, for example,requires an experienced LCSW to supervise a licensure candidate for 100 hours. Finally, LCSW candidates must pass the Association of Social Work Boards Clinical Exam. Your state may require a different or additional exam.

LMFTs typically follow a similar path toward licensure. After earning master’s degrees, they must satisfy their states’ licensure requirements. In California, for example, licensure candidates must have a master’s degree, pass the Clinical Vignette Examination, and document 3,000 hours of supervised work experience. For the experience requirement, candidates spend at least 500 hours working with families. Like many states, California allows candidates to start gaining experience hours during their master’s programs.