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What is the Difference Between an LCSW and an LMFT?

The roles of a clinical social worker (LCSW) and marriage and a family therapist (LMFT) can overlap, but there are still major differences between both fields. Pacific Oaks College offers programs for a LMFT degree as well as LCSW.

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Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) both work with clients to support their day-to-day lives and total mental wellness. Despite their similarities, these two professions entail very different education, licensure, and overall career paths.

What is an LMFT?

A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) is a certified health care professional who has typically graduated with a master’s LMFT degree in counseling. Marriage and family therapists are trained to help families and couples identify and treat personal and interpersonal problems including depression, parent-child conflicts, drug and alcohol abuse, anxiety, and more.

LMFTs diagnose and identify the causes of strains in relationships and then apply psychotherapeutic techniques to counsel and offer solutions to clients.

LMFTs work in several settings, including private practice, government agencies, psychiatric hospitals, outpatient centers, and other institutions. The process of becoming licensed in marriage and family therapy allows MFT degree holders to validate their qualifications according to an objective standard and practice at a state level.

Learn more about what does LMFT mean and how to become a marriage and family therapy counselor here.


What is a LMFT Degree?

The LMFT degree will certify you to be licensed as a health care professional that helps identify and diagnose interpersonal issues that many families face. Pacific Oaks College offers a Master’s LMFT degree program to prepare graduates to sit for the Marriage and Family Therapy California exam.

What is an LCSW?

Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) hold a master’s degree in social work and are licensed to provide diagnoses and counseling services to individuals suffering from mental, behavioral, and other emotional issues. Social workers often work on a one-on-one basis with clients in clinical practices, schools, and various other settings where clinical work is required. These professionals employ the use of psychological diagnosis, evaluations, and treatment that provide clients with the resources and plans to move toward better lives.

Discover how to become a licensed social worker in California here.

LCSW vs. LMFT: What’s the Difference?

The “social worker or therapist” confusion exists because both professions offer care and counseling to clients. Both LCSWs and LMFTs may employ diagnostic and counseling techniques to provide solutions to clients in similar sectors, like health care, private practice, government agencies, and more.

However, there are key differences between both practices, including:

  • Clientele: LMFTs are trained to focus their services on families, couples, parent-child relationships, while LCSWs are more focused on individuals and community work.
  • Licensure: Licensure requirements vary between marriage and family therapists and clinical social workers. While licensure will vary state to state, LMFTs and LCSWs will likely be licensed under different boards, each with their unique prerequisites for practice hours, education, testing, and more.
  • Education: Both professions require a master’s degree to practice. However, the specific concentration varies. LCSWs require a degree in Social Work, while an LMFT will likely require a master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy to properly equip them with behavioral therapy techniques to effectively provide solutions to clients.

What can I do with an LMFT or LCSW Degree?

An MFT of CSW degree will give aspiring health care professionals the preparation and knowledge to become licensed after taking the respective state exams. Each degree program is separate but offers similar courses and training for students. Visit us to find out what you can expect in the LMFT degree or LCSW program pathways.

LCSW and LMFT degree paths

Pacific Oaks College offers a variety of master’s degree programs in Marriage and Family Therapy, each with its own specialization meant to address the needs of specific groups, including LGBTQIA+, Trauma Studies, Latinx families, and African American families.

Our bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in social work prepare graduates for successful careers as Licensed Clinical Social Workers. The BSW and MSW programs are designed to provide a holistic look at the practice by providing a social justice lens and access to urban and rural practice opportunities.

Request more information about our programs today!


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