Comparing the LCSW, LMFT, LPCC, and Clinical Psychologist

mhaThe distinctions between LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist), LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), LPCC (Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor) and Clinical Psychologist (PsyD, PhD) have kept me baffled for months before I began the graduate application process. Having graduated with a B.S. in Clinical Psychology, I knew that I wanted to practice therapy, but this variety of options were overwhelming in the ways they differed and aligned. In this brief post I’ll summarize my understanding of the different licenses, and why I selected the LCSW path. 

  • An LMFT works in counseling (general prerequisites are a MA in Counseling or a MFT degree). LMFT’s observe the relational and social contexts of psychological issues, and frequently provide marriage therapy, group therapy and host support groups. Supervision hours are required before obtaining licensure, but they do not necessarily have to be by another LMFT.
    • According to the Board of Behavioral Sciences, marriage/family therapy is “a service performed with individuals, couples, or groups wherein interpersonal relationships are examined for the purpose of achieving more adequate, satisfying, and productive marriage and family adjustments.”
  • An LCSW can practice in any of the 50 states, and works in clinical settings (general prerequisites are a MSW). LCSW’s practice both group and individual therapy, also working in psychotherapy for locations handling severe mental illness such as outpatient hospital units. LCSW’s focus on connecting an individual to resources they need in the community, these being both internal (healthy skills, coping mechanisms, positive thought processes) and external (local support groups, therapy interventions, locations with services available). Supervision hours are required, and must be under a LCSW. A LCSW can diagnose and assess for mental illness while LPCC’s and LMFT’s can only treat existing diagnoses.
    • According to the Board of Behavioral Sciences, clinical social work is “a service in which a special knowledge of social resources, human capabilities, and the part that unconscious motivation plays in determining behavior, is directed at helping people to achieve more adequate, satisfying, and productive social adjustments.”
  • An LPCC focuses on the individual and the development issues, such as seeing what underpinnings and roots lead to the overall person to date and how problems can be remedied by looking through the past. (General prerequisites are a MA in Counseling or MFT). This license originated from career and school counseling.
    • According to the Board of Behavorial Sciences, professional clinical counseling is “the application of counseling interventions and psychotherapeutic techniques to identify and remediate cognitive, mental, and emotional issues, including personal growth, adjustment to disability, crisis intervention, and psychosocial and environmental problems”
  • A Clinical Psychologist can diagnose and test for psychological issues and mental disorders, such as psychometric assessments. (General prerequisites are a PsyD or a PhD). This degree is also for individuals largely interested in academia and research along with therapy practice, because the doctorate degree involves running independent research and presenting a thesis. Aside from clinical psychologists, only LCSW’s can diagnose and assess for mental illness, but PsyD/PhD’s are the only ones who can issue tests and psychometric assessments.

I ultimately chose to pursue a LCSW because of its holistic nature in mental well-being, and also out of respect for the non-profit and community advocacy work that many social workers do aside from clinical practice. In addition, I want to practice in not only therapy, but also in diagnosis and assessment, which LCSW’s are extensively trained for.

In terms of schools, I was in between eight MSW programs during my selection process. I ultimately selected the University of Michigan because of its incredible social work program, and a generous full ride scholarship offer that came with my admission. Though still undecided about academic pursuits afterwards, such as continuing onward to pursue a PsyD, I am certain that I want to prepare as thoroughly as possible for working in counseling and therapy. Regardless, any of these options would have helped me prepare for the career I want, devoting my life to treating mental illness and practicing therapy with individuals in need. The distinctions are indeed tricky, so if you do have any questions about differentiating degrees or are in the middle of a selection process yourself, I’m happy to help in any way I can. In addition, if I left anything out, please don’t hesitate to let me know (as I am in no way an expert on the differences between these licenses).


Behavioral Care Services. (n.d.). How to select a Therapist. Retrieved May 16, 2018, from

Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS). (n.d.). General Info & Requirements: State of California. Retrieved May, 2018, from

Caldwell, B. (2015, July 16). What’s the difference between an MFT, LPCC, and LCSW? Retrieved May 16, 2018, from

MFT California. (n.d.). LMFT vs. LCSW vs. LPCC vs. LEP (and PPS): The Alphabet Soup of Mental Health Professions in California. Retrieved May, 2018, from

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“Indeed, the capacity to tolerate uncertainty is a prerequisite for the profession. Therapists have a dual role: they must both observe and participate in the lives of their patients. As observer, one must be sufficiently objective to provide necessary rudimentary guidance to the patient. As participant, one enters into the life of the patient and is affected and sometimes changed by the encounter.”

“How much of life have I missed, he wondered, simply by failing to look? Or by looking and not seeing?”

— Irvin D. Yalom, MD, “Love’s Executioner”