LMSW vs. LCSW: What’s the Difference?

 

 
Social work can be a wonderful and rewarding field. However, it is also a much broader field than many people realize. For example, there are many different types of social workers today. One such example is an LMSW vs. LCSW. Both of these can be excellent opportunities to become a social worker. However, there are critical differences between LMSW and LCSW, including requirements, salaries, and career pathways. 

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Similarities Between LMSW and LCSW

While there are real differences between LMSW and LCSW, it is worth noting that there are also extensive similarities between the two. 

First, it is critical to understand that there is no better or worse option here. An LMSW and LCSW are not opposed to the other. Neither has more inherent worth. They are simply different designations for becoming a social worker.  

LMSW is short for Licensed Masters Social Worker. This means that the individual in question has a bachelor's degree and has decided to continue their career in social work, earning a Master's in Social Work. In addition, they have an extensive educational background in the academic and disciplinary fields related to social work. For example, they have studied organizing, therapy, human psychology, clinical psychology, and more. An LMSW can be a temporary license, or it can be a permanent stop in someone's career, one they use in various fields.

LCSW is short for Licensed Clinical Social Worker. This is also a master's level designation, meaning that the individual in question has to earn a Master's in Social Work. They then have to pass whatever state requirements are necessary and pass a national test before earning their LCSW. 

There is no question about the major overlap between the two fields. Both involve helping people. Both have real therapeutic applications and often wind up working extensively in mental health. Both will work with individuals or groups suffering from some trauma or challenge. Both require a master's-level education and must meet hundreds of hours of clinical requirements to obtain their final license. Both are also subjected to extensive state and national certifications. State certifications can vary from state to state. Still, individuals who seek such a license usually have some license portability, meaning they can move their license from one state to the next. This allows for people to travel the country and still practice. 

It is also worth noting that LMSW and LCSW work together to provide patient care. They do not work in opposition but usually coordinate curative efforts to improve the patients' lives they serve. LMSWs and LCSWs can be seen working together in various settings, including private practice, hospitals, primary care offices, and schools. Both would unquestionably work to help vulnerable populations, including individuals with substance abuse problems, mental illness, or who were a victim of difficult life circumstances, such as domestic violence or trauma. 

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Differences Between LMSW and LCSW

However, for all of the similarities, there are real differences between an LMSW vs. LCSW. The differences between an LCSW vs. LMSW are primarily related to the areas in which each focuses its practice. Both can work in providing direct patient care, but an LMSW tends to have a broader scope of work. They will work to coordinate care, deliver resources, and provide more than just psychological care to an individual. By contrast, an LCSW usually remains within the clinical field, providing therapy directly to individuals in need to help them overcome their struggles. 

So, what does that mean in the real world? Consider a young mother who is impoverished, depressed, and needs assistance.

  • In this scenario, a person with an LMSW would be the most likely person to arrive at their home, conduct an intake interview, and point them towards various local and state resources that could help them get the help they need. In addition, the LMSW would coordinate transportation, help set up job interviews, and direct the individual toward social services. They certainly COULD provide therapy, but...
  • ...that role is more likely to be filled by an LCSW. In this scenario, the LCSW would likely make referrals and help someone find ways they could get more than just help. Still, they would not necessarily be the ones to provide broader assistance beyond psychological treatment and therapy. 

There are also some hierarchical considerations regarding the differences between the two populations. For example, if an LMSW is going to provide therapy to an individual, they will have to do so under the supervision of someone who is more specifically trained in this area. This may involve a psychiatrist, psychologist, or LCSW trained to supervise an LMSW. But, again, this depends on the specific state in question, as different states have a wide range of differences in terms of what LCSW vs. LMSW can actually do with their licenses. 

LMSW Requirements

When it comes to requirements for earning your MSW, there are a series of steps that you must take. 

First, you must earn a bachelor's degree. You do not HAVE to earn a bachelor's degree in social work, and while many do, there are advantages to not doing so, as it may provide you with a broader educational background and skill set that can benefit your career. However, you do have to earn a Master in Social Work or an MSW. Each state will then have different requirements. These requirements will typically involve passing a licensure test and supervised field hours. These hours will likely be part of a paid program that will enable someone to meet their professional and educational requirements while still working.

These field hours will be done as part of an internship in most cases. Internships typically involve a government, non-profit, or social service agency and are done in conjunction with an academic program. Once that internship is completed, you can take the required licensure exam. In most places throughout the country, the Association of Social Work Boards administers the exam. You can register to take your exam online, and you can then have the exam results sent to other states through their website. 

LCSW Requirements

Again, there are not many differences between LMSW and LCSW regarding requirements. In general, an LCSW vs. LMSW have similar educational and work-related requirements, owing to the very similar nature of their job responsibilities. The main differences are where people have to work and potentially how long that work may occur.

First, like an LMSW, an individual who wants to become an LCSW must obtain a bachelor's degree. Again, a social work bachelor's is not necessary. However, an MSW — Master in Social Work — is required. The classes taken while earning an MSW will involve a variety of educational opportunities related to mental health, coordination of resources, therapeutic techniques, and more. During this time, a potential LCSW candidate can begin to review the specialties they want to pursue and get a better idea of what fields within the LCSW universe they may want to enter.

From here, the requirements get state-specific. Every state has some requirement that requires an individual to complete a certain number of supervised clinical hours. In an LCSW setting, this may mean that you are working directly to provide one-on-one care or coordinate therapeutic options for individuals in need. These hours will be supervised and usually close to 1,000 total hours.  

Once these hours have been completed, you may formally apply for your LCSW license. This will likely involve passing a state-related board exam. 

LMSW vs. LCSW Salary

There are real differences between an LMSW vs. LCSW, despite the overlap in talents, requirements, educational requirements, and skillsets. Regarding MSW vs. MCSW salary, differences remain, although they are not massively significant.

According to Salary.com, the average LCSW in the United States will make roughly $73,000. But, of course, this is a range: Lower-end social workers here will make $64,000, and higher-end LCSW will max out around $89,000. 

Salary.com says that the average LMSW will make $67,000. The lower end of this pay range is $55,000, while the higher end is $80,000. 

This begs the question: Why is there a difference between LMSW and LCSW in terms of salary, given how similar their job duties tend to be? The closest thing to a working theory on why this is the case is due to the specific therapeutic nature that LCSW tends to provide. If they work in a private practice setting, an LCSW can potentially make a decent salary, as their work can be paid in cash or reimbursed by insurance. However, LMSW degree holders tend to work in non-profit or governmental settings, meaning they will not earn quite as much as someone who provides therapy directly. 

Educational Opportunities

Fortunately for individuals interested in obtaining an LMSW or LCSW, ample educational opportunities exist. Hundreds of educational facilities across the country allow students to find an opportunity to contain these degrees. Additionally, as the need for LCSW vs. LMSW continues to explode, there is an increased recognition that educational opportunities must become more flexible. There are also many online opportunities available that can help an individual earn the license of their choosing while also continuing to work in their current job. 

There is no question that these educational opportunities can get expensive and may require an individual to take out student loans to get the degree of their choice. However, many colleges and educational facilities offer scholarship opportunities. Furthermore, many states offer loan forgiveness programs for social workers. This was done as a conscious public policy choice by states, who understand that there is a real shortage of mental health practitioners and social workers. 

As you can see, while there are differences between LMSW vs. LCSW, those differences are not extensive. The difference between LMSW and LCSW tends to concentrate on specific practice areas. However, if you are interested in helping people, either of these careers will give you a chance to provide real assistance to individuals in need. 

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