LPC vs LMFT: What’s the Difference?

Licensed professional counselors (LPCs) and licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) both have an important part to play in supporting individuals with mental health conditions and personal struggles. Future mental health professionals can make significant contributions to their communities through either role, but they do so in different ways.

Understanding the distinctions LPC vs LMFT professions between is essential if you plan to pursue a career in counseling and want to earn an LMFT degree or complete LPC programs online. Although they have shared characteristics, they are separate academic and professional paths.

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LPC vs. LMFT: Unpacking the Similarities and Differences

LPCs and LMFTs have a lot in common, but they're by no means the same. Examining the roles and responsibilities of each is beneficial when choosing between them.

What Is an LPC?

LPCs are mental health professionals who serve clients with mental, emotional, and behavioral issues. This professional role was developed after many years of unstandardized and inadequate mental health treatment. Because they are licensed, LPCs must meet certain requirements and criteria to practice.

The central responsibilities of an LPC include:

  • Diagnosing and treating mental and emotional disorders
  • Providing individual and group therapy
  • Administering assessments and evaluations
  • Consulting with other healthcare providers and making referrals

Some LPCs work with general populations of clients with various problems. Others choose to specialize their services and focus on certain problems, such as:

  • Grief
  • Mental health
  • Rehabilitation
  • Children and adolescents
  • Substance abuse

LPCs can offer services through private practices or other organizations, such as mental health treatment facilities.

What Is an LMFT?

The role of LMFTs is relatively recent when looking at the long history of mental health care. However, they have come to represent a critical aspect of the field because of their targeted services and client populations.

An LMFT works with couples and families who need guidance and counseling to improve their relationships and overcome challenges. Possible problems they might address include:

  • Substance abuse
  • Divorce
  • Childhood trauma
  • Aging
  • Behavioral issues in children
  • Adoptions

Many LMFTs work with both families and couples, while others target their services exclusively toward parents, long-term partners, or children and adolescents.

Diving Deeper: A Closer Look at LPC and LMFT

When looking at LMFTs and LPCs side-by-side, it becomes easier to see how they're related yet separate careers.

Key Similarities

LMFTs and LPCs work with similar, and sometimes overlapping, client populations because of their common features. They are both required to meet ethical guidelines and standards of practice, such as maintaining confidentiality, establishing professional boundaries, and acting in the best interests of their clients.

They also share therapeutic techniques and approaches. These include cognitive behavioral therapy and group counseling, and they work in similar environments, such as hospitals, clinics, and private practices.

Key Differences

Despite these similarities, the roles of LPCs and LMFTs are still distinct. The most important differences include:

  • Client demographics: LPCs work with individual clients from a variety of backgrounds, many of whom are dealing with serious mental health conditions. LMFTs focus on family units and couples and their relationship dynamics.
  • Counseling needs: LPCs are more likely to diagnose and treat mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress. LMFTs address these issues from the lens of how they affect members of a family or couple.
  • Goals and outcomes: The primary goal of an LMFT is to help a family or couple find harmony, decrease conflict, and overcome challenges. LPCs strive to teach clients coping strategies and help them learn how to manage their mental health conditions or daily stressors.

Knowing how their roles differ is key to determining which career is best for you.

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Financial and Career Considerations: LMFT vs. LPC

You can earn a comfortable living as either an LMFT or LPC. However, their potential earnings and job growth are not identical.

LMFT Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for marriage and family therapists as of May 2021 was $49,880. This is slightly higher than the median annual wage for all workers, which is $45,760. It's also marginally higher than earnings for counselors, social workers, and other community and social service specialists, who have median annual salaries of $48,400.

Earnings for LMFTs differ drastically based on location and employer. For instance, BLS data shows that LMFTs who are employed by outpatient care centers have median earnings of $57,930, significantly less than the median salaries for LMFTs working in state government, who have median earnings of $77,960 annually.

LPC Salary

Salary rates for counselors are similar to those of LMFTs. The BLS reports that the median annual pay for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors as of 2022 is $49,710. However, wages vary considerably based on a number of factors, including experience, employer, and location.

LPCs earn higher wages if they work in government agencies, for example. The BLS reports a median annual wage of $54,740 for counselors employed by hospitals. Counselors in residential mental health and substance abuse facilities earn significantly less, with median salaries of $44,150 per year.

LMFT Job Outlook

The taboo of seeking professional help for domestic problems has begun to diminish, leading more individuals, couples, and families to reach out to LMFTs for help. Consequently, the profession is experiencing rapid growth. The Bureau also reports that the projected growth rate for marriage and family therapists is 15% between 2022 and 2032. This outpaces many other areas of mental health treatment.

The BLS also shows that private practices and individualized services are especially popular for LMFTs. Approximately 29% of marriage and family therapists work in these areas, while 28% are employed in the offices of other health practitioners.

LPC Job Outlook

A growing number of people are seeking the services of mental health professionals. As a result, counselors are in extremely high demand. The BLS reports that the projected growth rate for substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health counselors is 18% between 2022 and 2032. This far surpasses the average rate for all areas of employment, which is 3%. It also exceeds the 9% projected growth rate for counselors, social workers, and other community and social service specialists.

Education and Training: Mapping Your Journey

Working as either an LPC or an LMFT requires several years of hard work. This begins with a strong academic background.

LPC Educational Path

Many LPCs hold a bachelor's degree in psychology, social work, or a related field. However, counseling master's programs are typically willing to accept applicants from any major as long as they have completed their degree and met minimum GPA requirements.

A master's degree in counseling or a counseling doctorate is necessary in most states to obtain a professional counseling license. During these programs, students take courses in subjects such as:

  • Therapeutic techniques
  • Human growth and development
  • Diversity and multiculturalism
  • Ethics and legal issues
  • Assessment and testing
  • Research skills

Supervised clinical hours are equally important as coursework. State licensure boards require a specific number of completed hours when issuing LPC licenses. Students also have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and valuable insights into the field from working professionals.

LMFT Educational Path

After earning a bachelor's degree, LMFT's progress to a master's program in marriage and family therapy. A master's degree in is essential for any professional therapists who want to become licensed to practice in their states.

Master's degree programs in this area typically involve coursework related to topics such as:

  • Family system theories
  • Developing treatment plans
  • Family and couples therapy strategies
  • Human development
  • Child psychology
  • Diversity
  • Ethics and professionalism

Along with finishing their coursework, students in marriage and family therapy programs also participate in practical experiences. These internships and clinical placements are completed under the supervision of a practicing LMFT.

Learn more about marriage and family therapy degrees:

Accreditation: Ensuring Quality in Education

Attending an accredited program is key to your success as an LPC or LMFT.

LMFT Accreditation

To ensure that they will meet licensure requirements and will be permitted to practice, LMFTs must attend accredited academic programs. These programs undergo stringent evaluations to ensure that they're providing knowledge of current practices, employing qualified faculty, and preparing students for professional environments.

Graduate and post-graduate marriage and family therapy degree programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). The COAMFTE is the only accrediting body for marriage and family therapy degree programs that is recognized by the Council on Higher Education (CHEA) in the United States and Canada.

LPC Accreditation

To become an LPC, many state licensure boards require counselors to have completed an accredited master's degree program. Academic institutions with accreditation have also demonstrated their commitment to quality education.

LPC programs can be accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) or the Master's in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC). Both organizations evaluate graduate-level programs in counseling, but they apply different standards. In addition, the CACREP is accredited by the CHEA, but the MPCAC, which was established in 2011, is not currently accredited.

Licensure: The Final Frontier

To get a job with an employer or open a private practice as an LPC or LMFT, you will need an official state license.

LPC Licensure Process

To obtain a license, future LPCs must pass either the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination, both of which are developed and administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors. Among the topics included on these exams are legal and ethical issues, such as confidentiality, related to counseling practices.

Some states allow counselors to practice at the associate level until they have met the requirements for full licensure. In addition, after obtaining a license, LPCs must generally apply for renewal every two to three years. As part of this process, LPCs generally have to complete one or more ongoing education courses related to their field or specialization.

LMFT Licensure Process

Practicing LMFTs must meet state-issued criteria for licensure. Based on location, these differ in terms of the number of required supervised hours of practical experience. Some states also issue LMFT licenses to associate marriage and family therapists who are not yet fully certified but have met some of their requirements.

To obtain an LMFT license, candidates must also pass a comprehensive licensure exam. Administered by the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards, the exam consists of 180 multiple-choice questions and is taken over a period of four hours.

Career Prospects and Opportunities

Both LMFTs and LPCs have various options when it comes to work environments.

LMFT Career Trajectories

For many LMFTs, the goal of obtaining licensure is the opportunity to open a private practice. This offers the advantage of specializing in specific client populations, such as clients struggling with addiction, domestic violence, or divorce.

LMFTs also work with couples and families in a variety of public health facilities, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Mental health treatment centers
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Outpatient care centers

In these settings, LMFTs often spend time offering one-on-one services before bringing together families and couples to work through their issues.

LPC Career Trajectories

LPCs can open private practices and work with clients of their choosing. In addition, they can find employment in larger organizations, such as:

  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Community agencies
  • Long-term care facilities

Remote counseling, teletherapy, and online counseling are a growing area of service that has expanded rapidly in recent years. Counselors work from their homes or private offices and connect with clients via text messages, virtual chats, and video calls.

Navigating Your Decision: Tips and Considerations

Deciding which type of mental health profession to pursue can feel like a monumental choice. Consider these factors to help narrow down your options.

Assessing Your Personal and Professional Goals

LPCs and LMFTs draw on different strengths and abilities. Consider whether you would rather work in a group setting, as is often the case for LMFTs, or one-on-one with individual clients. Your preferred work setting may also play a part in your choice, as some environments, such as schools, may be better suited to LPCs than LMFTs.

Additionally, think carefully about whether you are interested in pursuing a specialization in the future. For instance, if you are interested in focusing on mental health conditions, you may find more success as an LPC.

Financial and Time Investments

Another aspect of your decision-making process is accounting for the financial investment required to become an LPC or LMFT. Both careers require students to complete master’s degrees, which can take two years or longer depending on whether you are attending full-time or part-time.

You will also need to spend time on practical experiences, internships, and clinical hours. Consider your other obligations, such as caretaking or your current work, when determining how much time you will be able to commit to a program.

Resources for the Aspiring Therapist

Enhancing your skills or beginning your career as an LPC or LMFT is easier when you have access to essential resources.

Professional Organizations and Networks

Connecting with other LPCs and LMFTs is an excellent way to learn about new career opportunities, expand your skills, and seek certifications. Consider joining these professional organizations:

Recommended Reading and Online Platforms

To learn more about marriage and family therapy, counseling, and mental health treatment, and enhance your skill set, consult these reputable resources:



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