A Complete Guide to Becoming an LCSW vs LPC. Steps Towards Licensure: Education, Exams, Duties and Much More

Helping clients with mental and behavioral health issues is a key practice similarity shared between Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) and Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs). But the fact that these are two separately licensed professions also hints that there are key differences between an LCSW and LPC.

Each state defines its own scope of practice for an LCSW and an LPC. While there are some state-level variations between what LCSWs and LPCs do, it’s possible to make generalizations about the two professions on a national level.

LCSW and LPC similarities

The similarities between LCSWs and LPCs start with education and extend through to workplace practices and places of employment. Both professions require at minimum a master’s-level education, and this advanced clinical education includes courses that focus on ethics, mental health, behavioral disorders, treatments, and making diagnoses. Both educational programs include field experiences.

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This common educational overlap naturally translates into an overlap of clientele and workplace. About one-fifth of all LCSWs and LPCs nationwide work at non-governmental private and non-profit organizations that provide individual and family services. They can often be found together as part of a team of clinical mental health providers.

When it comes to getting licensed, states generally require both LCSWs and LPCs to complete a period of supervised work experience and pass an exam sponsored by a national organization.

LCSW and LPC differences

As with similarities, the differences between these two professions also start at the educational level and extend through to the workplace.

Becoming an LCSW means earning at least a master’s degree in Social Work (MSW). This includes courses that focus on social welfare, social behavior, and social systems. Becoming an LPC means earning at least a master’s degree in Counseling, and this includes courses that focus on counseling theory, psychology, counseling techniques for different populations, individual and group therapy, and conducting appraisals.

These differences in education highlight a fundamental difference in approach to practice between LCSWs and LPCs. LCSWs treat clients in the context of a wider social system, while LPCs treat clients in the context of an individual’s psychological experience, which can include how this interacts with the wider social environment.

Workplace differences between LCSWs and LPCs

The US Department of Labor tracks workplace and employment statistics for social workers and LPCs. , Its latest numbers show a total of 620,370 social workers and 283,540 LPCs employed throughout the nation. According to this agency:

  • The largest segment of social workers (20%) work at individual and family service organizations, while the largest segment of LPCs (23%) work at outpatient care centers; only 8% of social workers work at outpatient care centers
  • 27% of social workers are employed by state and local governments (excluding schools and hospitals), whereas that percentage is only 9% for LPCs
  • 12% of LPCs work at residential facilities that treat patients for substance abuse issues, mental health issues, and intellectual and developmental disabilities, compared with just 3% of social workers
  • 7% of social workers work at elementary and secondary schools, compared with just 3% of LPCs

One of the biggest macro differences in joining the workforce between LCSWs and LPCs are public versus private-sector jobs. LCSWs are three times more likely to work in the public sector than LPCs. Landing a public-sector job can involve an interview process that’s more drawn out, extensive, and time consuming. However compared with the private sector, jobs with local and state governments can be more stable and offer benefits packages that are more generous.

Important resources for LCSWs and LPCs

LCSW – Most states require LCSWs to earn an MSW degree from a program that’s accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), and then pass the Clinical Exam sponsored by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). Two prominent national organizations provide important resources for social workers: the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the Clinical Social Work Association (CSWA).

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LPC – Nationwide most states consider the gold-standard for LPC education to be a degree in Counseling from a master’s program that’s accredited by the Council on the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). In fact most states that don’t outright require a CACREP-accredited degree for licensure use the educational standards set by CACREP as a minimum benchmark for their own licensure requirements. This is followed by a requirement to pass a national counseling examination from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). Two of the most prominent national organizations for LPCs are the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) and the American Counseling Association (ACA).