LCSW vs. Psychologist

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

While there is some overlap between the scope of practice of a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and psychologist, there are also significant differences. When comparing these two professions it’s important to remember each state determines its own scopes of practice, however it is possible to make a general comparison.

Key similarities between LCSWs and Psychologists

LCSWs and psychologists are both mental health professionals and require a license issued by a state regulatory agency. They are advanced practitioner roles that require a graduate-level of education, supervised clinical work experience, and the passage of a national licensing exam.

Both types of professionals are generally qualified to treat and diagnose behavioral, emotional, and mental health issues. Ethics and ethical practices are central to each profession. Both LCSWs and psychologists are generally independent practitioners who are not required to to work within an agency to see clients, though many choose to.

Key differences between LCSWs and psychologists

There are also notable differences between LCSWs and psychologists. These are most apparent when it comes to education and approach to practice.


To become an LCSW you need at least a master’s degree in Social Work (MSW). To become a psychologist you need a doctoral degree in Psychology.

Core topics covered in an MSW program include the following:

  • Social environment and cultural diversity
  • Human behavior
  • Social work practice
  • Social work research
  • Social welfare policy
  • Clinical assessment and diagnosis

Core topics covered in a doctoral Psychology program include:

  • Counseling theories and principles
  • Psychopathology and psychotherapy
  • Personality assessment
  • Neuroscience
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Counseling psychology

As the different emphases in the education for these professions allude to, even though both professions deal with mental, emotional, and behavioral conditions, LCSWs are trained from a perspective that emphasizes a community’s relationship with an individual, whereas psychologists come from a perspective that emphasizes how an individual processes their community and environment.

LCSWs and psychologists in the workforce

The differences in approach to education carry through to the types of workplaces and subsequent paths into the workforce for LCSWs and psychologists. The following is a comparison of the most common work environments for social workers and psychologists :

For social workers, nationwide:

  • 20% work with individual and family services organizations
  • 14% work for local governments, such as with local departments of health, and this percentage excludes schools and hospitals
  • 13% work for state governments, such as departments of health and human services, and this percentage excludes schools and hospitals
  • 8% work for outpatient care centers
  • 7% work at elementary and secondary schools

For psychologists, nationwide:

  • 40% work in elementary and secondary schools
  • 18% work at offices of other health practitioners
  • 6% work with individual and family services organizations
  • 6% work at physician offices
  • 5% work at outpatient care centers

There are also relatively fewer psychologists for every social worker. The most recent national numbers from the US Department of Labor show a total of 620,370 social workers (85%) compared with 113,270 psychologists (15%).

The pathway for entry with a private agency or non-profit organization, such as individual and family service organizations, outpatient care centers, and health practitioners can be relatively less complicated and more straightforward compared with applying for a job with a city or state department, division, or bureau. However jobs with local and state governments can have an advantage of being relatively more secure over the long run.

Important resources for LCSWs and psychologists

If you want to become an LCSW you need to earn at least an MSW degree from a program that’s accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). You’ll also need to pass the Clinical Exam that’s sponsored by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the most prominent national professional organization in this field,

working with state legislatures to ensure the highest standards of practice are guaranteed. The Clinical Social Work Association (CSWA) is also relevant for this specific field.

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If you want to become a psychologist most states require you to earn a doctoral degree in psychology from a program that’s accredited by one of the following:

Most states also require you to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), which is sponsored by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). The APA is the most prominent national professional organization for psychologists. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) is another important organization for this specific field.