Licensed Clinical Social Workers vs Clinical Psychologists


By, Roxy Simons

Many individuals who want to enter into the mental health field find themselves challenged with the question of whether to pursue a career as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) or a clinical psychologist. Both options share many common factors, but primarily differ from one another. Whether you are looking to pursue one of these careers or if you are deciding the type of therapist would best suit you, knowing the similarities and differences can help you make an informed decision.

Here are some similarities:

  • The ability to diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders
  • Conducts therapy with individuals, couples, families, and groups
  • Can conduct therapy in a private practice
  • Provide their patients with emotional support, confidentiality, and professionalism
  • Employment location can include hospitals, mental health clinics, schools, substance abuse clinics, or private practice
  • Requires the following skills: effective communication, being personable, problem solving abilities, empathy, dependability, and the ability to interpret clients’ behavior and body language
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for both professions will grow within the next decade, especially within the mental health and substance abuse fields



Licensed Clinical Social Worker

  • Generally requires a Master’s (or sometimes only a Bachelor’s) in social work, in addition to licensure
  • Performs initial screening of client inventory to determine all aspects of the client’s personal and professional life
  • Helps clients brainstorm tangible steps or long-term plans to improve their welfare
  • Determines which services to connect their client and make referrals, usually to other mental health professionals and support groups
  • Collaborates with a team of health-care professionals to determine the best plan of action for the client
  • Relies on a strengths-based social work approach by helping the client discover their natural skills and talents to overcome life’s challenges and obstacles
  • Can earn a salary ranging from $40,050 to $55,000, depending on area of expertise, practice setting and geographic location

Clinical Psychologist

  • Must acquire a doctorate level degree in psychology, in addition to licensure or certification in most states
  • Can administer the following: diagnostic testing for mental/emotional disorders, psychological testing, psychotherapy, personality/intelligence/performance tests
  • Can only prescribe medication in Louisiana and New Mexico
  • More commonly self employed
  • Primarily focuses on research and scientific methods when treating their clients
  • Earns an Average salary of $73,000 depending on area of expertise, practice setting and geographic location


Regardless of which route you choose, whether licensed clinical social worker or clinical psychologists, you will find your career to be both fulfilling and challenging. Both options allow you to make a positive impact on society, to collaborate with other mental health professionals, and to form strong relationships. Likewise, whether a clinical psychologist or LCSW better suits your needs when seeking therapy, know that asking for help will only ever benefit your wellbeing.

March 1, 2020

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