Difference Between LCSW & a Clinical Psychologist

Licensed social workers and clinical psychologists often have differing job descriptions.
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If you having a mental health or substance abuse problem and need the services of a trained professional, your health insurance company may give the choice between a licensed clinical social worker and a clinical psychologist. Which is right for you depends on your personal preferences, affordability and the type of problem you are experiencing. While the jobs are related, they also have different functions.


    Although LCSWs and clinical psychologists can have diverse educational backgrounds, LCSWs typically spend less time in school than clinical psychologists. To become an LCSW, you have to have a master's degree, which generally involves completing 60 hours of education in social work, often with a practice area concentration and field placements. This adds up to a total educational commitment of about three years. A clinical psychologist typically spends five years in graduate school in order to obtain a doctorate degree, which involves completing an original research project and between 2,500 to 4,500 practicum hours.

Licensing Requirements

    Both clinical social workers and clinical psychologists spend excessive hours of training to get licensed. LCSWs in Minnesota, for example, have to complete 360 hours of supervised community practice in specific content areas, pass a general knowledge test, pass an ethics examination, and clear a background check. After clinical psychologists in Minnesota complete approximately 2,000 hours of supervised practice, they must pass a national licensing exam, an ethics test, and clear a background check before they can hang up their own shingle.

Areas of Practice

    While there is considerable overlap between positions, if your problem is potentially serious, such as possible schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, chemical addiction, or an eating disorder, a clinical psychologist may be suggested. On the other hand, if you are suffering from general life stress, or you are having a problem finding the right community resources to help you or your loved ones with a chronic mental health or substance abuse problem, you may consider seeing an LCSW.


    LCSWs tend to make less than clinical psychologists, which may translate into a lower cost for you. According to the 2010 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for social workers varied between less than $26,710 and more than $70,390, with LCSWs tending to make more than other types of social workers. The 2010 BLS report for psychologists indicates median salaries varied between less than $39,200 and more than $111,810, with clinical psychologists tending to be better compensated than other types of psychologists.

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