Human Services Guide

LCSW vs. Psychologist

While both the Psychologist and the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) are able to perform a variety of functionally similar mental health therapies and diagnostic procedures, there are differences in the level and kinds of training both receive. There are also subtle and not so subtle differences in the overall outlook of social work vs. psychology generally speaking. This article will explore the similarities and differences between these two disciplines.

The Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

  • Usually requiring a minimum of a Master’s degree in Social Work.
  • In most cases, refers only to those licensed by a state board to provide Social Work based mental therapy.
  • Must adhere to high standards regarding ethics and confidentiality as provided by the state board. Usually involves signing an ethics pledge or oath.
  • Can be involved in direct therapy with patients in private practice.
  • Might be a leader or part of a team conducting research for a university or private enterprise.
  • Uses researched based strengths based social work approach to treating clients.
  • Can assess and make clinical evaluations of client’s mental health and diagnose mental illness.
  • Make judgments on the best course of treatments based upon current clinical research in the social work field.

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The Licensed Clinical Social Worker is the mental health counseling branch of social worker and requires a significant degree of training after graduating with a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. To become an LCSW, you will need to fulfill all the requirements to gain licensure (Click on your state’s name next to the state map here for state specific requirements). This usually requires an extensive period of post-graduate supervised work experience along with passing of an ASWB approved national test.

The LCSW practices a type of mental health therapy that is strength based, meaning that they work with the client to find out what strong natural skills and talents they possess that can be used as a launching point to tackle issues causing hardship in the individual’s life. The social work framework for mental health therapy is very holistic, it will take into account not only the individual client’s emotional and psychological makeup, but also societal and environmental factors that can impact the well-being of the client.

This process begins with an assessment phase that takes into account not only a client inventory of strengths and perceived weaknesses or challenges, but also the client’s environment in their personal and professional lives. Once this inventory has been taken the LCSW works with the client to create a series of steps that can yield immediate tangible results in their life by building upon strengths they have and changing relationships or views on perceived weaknesses and challenges. If you want to learn more about the LCSW you can do so by reading our article on it here.

Psychologists

  • Usually requiring a minimum of a Master’s degree in Psychology to achieve this title. In rare cases, might include Bachelor’s degree holders.
  • Refers those licensed by a state board to provide Psychological therapy.
  • Must adhere to high standards regarding ethics and confidentiality as directed by the state board.
  • Can be involved in direct therapy with patients in private practice.
  • Might be a leader or part of a team conducting research for a university or private enterprise.
  • Uses researched based psychological behavioral approach to treating clients.
  • Can assess and make clinical evaluations of a client’s mental health and diagnose mental illness.
  • Make judgments on the best course of treatments based upon current clinical research in the field.

A Psychologist is a mental health professional with specific training based on clinical psychological research into human behavior. One must usually earn a minimum of a Master of Psychology degree, with many states requiring a Doctorate before one can become licensed to practice psychology. In some rare cases, those holding a Bachelor’s degree can practice psychology, usually as part of a supervised training program. Psychology is a discipline that has been working on the study of mental processes and behavioral patterns of human beings for over one hundred years. No other mental health discipline can lay claim to such an extensive investigation of the human psyche and this longevity is one of the primary reasons the field of Psychology is held in such high esteem in society in general.

As a result of this extensive research, the field of Psychology has developed numerous effective treatments for providing relief for those suffering from mental illnesses. Many professionals in Psychology work with clients in a cognitive behavioral method wherein they try and get the client to change thinking through behaviors as well as changing behaviors through new methods of thinking. Psychology as a whole is an internalized discipline in that it works almost exclusively with the individual and their internal psychology. This is one of the chief differences between psychology and social work.

As part of the evolution of Psychology, a set of strict ethical guidelines have been created with confidentiality considered a pillar of psychology ethics that all practitioners must adhere to. This set of ethical principles is enforced through board certification standards. In order to maintain board certification and licensure Psychologists must continue with their professional development by taking a number of continuing education credits. This standard is in place to ensure that Psychologist stay up to date on best practices as well as a variety of topics related to psychology. Continuing professional development is required to maintain licensure.

Psychologists undergo rigorous training during their education and must complete thousands of hours of supervised practice in order to become licensed to practice on their own. As such, when someone goes to a psychologist they can be assured that a high standard of ethics, professionalism and confidentiality will be shown by the psychologist. They also will be benefiting from more than 100 years of research and crafting of ethics standards.