If you're interested in working as a licensed social worker, you have likely noticed that you have two options. One is an LCSW and the other is an LMSW. What do these designations mean and, just as importantly, how are they different?

What Is an LCSW?

LCSW stands for licensed clinical social worker. Someone who is licensed as a clinical social worker holds advanced training and education in mental health and can provide certain types of therapy to individuals in need. Among these therapy types are psychotherapy, talk therapy, and counseling.

Does this make an LCSW the same as a psychologist or psychiatrist? Not exactly. Whereas a psychologist or psychiatrist typically focuses on a patient's mental health issues, an LCSW takes a slightly different approach, placing greater emphasis on outside factors that may be impacting the client. This includes socioeconomic considerations or cultural influences. Unlike psychiatrists, LCSWs also cannot prescribe mental health medications.

LCSWs also act as a sort of community liaison for their clients. This means that they are able to connect them with any additional resources that may help improve the client's quality of life.

What Is an LMSW?

LMSW is short for licensed master social worker. Professionals licensed as a master social worker are trained to work with individuals, families, and even groups of people, connecting them with valuable community services. They also help coordinate these services, ensuring that individuals receive all of the assistance needed to live a happier, healthier, and more satisfying life.

Some LMSWs do provide individual therapy. However, they can only do so under the supervision of another professional who is licensed to provide therapeutic services.


Based on their functions, it's easy to see that both LCSWs and LMSWs serve a valuable purpose. Namely, they help individuals in need, in part, by connecting them with local, state, or federal resources and programs that have been designed to help people in their specific situation or with their specific issues or concerns. That said, they are also a bit different.

One of the most notable differences is in regard to their ability to offer individual therapy. While an LCSW can work one-on-one with clients to provide therapeutic services, an LMSW must work under a licensed psychologist, licensed psychiatrist, or LCSW when providing independent mental health services.

There are also licensing differences. Depending on the state's licensing requirements, social work professionals interested in becoming an LCSW may have to provide thousands of hours of clinical services (supervised) before they're able to earn this designation. Thus, they may have to first become licensed as an LMSW to provide these supervised services.

In the end, neither licensed social work position is superior to the other. And both require that you complete a Master of Social Work program by a school that is accredited by the Council of Social Work Education (CSWE). Do a quick search of the CSWE's directory of accredited programs and you will find that Saint Leo University is one university that holds full accreditation status.

Start or Advance Your Social Work Career Today!

If you're just entering the social work field, Saint Leo offers a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) program. This program prepares you to work in general social work positions and comes in two options: a 2-year day program held on the University Campus in Saint Leo, Florida, or a 2-year evening program, the latter of which can be taken at various education center locations (currently, the Tampa Education Center and East Pasco Education Center), as well as a blended online option.

Conversely, if you're already working in a social work or similar role and wish to advance your education in this area—working toward the education needed to become an LCSW or LMSW—Saint Leo also offers a Master of Social Work (MSW) program. You have two options if you'd like to earn your MSW, as well. They are to complete the MSW Advanced Standing Clinical Program (starts Summer 1 and Spring 1) or the MSW Advanced Clinical Practice Program (starts Fall 1). For students living in certain states, the MSW program is available completely online.

To learn more about Saint Leo's BSW or MSW programs, contact us today at (877) 622-2009 or visit us online at our University Campus Admissions page for the BSW program or our Graduate Admissions page for the MSW program. We are here to help you reach all of your social work career goals.