MFT vs Clinical Social Worker with MSW

This article has information about the differences between a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy (MFT), and a master’s degree in social work with a focus on being a clinical social worker (LCSW). We will provide information also about some of the similarities between the programs, and why you may want to have a career in either of these related fields.

How They Are Different

Students who have an interest in both therapy/counseling and social work may be considering either an MFT degree or an MSW degree. These programs have similarities because both of them train you to provide mental health and psychotherapy services to a large degree. Both professionals who graduate from either program will be mental health practitioners, but there are many ways the two fields are different.

Social work tends to take a person in the environment sort of perspective. This type of perspective will cover personal interactions from all from individuals to employers to educators.

Clinical social workers will be employed in a very wide range of roles and settings. Clinical social workers may work not only in mental health but may also provide other types of services in healthcare settings. Social workers, for instance, can work on discharging a patient, to ensure that adequate social services will be made available.

MFTs are more what is termed, ‘relationship experts.’ They approach their clients’ personal problems from a strongly systemic perspective and will normally focus on family and similarly close relationships.

Another large difference between the MFT and the LCSW is that the training that students receive in each program is substantially different.

MFT Program and Licensure

MFTs have more specialized counseling training. To become a marriage and family therapist, you must earn your master’s MFT degree. The program that you take will teach you about how relationships, families, and relationships work, and how these important personal relationships can have a serious effect on emotional and mental disorders.

MFTs eventually become mental health professionals who have had heavy training in family systems and psychotherapy. This degree will train you to develop a therapy-oriented theoretical approach to helping your clients and patients. This is often referred to in the industry as more of systems theory.

Graduates of an MFT program will diagnose and treat many mental and emotional health issues that go beyond the scope of just one client. They often will offer intensive marriage counseling, family intervention and group therapy.

After obtaining your MFT degree, you have to work under supervision of a therapist with a doctoral degree until you gain licensure. Requirements for licensure will vary from each state. All MFTs have to finish several hundred supervised clinical hours; this will including getting therapy experience in family, group and phone counseling.

An MFT may work on getting their required clinical hours while they are still completing their master’s program. As with an MSW degree, required supervised hours must be up to 4,000 hours. The MFT also needs to pass a state examination to work as a therapist.

LCSW Program and Licensure

On the other side, LCSWs are social workers who are licensed and follow a rather traditional approach in psychology towards counseling patients. Their training is broader and so are the differences . LCSWs are often focused more on the treatment of the individual. An LCSW program will provide the student with clinical training; this will provide him or her with the skills to provide counseling and therapy services to those in clinical and health care settings.

They may work independently as a clinical social worker, but have to get a license first. State requirements will vary; however, you can expect to need to gain experience of at least 3,000 hours in supervised clinical social work. This will typically be at least two years of full time experience.

LCSWs need to wait until they have completed their degree before they can accumulate the requirement clinical hours. The clinical social worker must pass a state clinical examination to get licensure.

It should be noted that the master’s degree provides the person with the ability to work in clinical and healthcare counseling, which students with only a bachelor’s degree in social work cannot.

MFT Online Degree Option

If you are interested in earning your MFT degree, a possible program to consider online is the Marriage and Family Therapy degree from Northcentral University.

This is a solid program that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE); this is the first distance based MFT program that was so accredited. This vital accreditation informs you that this MFT degree program is of the highest quality.

This program will offer you a high quality education and training that will really challenge you to develop your therapy skills. This program will give you the most rigorous training and classes, so you will be transformed into a highly skilled and licensed marriage and family therapist.

Your courses will be largely online, but the required practicum, internship and clinical supervision needs to occur in your local community in an appropriate facility.

Students typically complete this program in only 33 months. After graduation, you will be able to become one of the fastest growing health care related fields in the US.

It should be noted that Northcentral’s program has been designed for you to ideally attain licensure as an MFT. However, the university cannot guarantee that program graduates will be able to earn licensure. Students have the responsibility to ensure that they take all of the required courses and fulfill licensing requirements for their state.

LCSW Online Degree Option

For those who wish to become a clinical or health care social worker with an MSW, a good option is the Master of Social Work available at the University of Southern California. This program will prepare you to be a clinical social worker so that you can work with families, individuals and communities to promote social justice. Also, you will be able to advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable citizens and residents of the US.

The ASU School of Social Work is one of the biggest in the world, and is fully accredited by the CSWE. The online learning that is offered in this program will give you a superior platform of learning to engage with faculty who are renowned experts in the field of health, child welfare and behavioral health.

Earning your MSW in clinical social work will give you ample opportunities to counsel those in need and to provide much needed direct services to groups, families and individuals who need clinical counseling.

Required courses include:

  • Social Policy and Services
  • Foundation Practice I and II
  • Macro Social Work Practice
  • Research Methods in Social Work
  • Assessment of Mental Disorders
  • Diversity and Oppression in Social Work Contexts
  • Macro Human Behavior and Social Environment


Whether you become an MFT or a clinical social worker, it is important to ensure that your program has been accredited by a respected body in the field.

In the MFT field, the recommended accreditation body is the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE).

For social work, it is recommended that students ensure their program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

If the respective program is accredited by one of these organizations, you can be confident that your degree has meet the highest quality standards.


Both the MFT and the MSW degree are great options for professionals who want to provide counseling and mental health services to those who are in need. After reviewing the similarities and differences between these fields, you hopefully will have the knowledge to make an informed decision.