Both Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT) and Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) are empowered by the location in which they practice to conduct private therapy. An MFT and an LCSW must complete a set number of hours of supervised work before being licensed. Additionally, both an MFT and an LCSW have a master's degree. A Marriage and Family Therapist, also sometimes called a Marriage, Child and Family Counselor (MFCC), has received a master's degree in psychology, counseling, or a related field, but with an emphasis on private counseling. An LCSW receives a master's degree in social work, called an MSW.
The way in which hours of practice prior to taking examinations are decided also varies. An MFT candidate must perform a specific number of practice hours split among several different types of experience. For example, some hours must be phone counseling, individual counseling, group therapy, and family therapy.
The licensed clinical social worker also must perform a number of supervised hours but often has more options, and more means for making money while completing supervised hours. Although exact rules may vary depending on the location in which a student is studying, these hours do not necessarily have to be split between different types of counseling. In some cases, hours can be completed performing social work, administering a senior home, helping to run a foster care program, or working at an adoption agency.
This would suggest the social worker has less training to be a good therapist, but this is not the case. A social worker who plans to privately practice therapy will generally choose work opportunities that allow them to gain this type of experience. As well, MSW programs vary significantly in orientation. Some are specifically geared toward people who wish to get an LCSW to be a therapist.
Many Marriage and Family Therapists find their certification leaves them with fewer job possibilities than those for clinical social workers. For example, a social worker cannot be a Marriage and Family Therapist in most cases, but must be an LCSW. Some hospitals will only hire a licensed social worker, and some government run medical centers cannot legally hire a Marriage and Family Therapist to perform social work.
The thought behind this is that the social worker has more training in considering all aspects of a patient's life, like living conditions and income. The social worker may also have specific training in negotiating requests for government assistance. Many an MFT can also perform these functions with ease, but the Marriage and Family Therapist is more therapy-based in training, and may not be aware of all government programs.
In terms of seeing an MFT or LCSW for therapy, some people note differences. Some social workers tend to be more action-oriented in their counseling and may give their opinions more readily. In most cases, it comes down to comfort level with a counselor rather than degree or license. Many people find themselves just as happy with either type of counselor, as long as that counselor is skilled. Some might prefer a Marriage and Family Therapist to a social worker, not so much because of training, but because the person seems a better fit with the client's personality or ideas of what functions counseling should perform.
Persons in these fields are not allowed to prescribe medications. This is solely the province of medical doctors and occasionally of nurse practitioners. Both the MFT and LCSW are familiar with the potential effects of most psychiatric medications, however. Thus, people in both fields can assist clients with a new diagnosis of a psychiatric condition, and recognize possible warning signs that a medication may not be working. With the permission of the patient, they can also maintain contact with a prescribing doctor.