Obtaining licensure as a mental health professional at a master’s level provides you with many routes and areas of specialty you could pursue. A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) both practice within the realm of mental health and are both master’s level licensures. Below is a review of the similarities and differences between the two licensures.
What Is an LMFT?
Licensed Marriage and Family therapists (LMFTs) are master’s level clinicians with a focus on identifying maladaptive patterns of functioning within individuals, couples, and families, and how they intersect to influence each other. The primary focus for LMFTs is the family unit. LMFTs are able to work in environments similar to LPCs and treatment is approached from a solution-focused perspective where the therapist and client/s set and work toward goals within ten to twelve sessions on average.
MFT Programs That Can Lead to Licensure
What Is an LPC?
Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) are mental health clinicians that are qualified to provide psychotherapeutic interventions to individuals, families, and couples. Treatment focuses are based on clinical and conceptual principles that address barriers to healthy personal and social cognitions and behaviors. They are trained in psychological approaches to assessment, diagnosis, treatment planning, and interventions within a variety of therapeutic settings. LPCs can practice in various settings including private practice, hospitals, in-patient and outpatient treatment centers, schools, and rehabilitation centers. LPCs address general counseling issues and typically see clients on a long-term basis of ten to fifteen sessions, working towards realistic and attainable goals.
Counseling Programs That Can Lead to Licensure
Differences and Similarities Between LMFTs and LPCs
What does an LMFT do?
The work LMFTs do is centered around pursuing the optimal functioning of a family unit. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the most common work environments of LMFTs are as follows:
- Individual and family services (29%)
- Offices of other health practitioners (24%)
- Self-employed workers/private practice (13%)
- Outpatient care centers (11%)
- State government (excluding education and hospitals) (7%)
What does an LPC do?
LPCs work with a wide population including individuals, couples, families, and groups, but primarily focus on clinical treatment centered around an individual’s needs and optimizing mental and emotional health. LPCs are trained in handling general counseling needs across a variety of issues including trauma, interrelationship issues, substance abuse, work, and school-related difficulties, depression, anxiety, and comorbid mental health problems. Highlighted below are the most common work environments of LPCs according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):
- Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers (19%)
- Individual and family services (15%)
- Hospitals (10%)
- Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities (9%)
- Government (8%)
Job Outlook and Salary
The specialized perspective of LMFTs has grown in demand across the nation and according to the Department of Labor Statistics, there is a projected growth of 16% in the next decade. More mental health facilities are looking to have LMFTs available to meet their demand. As of 2021, the median annual pay for MFTs nationally is $49,880, with hourly rates at an average of $24.00, with salaries ranging from $37,050 – $96,520.
LPCs have also seen steady growth over the last few years which is projected to increase by 15% over the next decade, much higher than other occupations in the United States. The median annual wage as of 2021 was $48,520 (higher than the national average) with a range of $30,870 – $79,000.
How to Become an LMFT
An LMFT is a master’s level mental health clinician that holds all the necessary credentials and training to be competent in their scope of practice. Obtaining a graduate degree from an institution accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) or the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is important. Successful completion of the coursework requirements set by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT) ensures your education and training in being a competent clinician upon graduation.
Your clinical training is a vital part of fulfilling the program requirements. The clinical practicum typically is for 12 semester hours and consists of supervised clinical experienced. Upon fulfilling the program requirements, you would then have to successfully complete the state of national licensing examination by the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB). At this point, you would have the necessary requirements to file your application for initial licensure as an LMFT Associate (LMFT-A). Information on state boards and requirements can be accessed here.
As an LMFT-A you would have to accrue 3000 hours of supervised clinical experience, half of which are direct services with a patient, and the other half indirect. This requirement may vary by state, however, upon completion of these hours, you would then be able to obtain licensure as an LMFT. As an LMFT, you will be able to practice independently as a clinician without the board requirement for a supervisor.
Keeping up with your state board is vital as it holds information regarding obtaining and maintaining licensure, continuing education opportunities, and even the availability of other resources for personal and professional development.
How to Become an LPC
A Licensed Professional Counselor is a licensed individual that has graduated from an accredited institution, complete a probationary licensure period of being an LPC-Associate in the field of psychology and counseling, and has accrued 3000 hours of clinical experience (depending on the state of licensure) to qualify for an LPC licensure. The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) is the governing body that regulates graduate accreditation, and clinician competence, and sets the guidelines and regulations for licensure-related activities.
The first step in becoming an LPC is obtaining a bachelor’s degree. While a bachelor’s degree in psychology is not a requirement to pursue a graduate degree in the field, it may provide a good foundation of what to expect in graduate school. Upon obtaining a bachelor’s degree, you would then seek further education of a graduate degree in psychology or clinical mental health. It is important that the program is accredited by the CACREP, as it is a requirement for licensure upon graduation.
Upon successful graduation from a master’s program, you would then have to complete the NBCC licensure examination and apply through your state board for initial licensure as a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate (LPC-A), which is a probationary license until you accrue approximately 3000 supervised clinical hours to qualify for upgraded licensure to an LPC. Of these hours, at least 1500 would have to be direct clinical treatment hours and the total cannot be accrued prior to 18 months after initial licensure.
The next step would be to submit proof of completed supervised hours and other required documentation to your state board for review and approval of your licensure as an LPC. At this point, you would be able to practice independently without a supervisor. The NBCC provides information on examinations, the procedure for licensure, and resources for state, educational, and supervisory requirements.
Which Suits Me Better?
A career in counseling offers a generalized approach to assessing, diagnosing, and treating mental health issues across a variety of populations. An LPC has the flexibility of choosing a work environment similar to the choices of an LMFT. LPCs would also get to choose a population that best fits their skill set and interests along with diverse specialties in presenting problems allowing you to choose an area of specialty that resonates with you.
There are similarities between being an LPC and an LMFT. Those being that both are master’s level clinicians assessing and treating mental health issues impeding functioning. While LPCs have the ability to treat couples and families, LMFTs are highly specialized in the intricate dynamics that go beyond cognitive and behavioral dysfunction. They are able to assess and treat interrelationships and simultaneous social issues faced by the individual and the family. LPCs on the other hand, take a more clinical and psychopathological approach to treatment, focusing on internal motivations and processes.
Within the realm of MFT, the highest level of licensure is that of an LMFT regardless of continued education beyond a master’s degree. In general counseling, you would have to obtain a Ph.D. to obtain licensure as a counseling or clinical psychologist, which is the highest level of licensure. There are differences in the level of income obtained as a psychologist, however, between an LPC and LMFT, differences are minimal in terms of work environments, populations, and income ranges. At this level, your interests and plans play a role in which licensure best suits your goals and work style.
Additional Featured Mental Health Degree Programs
American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education
Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs
National Board of Certified Counselors