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If you have a passion for helping people foster productive, healthy relationships and lead happier lives, then there are a number of career paths suited to you. A licensed professional counselor (LPC) and licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) are two categories of mental health professionals who work on individual and group levels to help people overcome challenges in their personal and interpersonal lives. 

Because LPCs and LMFTs are very similar career paths, it’s natural for someone with interest in the field to feel torn between deciding upon one over the other. And understanding the overlap and differences between LPCs vs LMFTs can help you choose the career that’s right for you.

Clinical Counseling

LPC vs LMFT: What’s the Difference?

The licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist are similar professions, but between them lie a number of important differences. 

In both professions, mental health counseling professionals help people improve their lives and relationships by providing mental health services. In either career, your patients could include: 

  • Individuals
  • Couples
  • Families
  • Small groups  

Furthermore, LPCs and LFMTs may work in overlapping environments, like clinics and care centers, schools and social services agencies, correction facilities and detention centers, and others. 

That said, the differences between LPCs vs LMFTs should not be overlooked. The educational background required by each position, the licensing and certifications they require, and the specific, day-to-day nature of each, are among the many attributes that distinguish them. 

Educational Requirements

Whether you choose to become an LPC or an LMFT, you’ll need to obtain a master’s degree. Most LPCs enroll in programs that offer a master degree in clinical counseling, although many pursue degrees in clinical psychology or social work.1 It’s important to enroll in a program that has CACREP accreditation to meet the standards of the profession.

LMFTs may also obtain master’s in counseling degrees, although they generally study in family therapy master degree programs.2

Before you can enroll in an online master’s program, you must obtain a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. As undergraduates, students who go on to pursue master’s degrees in counseling, family therapy, typically major in subjects like:

  • Counseling
  • Psychology
  • Social work
  • Sociology

Skill Sets

LPCs, LMFTs, and many other types of therapists draw on similar skill sets in the work they do. LPCs and LMFTs must be caring, empathetic individuals with exceptional communication skills.3 They must also be attentive, genuine listeners with the ability to win their patients’ trust and put them at ease.

Additionally, both professions require the following skill sets:

  • Problem solving
  • Analytical thinking
  • Professionalism
  • Organization

Additionally, LMFTs must have a keen understanding of couple and family dynamics and how individual members influence those dynamics. 

Patient Care

Some of the biggest differences between LPCs vs LMFTs have to do with the specific type of care they provide and how that care influences the daily aspects of each position. 

For example, LMFTs most often work with couples or families to help them resolve conflicts and improve the dynamics of their relationships.4 They moderate conversations between family members, listen to patients as they discuss their worries and concerns, and provide guidance and tools that enable them to understand one another.

LMFTs may also work with individuals in families or couples in one-on-one settings to glean deeper insight into specific issues. They may diagnose mental health issues and engage in therapeutic techniques that help their patients manage abuse, grief and depression, behavioral issues, and infidelity.

By contrast, LPCs generally work with individuals or groups to address psychological or developmental issues that develop as a result of mental health disorders.5 Those issues often include the following;

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Addiction

Licensure and Certifications

As with careers in mental health care, LPCs and LMFTS hold specialized licenses and certifications that affirm their professional counselor or psychologist qualifications.6 These licenses are bestowed by the state, so their specific qualifications may vary.

LPCs and LMFTs also hold a variety of certifications depending on their work setting. Some of those certifications could include:

  • Certified addiction specialist
  • Board certified behavior analyst
  • Certified domestic violence counselor

Additionally, both professions require a certain number of clinical hours. So, be sure to review how to get counseling experience. These are also regulated by individual states and can vary depending on where you intend to practice, whether its private practice or in public health sectors. 

Clinical Counseling

Which Career Should I Choose?

Choosing between being an LPC vs LMFT depends on several factors, including the type of care you want to provide, the patients you want to work with, and the environments where you provide service.

If your skills and interests lean toward providing families with short-term help improving their relationships, being an LMFT is the obvious choice. But if your passion is for helping individuals and small groups cope with mental health issues, addiction, and other challenges, you may be better suited for a career as an LPC.

Lay the Foundation for a Fulfilling Career at Alliant International University

For many people, the path toward a meaningful career in counseling begins with completing a counseling master’s degree. The California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University offers online master’s degree programs in counseling and family therapy that combine enlightening courses with hands-on training, enabling you to build the skills you need to pursue your passions. 


  1. John Demerceau. “What is Required to Be an LPC?” Chron. January 17, 2019. Accessed June 20, 2023.
  2. Indeed Editorial Team. “What Degree Does a Marriage and Family Therapist Need?” Indeed. September  8, 2022.…. Accessed June 20, 2023. 
  3. Indeed Editorial Team. “What Degree Does a Marriage and Family Therapist Need?” Indeed. September  8, 2022.…. Accessed June 20, 2023. 
  4. Indeed Editorial Team. “What Degree Does a Marriage and Family Therapist Need?” Indeed. September  8, 2022.…. Accessed June 20, 2023. 
  5. John Demerceau. “What is Required to Be an LPC?” Chron. January 17, 2019. Accessed June 20, 2023.
  6. Indeed Editorial Team. “LPC vs LMFT: What’s the Difference?” June 24, 2022. Accessed June 20, 2023.

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