How to Become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

Licensed clinical social workers make up the largest group of mental healthcare providers in the country, according to American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work. Using personalized treatment plans and prevention strategies, licensed clinical social workers help their clients — young and old — to cope with hardships that stem from or affect their mental and emotional health. Empathy, dependability, communication, cultural awareness and critical thinking can be powerful tools in this field of work. If you have any one of these traits and enjoy working with people, a career in clinical social work could be a good fit for you.

Here is an overview of the steps you can to take to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW):

Steps to Become a LCSW

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

    While there are some social work jobs open to candidates with a bachelor’s degree in a related discipline, a bachelor’s in social work (BSW) is the minimum educational requirement for many positions. BSW graduates can go on to work as community organizers, case managers, probation officers, and more. The four-year degree program which combines coursework and fieldwork provides students with an understanding of social work values, ethics and policies. But if you’re aiming for clinical social worker licensure, a BSW isn’t necessarily required. You will however be required to obtain at least a master’s in the field.

  2. Earn a Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW)

    Like BSW programs, CSWE-accredited master’s in social work (MSW) programs include a number of required core courses. Once those core courses are completed, students have the opportunity to select courses that focus on a specialty area of their choosing. If you want to work as a LCSW, some MSW specialization tracks you can consider are behavioral health, mental health and substance abuse, and the obvious, clinical social work. MSW programs can also prepare students to work in management positions within the field.

    You can pursue an MSW program online or on-campus. Some universities offer hybrid versions of the degree as well. It all depends on your personal commitments and learning style.

    When looking for the best MSW program for you, carefully review admissions requirements as well as course offerings and descriptions. Making sure your program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) should also be on your checklist.

    If you already have a bachelor’s in social work from a CSWE-accredited program, there are master’s programs designed for students just like you, that allow you to build on the knowledge and skills acquired during your undergraduate education. These programs are called advanced standing MSW programs.

    There are other advanced social work degrees available to professionals in the field such as a Ph.D. in social work and a Doctor of Social Work, but neither of these degrees are required for clinical social work licensure. They involve heavy research and prepare graduates to work in leadership roles.

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  3. Complete Additional Supervised Clinical Experience Hours

    All future LCSWs must complete additional hours of post-MSW clinical hours to meet licensure requirements in their state. Experiences may vary by state, but typically include diagnoses, assessments and treatments, face-to-face individual and group therapy, client advocacy, consultation, evaluation and research. Be sure to check with your intended to practice state’s social work licensure requirements.

  4. Obtain Social Work Licensure in Your State

    After earning a master’s degree in social work, passing the applicable social work exam from the Association of Social Work Board (ASWB), and meeting any additional state requirements for social work licensure, graduates are then able to obtain a LCSW license in their state. Licensure for LCSWs typically requires two years of supervised experience after earning your master’s. Depending on your state, a clinical exam may be required as well.

Should I Become a LCSW?

The LCSW profession can be a demanding one. But it can also be rewarding. The role of a social worker is crucial in many facets of our society today. Whether you end up working in a hospital, mental health clinic, community center, private practice, or prison, your daily efforts ultimately help to improve the overall quality of life for members of your community.

Your duties will likely vary depending on the setting in which you are practicing and the individual or group you are working with. But if you enjoy flexibility in the workplace, that may not come as a huge challenge to you. One day you might find yourself in meetings advocating for improved services for vulnerable populations, and another day, you may be required to visit the home of a family.

Overall, employment of social workers is projected to grow 11% from 2018 to 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As demand for healthcare increases during this time period, the demand for social work services will also increase, but by specialization.

Certification

As previously mentioned, becoming a clinical social worker requires licensure from your state licensing board. The Association of Social Work Boards allows the public to access information in regards to social work regulations and license information. You’ll also be able to find specific information for licensing in your very own state on their website. Familiarizing yourself with your state’s license requirements is crucial as every state’s requirements differ. The National Association of Social Workers also provides credentials and certifications for professionals in this field. Learn more about what they offer on their website.

LCSW FAQ

Below are some commonly asked questions about the field of clinical social work:

What is a LCSW?

LCSW stands for licensed clinical social worker. They are social workers who have gone on to obtain their master’s in social work (MSW) and complete the requirements in their state to obtain their professional license. By obtaining their MSW and license, they can work in a variety of environments, explore different specializations, and even open up their own private practice.

What does a Licensed Clinical Social Worker Do?

A licensed clinical social worker provides treatment to clients with mental and emotional issues that are affecting their daily lives. They work with their clients to listen to their needs and provide the support and resources needed to cope with those issues.

LCSWs also have the ability to diagnose and treat the issues of their clients, although this may vary by state. This can be in the form of providing therapy, providing referrals, and working with other professionals like doctors to come up with an effective treatment plan for their client.

Where do LCSWs work?

LCSWs can work in an array of settings. Some work in offices for research purposes, and others may visit their clients in schools, their home, community centers, hospitals, assisted living facilities, and more. The work environment of an LCSW differs depending on their area of specialization.

How do I become a LCSW in my state?

There are other online resources to help you figure out how to become a licensed clinical social worker in your state. One of those resources provides information on how to become a lcsw in your state which allows you to select your state and review education requirements and LCSW exam requirements (if applicable).

Is a LCSW considered a doctor?

Unlike a doctor, an LCSW cannot prescribe medication. LCSWs have the ability to provide psychotherapy to their clients, however, their training focuses on connecting their clients with the skills and resources needed to meet their needs. LCSWs can easily collaborate with doctors and psychiatrists to develop comprehensive treatment plans for clients. In those cases, doctors or psychiatrists may be responsible for prescribing medication.

While those in the field of psychiatry can go on to medical school and earn their Doctor of Medicine, the master’s in social work (MSW) is the highest level of education that LCSWs obtain. But depending on an LCSW’s career goals, they can decide to earn their DSW down the line.

How much does a LCSW make?

As of May 2018, the median annual wage for social workers was $49,470, according to the BLS. The salary of an LCSW varies based on factors such as their employer, specialty, and the amount of time they work. Many social workers tend to work full-time, but some may be on call.