Becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) takes some effort and time, but can reward you with a range of job possibilities. Exact requirements for this licensure can vary depending on where you live, so you should look at local qualifications. Many regions require a degree such as a Masters in Social Work (MSW) and a certain period of time of supervised employment as a social worker. You may then need to pass a test to receive a license to practice therapy or social work privately.
The method necessary to become an LCSW varies in different regions. In the US, you typically need at least an MSW from an accredited university. The MSW generally requires previous completion of a bachelor’s degree in one of the social sciences, though not necessarily social work. If you want to practice a particular aspect of social work, such as therapy, then look for a program that focuses on your interests.
After the MSW is obtained, many positions may become open to you. In order to become an LCSW, you typically need to work in a supervised position for approximately 3000 hours, or about two years of professional employment. The exact number of hours may vary from one region to another. These positions are often paid, and can be found in government agencies, hospitals, and similar locations.
Application and Testing
Once supervised practice hours are completed, you can apply to your local Board of Behavioral Examiners or similar agency for licensure. The test you take to become licensed depends on where you live, but usually consists of both a written and oral examination. Preparation for the LCSW examination is important. You can usually receive study materials from your local board or find books to help you prepare for the test.
Some regions also have a minimum age requirement before you can sit for the LCSW exam. For example, in many US states, you need to be at least 21 years of age to become licensed. Preparation for LCSW licensure can begin prior to this age, but you are not allowed to take the exam before your 21st birthday.
Ongoing Study and Education
Maintaining an LCSW can also take effort. You may need to continue studying and taking additional courses in order to keep your license current. Many universities offer these types of classes, though some conferences or seminars may be sufficient. Changes to licensing policies or laws in your area should also be understood, so it helps to remain aware of new developments related to your licensure.
Impact of Licensure
Once you become an LCSW, you are licensed to practice therapy, or to take a wide range of other positions. Some people work as educators, school counselors, or as parts of private psychiatric teams. Pay ranges vary depending upon the type of job you take and the area in which you live. When moving from one area to another, you may be able to qualify for licensure in the new region based on your previous experience and license, though this depends on the laws of the area to which you are transferring.
What Does LCSW Stand For?
LCSW stands for Licensed Clinical Social Worker. This professional holds an advanced social work degree — such as a master's or doctorate in social work — and extra training beyond this degree that designates him or her as a practitioner who is qualified to take on additional responsibilities in assessment, diagnosis, and counseling of clients.
Types of Social Workers
Though the title “social worker” may immediately conjure images of a professional who works with foster children, with the elderly, or with the legal system, the truth is that social workers can find employment at several different levels and many different industries. Macro social workers typically focus on policy change and social justice, mezzo social workers may work with groups and smaller communities, and micro social workers often work on an intrapersonal level to help people solve problems in their lives and relationships. LCSW practitioners are usually micro social workers, but there are always exceptions to this rule.
Key Differences Between LCSW and MSW Practitioners
While a master’s in social work will qualify a social worker to attain a license for counseling, it does not automatically provide one. If you are considering being a social worker at the master’s level, you should know that you have to attain about 3,000 hours of clinical supervision and sit for a licensing exam on top of obtaining your MSW degree.
How Long Does It Take To Become a Social Worker?
Fortunately for career changers, full-time parents, and those who wish to work while attending a bachelor’s or master’s program part-time, there isn’t just one standard path to becoming a clinical social worker — but you do need to hold at least an MSW degree before you will be allowed to take the LCSW exam for licensure.
You don’t need a bachelor’s degree in social work to apply for the MSW degree, but you should have taken at least a few social science courses before applying. Consider which of the following three plans looks best for your situation:
- Option one: Obtain a BSW, find an entry-level job in the social work field, and work on your MSW part-time while you earn a salary.
- Option two: Obtain a BSW and immediately start coursework for your MSW. Some programs have fifth-year master’s degree options or accelerated MSWs for students who already hold a BSW. This option will allow you to finish your MSW coursework in much less time than it would take if you did not have a BSW.
- Option three: Obtain a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as psychology, sociology, or gender and women’s studies and apply to an MSW program either right after completing your BSW or in the future.
After finishing your MSW, gain the necessary amount of supervised clinic hours at your place of employment and sit for the LCSW exam. Take care to select a supervisor that you feel will provide a good mentorship experience during this time. Your contacts from your time in school are great resources for pointing you in the right direction in your career.
What Is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker?
Earning the LCSW qualification opens up a new world to social workers with a master’s degree who wish to work one-on-one with their clients. LCSWs tend to counsel patients individually or in groups, and they often provide marital counseling, family therapy, and individual assessment and diagnostic services. The differences between a licensed clinical social worker, a licensed marriage therapist, and a counselor are often in terms of practice orientation and approach to therapy. Often, they will use similar modalities and treatments.
What Makes LCSW Counseling Unique?
Social workers are trained from the time they begin coursework to see individuals as part of a greater whole. While psychologists may focus on an individual and the specific problems he or she is currently experiencing, LCSWs may be more interested to know how this person functions as a part of his or her family, neighborhood, and community. For example, does that young woman you're seeing for depression live in an urban neighborhood that is known for violence or racial injustice? Is that young immigrant student having trouble in school because he's shy — or because he can't communicate well with his English-speaking teachers and classmates? All these questions are crucial to LCSW practitioners when they decide how to counsel their clients.
It takes considerable time and perseverance for someone to become a licensed clinical social worker, but those who have taken this career path often feel that it is a highly rewarding choice. Be sure to research potential schools before applying and gather information on accreditation, graduation rates, and career outlook before sending in your application.