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How to Become an LCSW

Take the first step with a Master of Social Work (MSW).

Compassion, interpersonal skills, listening skills, patience, and speaking skills are some of the core competencies needed to work with individuals, couples, and families in addressing their mental, emotional, and behavioral well-being.1 If you possess these qualities, you may want to consider a career as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).

“Clinical social workers represent the largest group of behavioral health practitioners in the nation. They are often the first to diagnose and treat people with mental disorders and various emotional and behavioral disturbances,” says the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). “Clinical social workers are essential to a variety of client-centered settings, including community mental health centers, hospitals, substance use treatment and recovery programs, schools, primary health care centers, child welfare agencies, aging services, employee assistance programs, and private practice settings.”2

How to Become an LCSW

Robust job growth of 23% is projected through 2026 for behavioral, mental health, and substance abuse counselors,3 making it an especially good time to match your interests and talents with the education and training for this dynamic field.

State laws and regulations govern clinical social work, and each state has its own specific academic, licensure, and certification requirements. However, LCSWs can expect to meet the following three requirements:4

  1. A master’s degree from a CSWE-accredited program.

    Individuals seeking a school of social work have many options. An online social work degree program is an excellent choice for working professionals because the workload can be limited to one or two courses per term. Some online universities offer an advanced-standing opportunity for students who already hold a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) from a CSWE-accredited program and graduated with a minimum GPA of 3.0. In this case, students can begin their MSW degree program with advanced-level courses.

  2. When choosing an accredited university for your Master of Social Work degree, you will find programs offering specializations such as Advanced Clinical Practice, Social Work in Healthcare, Military Social Work, and Social Work With Children and Families. Remember that the right specialization lays a strong foundation for your future practice.

  3. A minimum of two years or 3,000 hours of post-MSW degree experience in a supervised clinical setting.

    The number of supervised hours required varies by state. Florida mandates that MSW graduates have 1,500 hours of supervised experience for LCSW accreditation, according to the National Association of Social Work Boards (NASWB) database of licensing requirements. California requires 3,000 hours and Kentucky 3,600.5 Your CSWE-accredited school of social work may provide information on state-by-state requirements for licensure but will also recommend you contact your state’s social work licensing board for details.

    What can you expect during supervision? “The supervisor is responsible for providing direction to the supervisee, who applies social work theory, standardized knowledge, skills, competency, and applicable ethical content in the practice setting,” the NASWB explains. “During supervision, services received by the client are evaluated and adjusted, as needed, to increase the benefit to the client. It is the supervisor’s responsibility to ensure that the supervisee provides competent, appropriate, and ethical services to the client.6

  4. A clinical license in the state of practice.

    Again, requirements vary from state to state, but “all states and the District of Columbia have licensing, certification, or registration requirements for social work practice,” the CWSE explains. Here’s a general outline from the NASWB:7

    Begin the process by requesting and completing a license application from your state’s social work regulatory board. After receiving approval, you’ll register with the NASWB to take the clinical exam. With a passing score and any other requirements met, you’ll receive your license from your state social work board.

  5. Moving Up in Your Social Work Career

    Set an LCSW plan in motion by taking that first step. An MSW online program can guide you toward a rewarding future as an LCSW, helping clients achieve healthier and happier lives.

    Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible online learning platform that fits your busy life.


    1Source: www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/substance-abuse-behavioral-disorder-and-mental-health-counselors.htm#tab-4
    2Source: www.socialworkers.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=YOg4qdefLBE%3D&portalid=0
    3Source: www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/substance-abuse-behavioral-disorder-and-mental-health-counselors.htm
    4Source: www.socialworkers.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=YOg4qdefLBE%3D&portalid=0
    5Source: http://aswbsocialworkregulations.org/jurisdictionLevelsReportBuilder.jsp
    6Source: www.socialworkers.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=GBrLbl4BuwI%3D&portalid=0
    7Source : www.aswb.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Candidate-Handbook.pdf

    Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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