How to Become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker

We all face tough times now and then in our lives. It is in those instances where we can’t seem to cope with troubling times on our own that we need a helping hand. Help often comes from a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). This certification is in high demand, which makes obtaining the prerequisite master’s in social work (MSW) all the more attractive.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

A practitioner with LCSW certification has met the LCSW licensing requirements for the state in which he/she is practicing. Anyone who completes the prerequisite training and academic work to meet a state’s licensing requirements can obtain an LCSW license from the state’s Board of Social Work Examiners.

Obtaining an LCSW entails a significant degree of post-MSW training. Once licensed, the career paths are wide, ranging from public and private organizations to individual practice. Many LCSWs find themselves working within a home environment to ensure the physical and mental health and wellness of family members. 

The licensed social worker may work to help individuals and families gain insight into traumas and their emotional responses to them. The LCSW guides families and individual to find healing, facilitate dialogue, and address everyone’s needs. Marriages can rebuild from the brink of divorce with the help of a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

In most states, an LCSW can open a private practice, giving the licensed social worker control over his or her earning potential. Private practice allows a degree of flexibility in the scope of practice as well as scheduling and patient load.

What’s Required for an LCSW?

If social work is your first love, the road to a successful career lies through education and licensure. Although requirements may vary depending on the region, in the U.S., a minimum MSW degree from an accredited university is the usual standard.

Obtaining an MSW means you must first complete a bachelor’s degree in a social science field (it doesn’t necessarily have to be social work).

Once you have your MSW in hand, you can begin looking into how to become a licensed clinical social worker. Most programs to become a licensed social worker require that you work approximately 3000 hours in a supervised position. This translates into about two years of employment in a supervised professional setting. The precise number of hours may vary, so be sure to check with your state on this requirement.

The good news is that most of the positions offer a paycheck for work rendered. These positions are available in hospitals, government agencies, and other similar settings.

Getting Started in Social Work

The educational requirements to become a licensed social worker depend on the specialty you’ve chosen. For most entry-level positions, the most common requirement is a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW.) Other related fields, such as psychology or sociology, may be acceptable in some settings.

A BSW prepares graduates for positions that offer direct services to clients, such as a mental health assistant or caseworker. An accredited BSW program includes an internship or supervised fieldwork.

If you’ve got your eye on a clinical position, you’ll need a master’s degree in social work. An MSW program prepares its graduates for working in their selected specialty area. MSW grads learn advanced skills that include management and clinical assessment.

Again, each state requires licensure for clinical social workers. Check with the state where you plan to practice to determine specific requirements.


Many consider an MSW degree and an LCSW designation to be interchangeable but that isn’t entirely accurate. An MSW is a master’s degree in social work. It is an academic degree bestowed by an accredited university upon completion of the course requirements set by the college.

An LCSW designation comes through a state licensing board. To obtain this licensure, you must first hold a master’s degree in social work from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited university. You’ll then need to pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) clinical exam. The American College Testing (ACT) program administers this test.

Should you choose a career path away from clinical social work, you’ll find your MSW degree is quite popular with human services employers. If your degree is from an accredited CSWE program, here are just a few examples of career choices:

  • Child welfare case management
  • Human services case management
  • Human services administration
  • School social worker
  • Adoption placement specialist
  • Social work administration
  • Geriatric social worker

If clinical social work is your passion, continuing your training to meet the requirements for LCSW licensure may be worth your time. An LCSW may specialize in any of the following settings:

  • State and local government agencies, including child protective services, and health and human services
  • Hospitals, nursing homes, and medical clinics
  • Substance abuse clinics and half-way houses
  • Community mental health agencies
  • Public and private schools
  • Veterans Affairs hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes
  • Military Bases
  • Correctional facilities
  • Private practice

LCSWs Are Everywhere

While the opportunities open to one holding an MSW are impressive, licensed clinical social workers may find even more doors and career paths open to them. Having the right to sign “LCSW” after your name carries weight in professional fields such as medical, mental health, and human services (including nonprofits.)

LCSW professionals are sought out by case management professionals in various areas, including organizations that provide holistic care and those which offer support services for individual clients and families suffering from catastrophic loss or personal grief.

Licensed clinical social workers enjoy a higher degree of autonomy in their work. They are free to build their presence within their local communities, whether that’s accomplished through private practice, a consulting role or as a representative of a governmental agency.

In some states, the designation for a licensed clinical social worker may vary. LCSW is the most common title granted to those who complete the state’s certification process. Some different titles used in certain states include, but are not limited to, licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW) or simply licensed independent social worker (LISW.)

Regardless of professional title, anyone with a license to practice social work is a professional who enjoys career options in a wide range of fields. The licensed clinical social worker is the pinnacle of the social work profession and rightly so. When looking toward a career in social work, a Bachelor of Social Work or a Master of Social Work is the smart way to go.