Earning your Master of Social Work is only half the battle. Pursuing post-graduate licensing is an essential step toward enhancing your career options. Those options, however, depend on whether you become a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) or equivalent master’s level license, or whether you continue along a clinical path and gain your Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) or equivalent based on the state.
Although both licenses require a Master of Social Work (MSW), there are additional requirements in pursuing a LCSW. It is important to note that in most states an applicant must already have a master’s level license in order to be eligible to sit for the clinical licensing exam. It is also worth noting that in some states, including Virginia and Connecticut, there is no master’s level license. After earning an MSW, one may be able to work as a social worker while earning clinical hours towards future license application.
Experience and Education Requirements
A master’s level license requires a master’s degree in social work (MSW) with no post-degree experience. Advanced generalist and clinical licenses require two years of post-MSW experience. In the case of clinical licensure, this experience must be in direct clinical social work.
Social work regulatory boards generally require that applicants have social work degrees from MSW programs that have been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) or the Canadian Association for Social Work Education (CASWE). Any master’s degrees completed outside of the U.S. or Canada must be evaluated for equivalence to U.S. and Canadian programs.
More explicit information on education and experience required for social work licenses is listed in the table below.
Professional Capacities and Career Trajectory
Social workers can be grouped into direct service social workers and macro practice social workers. Social workers with a clinical license generally practice psychotherapy in a variety of settings, including schools, private practice, clinics, hospitals, or residential or day treatment programs. They can provide individual therapy, family therapy and group therapy. In addition, social workers can utilize a variety of therapeutic models.
While social workers without a clinical license can be in direct practice, they cannot practice psychotherapy independently without supervision until they achieve the necessary clinical level licensure. These individuals may also provide case management, consultation or other services. On the other hand, macro social workers can perform functions such as community organizing, program management, political advocacy, policy analysis or human services management.
Although social workers can work in a wide range of roles, many of them are interrelated. A social worker may work for many years in a clinical role and then decide to switch to macro practice and vice versa. In this way, social workers end up with a number of options and may choose to develop a spectrum of skills.