LMSW vs. LCSW – What’s the difference?
LMSW or LCSW – Which Path is Best for Me?
Similarities and Differences Between an LMSW vs. an LCSW
Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)
Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
What Does an LCSW Do?
The LMSW exam is one of many offered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), and it is required to become a licensed master social worker in states that recognize this credential. The exam is rigorous and takes up to four hours to complete. The LMSW exam may only be taken online at a registered testing facility. There are 170 questions on the exam, and 150 of these are scored.
In 2020, 75.4 percent of candidates passed the master exam to obtain their social work licensure. Rigorous as it is, the exam is designed to help you succeed as a social worker. If you have completed all the necessary social work education and practical experience, you have the potential to pass the exam and obtain your license.
While there is no guaranteed way to pass an ASWB exam, knowing what to expect can help you feel confident and prepared to ace the exam. ASWB exams are designed based on analyses of professional social workers and practices in the field, so the information is relevant and current. The organization uses this information to develop content outlines and provide candidates with an overview of topics to know heading into the exam. The ASWB also recommends taking a practice test to gauge how well you will perform on the actual exam.
According to the ASWB, most candidates need to score correctly on 90 to 107 of the scored questions to pass. Put into perspective, that’s a 60 to 71 percent minimum needed to pass the exam. Even if you miss some of the questions, you may succeed.
If you don’t perform well the first time you take an ASWB exam, you can review the diagnostic report provided following the exam to determine where you will need to improve. Certain states may limit the number of times you can take an ASWB exam—check with your state regulatory board. Regardless, the ASWB requires that all candidates wait 90 days between testing attempts.
No, an LMSW does not have the ability to diagnose clients with mental illnesses. But they can work in a variety of fields from public health to public policy. If you are passionate about one-on-one care, counseling and therapy, you may consider pursuing an LCSW.
Just 23 states recognize the LMSW, including Alaska, Michigan, North Carolina, New York and Arizona. The requirements to obtain your LMSW will vary in each jurisdiction. In states that do not offer the LMSW, there are equivalent licenses candidates may pursue.
You now know the differences between an LMSW and an LCSW, but what is an LISW? LISW stands for licensed independent social worker. LISW responsibilities are most similar to that of an LCSW. LISWs need clinical experience hours and are empowered to provide care independently. They may work in a more specialized fashion with a chosen population, such as the elderly.
This license is only offered in six jurisdictions: the District of Columbia, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and South Carolina.
You typically cannot become a social worker without a license. However, the ASWB does recognize some exempt roles and work settings where a license may not be necessary in certain states. For example, in New Hampshire, social workers employed by a mental health clinic can be unlicensed if they perform work under supervision. In Utah, substance abuse educators do not have to be licensed. And in Vermont, hospice workers, foster care workers, and respite caregivers are exempt. Having a license can expand your career options and help you advance and progress in the field.