How Can I Become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)?

Explore the career requirements for licensed clinical social workers. Get the facts about education, salary, licensure requirements and job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Clinical Social Work degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Licensed Clinical Social Worker Do?

Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) work with individuals or communities who need assistance. Their roles may vary widely depending on the group that they work with. For instance, healthcare social workers focus on working with people who have been diagnosed with an illness or the family of a person diagnosed with an illness. They help them understand how the diagnoses will affect their lives and help them locate resources they may need. Child and family social workers may intervene on behalf of abused children or help families access services they need. Mental health social workers focus on individuals with a mental health condition, and substance abuse social workers work with individuals struggling with addiction.

All social workers have the goal of improving the quality of life of their clients. They may work with them over a number of sessions, individually or in groups, and help them understand the issues affecting their life and how to manage them. They also help people access resources, such as support groups, housing or other services.

Degree Required Master of Social Work
Key Responsibilities Assess the needs of clients considering their situations, strengths and support available; devise treatment plan with input of client; refer services and support to facilitate client success; provide crises intervention and services
Licensure or Certification All states require clinical social workers to be licensed
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 12% (for all social workers)
Median Salary (2015)* $42,170 for mental health and substance abuse social workers; $42,350 for child, family and school social workers; $58,560 for various other types of social workers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker?

LCSWs are social workers that have met the licensure requirements to diagnose and treat mental, emotional and behavioral issues. Unlike other types of social workers, a LCSW can provide psychotherapy and other mental health services.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that your title as a LCSW may be clinical social worker or mental health and substance abuse social worker ( As a LCSW, you may decide to specialize in an area, such as medical and public health or family, child and school social work.

You may treat individuals, groups, couples and families in a variety of client-centered clinical settings, including hospitals, mental health centers, substance abuse treatment facilities, schools and private practices. In addition to treating mental disorders, you might help people with everyday problems, such as dealing with turbulent family relationships, coping with major illnesses or overcoming unemployment.

What Type of Degree Do I Need?

In order to qualify for licensure, you need to earn your Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education ( Some MSW programs offer concentrations in clinical social work practice, but a general MSW can also qualify you for licensure. You typically need a bachelor's degree to gain entrance into a MSW program, but your undergraduate major doesn't need to be in social work.

What Will I Study?

A full-time MSW program can usually be completed in about two years, whereas a part-time program may take 3-4 years to complete. Many MSW programs focus on clinical social work practice, which can prepare you to sit for the LCSW examination.

You can also find programs that have a concentration or specialization in clinical practice, as well as coursework in social work research, communities and organizations, individual and family practice, social welfare policies and social service delivery. Other courses in specific areas of social work service include alcohol and substance abuse, grief and loss, emotional disorders and financial management. Most MSW programs also include an internship or supervised clinical work experience requirement.

How Do I Become Licensed?

Once you earn your master's degree from an accredited program, you need to meet other requirements and complete the licensing process before you can become a LCSW. Most states require clinical social workers to complete post-MSW supervised experience in a clinical setting to qualify for licensure.

To earn your LCSW credential, you may also need to pass the national clinical exam from the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). You may want to research your state's requirements before pursuing this career, because specific licensure requirements can vary by state.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are several positions similar to that of a clinical social worker if you are interested in a career helping people with problems in their everyday lives. For instance, you could consider becoming a rehabilitation or mental health counselor. In these positions, you could help people clients cope with mental disorders or physical disabilities. Similar to a LCSW, these positions also require a master's degree, and many states also require licensure. Social/community service managers also perform some tasks that have similarities to tasks social workers do, though they often only need to have a bachelor's degree. They are responsible for organizing community service programs and they oversee the staff who provide those services to community members. In this respect, their work is similar to social workers, because their goal is to ensure that the appropriate community members have access to social service programs.

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