Being a social worker comes with major professional responsibilities. After all, the mental health and well-being of another human is in your hands. Therefore, as it should be, the field of social work is a regulated profession in which proper training, education and experience is required by each state’s regulatory board. And, of course, as with most any profession, each state has its own requirements. You will, most definitely, want to check the regulatory requirements for the state in which you will practice so you can adhere to their requests. Although licensure may not be required in all states, it is often preferred by employers.
Do you need an online Doctor of Social Work degree to gain licensure? No, you do not, however, certain educational levels will allow you to gain licensure at the appropriate level. For example, you may earn licensure with a bachelor’s degree, however, with a master’s degree and experience, you can earn the highest level of licensure. Your doctorate degree will not allow you to obtain licensing in a higher category than the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), which you can get with your master’s degree. Your doctorate degree will, however, earn you better opportunities for career advancement.
Your examination for a social work license is typically provided by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). There are four categories of social work licensure examinations to choose from, beginning with the Licensed Bachelor of Social Work (LBSW) exam. With this license, you must own a bachelor’s degree and you can obtain your license immediately upon passing the exam, without on-the-job training or work experience. Your LBSW license will allow you to pursue an entry-level human services job that does not require clinical services to clients.
If you intend to further your education by earning a master’s degree, you will be eligible to take the appropriate exam to be a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW). Typically, you do not need post-graduation work experience to sit for the exam, however, check with your state for specific qualifications. With this licensure you may acquire a management role working in a school, human services agency, non-profit organization or a hospital. For most states, the LMSW is the highest level of licensure available for non-clinical application.
Although not offered by all states, some allow the addition of “Advanced Generalist” title to their LMSW. The Licensed Master Social Worker – Advanced Generalist (LMSW-AG) is allowed if you have at least two years of supervised non-clinical social work experience under your belt. After passing the LMSW-AG exam, this distinction designates you as an experienced social worker, but still in a non-clinical setting.
Finally, if you are properly trained to do clinical social work, you may obtain your Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) distinction. In this capacity, you must have a master’s degree in social work from an accredited program, pass the appropriate Clinical ASWB exam and must have completed two to three years of supervised clinical social work. The LCSW is the highest level of licensure available for social workers in a clinical setting.
A social worker with the LCSW license can work independently in a private practice, in addition to, schools, hospitals or other mental health facilities. They can make assessments, a diagnosis and create treatment plans, often using psychotherapy and the like.
Each examination for licensure consists of 170 multiple-choice questions. The test is given electronically, and you will have four hours to complete the test.
If you would like to learn more about this field, please see our choices for the Best Online Schools for Doctor of Social Work degree programs.