How to Become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

Are you interested in a career in social work? To become a clinical social worker, you’ll need to obtain a master’s degree in social work and get licensed in the state where you want to practice. Below, we discuss how to become an LCSW, including education and licensure requirements.

How to Become an LCSW

There are several steps to become a clinical social worker. However, prospective LCSWs should keep in mind that specific requirements may vary from state to state. 

How do you become an LCSW? Generally, the first step is to complete the education requirements. Typically, becoming an LCSW requires a master’s degree in social work (MSW). Some students may choose to begin their education with a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW), which may set them up for success for future social work education. 

After completing their MSW degree, prospective clinical social workers need to obtain licensure. Licensure requirements vary depending on where you live, but this tends to involve passing a clinical social work exam. Many states also require clinical social workers to complete several years of supervised clinical experience after they graduate. 

What Is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker?

A licensed clinical social worker is someone who has earned a master’s degree in social work and completed the licensure requirements for the state in which they practice. 

An LCSW is able to diagnose and treat behavioral and mental disorders through individual or group therapy. They may develop treatment plans in cooperation with physicians and other healthcare professionals. An LCSW may work in a variety of environments, including schools, hospitals, mental health centers or religiously affiliated organizations.

Bachelor’s in Social Work 

Many prospective social workers choose to obtain a bachelor’s in social work before moving on to an MSW program. Earning a BSW degree may provide students with a solid foundation for their future studies, especially if they want to become an LCSW later. 

A BSW degree is generally the minimum requirement for entry-level social work jobs. Most BSW programs require supervised field experience, which may prepare students for work in general practice settings. Completing a BSW degree usually takes about four years. 

While obtaining a BSW may be a great way to gain foundational knowledge of social work concepts, it is not required to become an LCSW. Most schools accept MSW applicants who hold almost any accredited bachelor’s degree. However, many schools — including Baylor University — offer advanced standing MSW programs that allow students with a BSW degree to complete an expedited MSW degree track in as little as one year. 

Master’s in Social Work 

Becoming an LCSW requires the completion of an accredited master’s in social work degree program. An MSW program prepares graduates for LCSW careers by helping them develop skills required for clinical assessments. Some MSW programs may focus on specific social work concentrations or specializations. Students who are interested in becoming an LCSW may want to seek out MSW programs that offer specializations in clinical practice. 

Many schools offer MSW programs in both on-campus and online formats. An MSW online program may be a good choice for students who want more flexibility in their schedules. In many cases, the rigor and curriculum for an online MSW program is the same as for an on-campus MSW program.

MSW degrees generally take about two years to complete. Advanced standing MSW programs enable students with a BSW to complete their MSW faster, and begin earning their field hours as soon as they start classes. MSW degree programs prepare students to pursue LCSW licensure after graduation. 

LCSW State Licensure

Before you can practice as a clinical social worker, you will need to obtain licensure. Each state has its own licensure requirements, so it’s important to check with your state board before registering for a licensing exam. 

The licensing exam for becoming an LCSW is administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). Requirements for taking the ASWB clinical exam include holding a master’s degree in social work and completing two years of clinical experience.

Once you obtain your license, you will likely need to renew it regularly. Licensure renewal guidelines vary by state, but are usually required every two years. 

MSW Online Program at Baylor University

Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work offers a Master of Social Work online for students intending to become LCSWs. The program places a strong emphasis on service, justice and empowerment, with the goal of helping graduates become culturally responsive social workers. 

The curriculum for Baylor University’s MSW online program is designed to prepare students to serve as social work clinicians, counselors, administrators and more. The coursework for the program ethically integrates faith and social work, preparing graduates for a mission-driven career in the social work field. Baylor’s program offers specializations in community and clinical practice. Students looking to pursue a career as an LCSW after graduation should choose the clinical practice specialization. 

The standard MSW online program is available in a part-time, full-time and accelerated format, so students can choose the option that works best for their schedule. If you have already earned a BSW from a Council on Social Work Education-accredited school within the past five years, you may be interested in Baylor University’s advanced standing MSW online program, which allows BSW graduates to receive their MSW degree in as little as one year. 

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Citation for this content: Baylor University’s online master’s in social work program.