Obtaining your clinical license to practice social work is every bit as complex as it is for burgeoning lawyers, physicians, and other professionals. There are many different components to the process and getting your social work degree is just the first part of what is a complex, albeit rewarding, process.
Some things to know about getting your social work degree and licensure include:
Education. To obtain your clinical license to practice social work, you will first need your Master of Social Work degree from an accredited institution. Generally, this involves a total of six years of education including undergraduate work, though some students may find that they are able to transfer core credits from other programs to shorten the time it takes to reach the required number of credit hours.
Training. Typically, a social work master’s degree involves on-the-job training in the field to graduate. This is often facilitated by the matriculating college or institution and may be in macro, mezzo, or micro social work settings. These internships may be paid, though most often they only provide a stipend to the graduate student, which may require some financial adjustments to accommodate students in the field.
Examinations. After social work students have graduated from a social work master’s program, they will be eligible to take their clinical exam. This provides the credentials that are needed to apply for LCSW, or Licensed Clinical Social Worker status. The test is very thorough and comprehensive; those students that don’t pass the exam are welcome to retake it, though most states require that they wait a period of at least six months. For this reason, it makes sense to invest time and resources into studying, guides, and even tutors before sitting for the examination. Results are often immediate, since the test is computer-generated, so you will know if you have passed when you leave your exam site.
Background info. After your test scores are in, you can begin the process of applying for your LCSW. This will involve gathering materials, including transcripts, a healthcare background check, and consents for the governing body to do a criminal background check. If you have been charged or convicted of a crime, that does not prohibit you from receiving your license, though you may be asked to write a personal statement explaining the circumstances of the incidents. There are fees required for the test, the background checks, and the application, so be prepared to send money orders or cashier checks with your materials.
Practice. Your LCSW will be on a conditional basis, LMSW-CC, until you can document a predetermined number of hours of clinical supervision. Clinical supervision is often provided at social work job sites, although some social workers may need to extend beyond the workplace to obtain supervision hours from an acceptable source. Professionals offering clinical supervision will provide you with the documentation that you need to gain independent licensure though they typically charge a per-hour fee to the social worker for this provision.
Renewals. An LCSW is usually valid for a period of two years before renewal. To renew your license, you may have to provide proof of continued education, clinical supervision, as well as send in additional fees to renew your licensure for another two years. It is a much easier process to renew your LCSW than it is to begin the process all over again if you let it expire. If you are not currently practicing social work, but don’t want your license to expire, you may be able to ask for it to be put on hiatus status, which holds your license until you choose to renew and practice again, or until a predetermined period of time has passed, depending on the laws in your state.
Don’t let the process of obtaining your social work degree and licensure impede progress toward your professional goals. These are very similar to the requirements facing doctors, lawyers, and others that need a license to practice their trade. The rewards of a career in social work make the efforts of becoming licensed worthwhile, and you will be in high-demand when hitting the job market. Remember that each step toward your independent licensure brings you closer to becoming a clinical practitioner and professional helper, which can have dramatic and life-changing impacts on your clients, the community, and society at large.
For further reading, check out this blog post: How Florida Social Work Licensure Compares to Other States