Social work is a regulated profession in the United States, so some jobs may only be available to social workers with a certain level of credentialing. Whether you are just starting out, or hold a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, here’s what you should know about becoming a licensed clinical social worker.
Becoming a Clinical Social Worker and Going into Private Practice
Many MSWs decide on a career that involves going into private practice and delivering mental health services. In this capacity, they work as clinicians and psychotherapists, treating individuals with mental and emotional issues. This is an increasingly popular career path. The skill set of a licensed MSW in this position is held in high esteem in the counseling profession. These professionals are regularly seen as clinical peers to psychologists.
This field of practice is referred to as clinical social work. A clinical social worker may also pursue a career as a therapist in private practice, focusing on marital therapy, family therapy, adolescence, individual counseling, or sub-specialties such as grief counseling. Practicing at this high level as a social worker does not come easily, however. It requires specific study and additional postgraduate coursework and field experience. It also requires specific licensure.
For starters, a social worker who wants to work in a clinical field must select an accredited graduate social work program, and concentrate on a clinical track. This specialization will orient their skills to treat individuals with mental health, behavioral and emotional problems. Fieldwork placements in this area can be performed in any number of settings, as long as the work is mental health oriented.
Education and Training Requirements for the LCSW
Any MSW who is interested in a pursuing a career in clinical social work must eventually become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).
Licensure ensures that the social worker will meet professional standards, practices and ethics. LCSW licenses are granted by each state, so the requirements set forth by state licensing boards vary by region.
The LCSW reflects a high-tiered license in the social work profession. To be eligible for this license, MSW degree holders must complete additional courses and supervised clinical training; note that because this clinical training occurs after an MSW degree has been completed, it can consist of paid full time work.
The additional coursework and training is essential to the skill set of an aspiring LCSW. It allows for deepened knowledge and expertise in providing assessment, diagnosis, and treatment in the mental health field. In addition, supervised training teaches clinical social workers to manage their own feelings in therapeutic relationships.
Once these post-MSW requirements are met, an MSW is eligible to take the appropriate state licensure exams. Again, licensure and requirements vary by state. To learn more about how to become an LCSW in your particular state, contact the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).