How to Become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

What is a LCSW?

Licensed clinical social workers work in a wide variety of settings to provide emotional support, mental health evaluations, therapy, and case management services to people experiencing psychological, emotional, medical, social, and/or familial challenges. Clinical social work is a unique field that combines mental and emotional disorder development knowledge and treatment planning with an understanding of socioeconomic, cultural, and familial impacts on an individual’s wellbeing. This person-in-environment approach allows clinical social workers to help people who are going through some of the most challenging experiences in their lives, such as the illness or death of a family member, divorce, child custody issues, incarceration, unemployment, substance abuse, and domestic violence.

Steps to Become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

All clinical social workers who wish to practice independently in the United States must become licensed clinical social workers. While social workers without their LCSW credential can still practice clinical social work, they must do so under the supervision of a LCSW. Social workers who would like more professional options and independence may wish to work towards their LCSW.

Step 1: Complete a CSWE-Accredited MSW Program

There are three educational pathways to become a LCSW:

  • Students who did not earn a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) from a CSWE accredited program, must complete a traditional MSW program that typically takes two to four years depending on whether a student attends full-time or part-time.
    If you are looking for an online MSW, explore the different online social work degrees.
  • Students with a BSW that was completed in the last five to seven years are able to complete an advanced standing MSW program that typically takes one to two and a half years, depending upon enrollment status. These programs usually have higher minimum GPA requirements of 3.0 or higher and may have additional admission requirements. BSW students who do not meet the requirements for an advanced standing program may attend a traditional MSW program instead.
  • A Ph.D. or Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)–in lieu of a MSW is accepted in 41 states.

Featured Online MSW Programs

School Name Online MSW Program Concentration
University of Denver A Social Justice–Focused Online MSW
Baylor University Specialize in Clinical Practice or Community Practice
Simmons University  Clinical Social Work with Specializations
University of Southern California (USC)  Mental Health: Clinical Practice in Mental Health Settings

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Step 2: Complete LCSW Licensing and Examination Requirements

Clinical social work licensure is regulated at the state level. Each state has its own licensing board that determines the specific requirements for clinical social work licensure. In general, a Master of Social Work (MSW) from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is required to become a LCSW in all 50 states (see below for more information).

Students or social work practitioners who wish to become LCSWs should note that earning this credential typically requires a graduate social work degree from a CSWE-accredited institution, a passing score on a state determined licensure exam, and hours of professional experience. Current LCSWs who move to a different state may have to complete additional requirements in order to transfer their license. Students who are interested in becoming LCSWs should make sure the graduate social work program and concentration they choose meet the licensing requirements for their state of residence.

Step 3: Apply for LCSW State Licensure

Licensure depends on your state of residence and the board specific licensing requirements.

The entire process to become an LCSW requires a considerable commitment post-graduation; completing an MSW program is just the beginning.

LCSW Licensing Requirements by State

The following states are used for example purposes only to demonstrate how licensing requirements vary by state.

LCSW Licensing in California

    1. Complete MSW and register to become an Associate Clinical Social Worker (ACSW)
    2. Complete additional coursework if not taken during your MSW
      • Child Abuse Assessment and Reporting (7 hours)
      • Human Sexuality (10 hours)
      • Alcoholism and Chemical Dependency (15 hours)
      • Spousal/Partner Abuse (15 hours)
      • Aging and Long Term Care (10 hours)
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  1. Complete 3,200 hours of supervised work experience and 104 weeks of supervision as defined by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (restrictions apply)
  2. Apply and pass LCSW examinations

LCSW Licensing in Florida

  1. Complete MSW program
  2. Complete required coursework:
    • 24 semester hours in theory of human behavior and practice methods as courses in clinically oriented services
    • Minimum of one course in psychopathology
  3. Complete a supervised MSW field education, where clinical services were directly provided to clients
  4. Complete at least two years of post-graduate work experience as defined by the Florida Department of Health (restrictions apply)
  5. Pass national licensing examination
  6. Complete additional coursework from approved providers:
    • Eight-hour laws and rules course
    • Two-hour prevention of medical errors course
    • Three-hour HIV/AIDS course
    • Two-hour domestic violence course

LCSW Licensing in New York

  1. Complete MSW Program
  2. Become a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)
      • Complete education requirements:
        • At least 60 semester hours for traditional students
        • At least 30 semester hours for advanced standing students
        • MSW Field education must be at least 900 hours
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    • Complete examination requirements
    • Complete approved course in identifying and reporting child abuse
  3. Complete at least three years of post-graduate work experience as defined by the New York State Education Department (restrictions apply)
  4. Complete at least 12 hours of clinical coursework – coursework can be completed during or after MSW program if needed (restrictions apply)
  5. Pass national licensing examination
  6. Complete coursework in identifying and reporting child abuse provided by an approved provider

Compare CSWE accredited online MSW degrees with our full list of universities that offer social work graduate education online.

Licensed clinical social workers are found in many different medical, mental health, and human services-related organizations, including hospitals, nursing homes, health services agencies, community clinics, child welfare agencies, and substance abuse clinics. They often collaborate with other medical, mental health, and/or case management professionals to provide holistic care and support to clients and their families.

While becoming a LCSW is not required to practice clinical social work within organizations, earning a LCSW credential may open up professional doors, increase your competitiveness for certain positions, and provide a higher sense of autonomy in your work with the community. If you want to pursue a private practice, earning your LCSW is a requirement.

Note: The designation for social workers who have their clinical social work license varies by state. While some states grant the title of Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) to social workers with their license, other states use different titles, including but not limited to Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) or Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW).