How to Become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Licensed clinical social workers form the largest group of mental healthcare providers around the world. They help young and old patients cope with hardships that arise or affect their emotional and mental health, using personalized treatment plans and prevention strategies.

The requirement for becoming a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) varies by state. However, all aspiring LCSWs must earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in social work, complete additional coursework and clinical training, and pass licensure exams. Here are some steps for becoming a licensed clinical social worker:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree

Advanced degrees are general education requirements for licensed clinical social workers. Their requirements usually start with obtaining a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field such as public health, sociology, and psychology. A bachelor’s degree can make you qualify for some entry-level administrative work, social work, or similar wellness and mental health roles. An accredited BSW degree program usually takes four years of full-time study. These hours help students understand social work values, policies, and ethics.

  1. Obtain a master’s degree in social work (MSW)

Accredited master’s degree in social work includes academic study and clinical fieldwork experience. Most states also allow and encourage a doctorate in social work (DSW). However, you should ensure both the MSW and DSW programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. This accreditation ensures the program meets the standards and criteria needed for your state’s post-graduate work and clinical licensure. You can pursue a master’s in social work through MSW online program or on-campus.

  1. Complete additional hours of supervised clinical experience

Before applying for your license, you need to gain experience under the supervision of a licensed clinical social worker. Experiences may differ by state, but they typically include clinical psychosocial diagnosis, assessment and treatment, face-to-face individual and group therapy, consultation and evaluation, client advocacy, and research.

  1. Apply for LCSW licensing in your state

The application for clinical social work licensure is usually regulated by the state. Every state has its own licensing board that determines the minimum requirements for clinical social work licensure. As an aspiring LCSW, you should ensure the graduate social work program and specialization that you choose meet the licensing requirements for your state of residence or the one you aspire to practice in.  

Earning an LCSW designation usually requires a passing score on a state-determined exam and hours of professional experience. Most states require those aspiring to become LCSWs to apply for, take and pass the Association of Social Boards (ASWB) national clinical exam and law and ethics exam.

  1. Renew your license

After you have become a licensed clinical social worker, you must renew your license within the registration period for your state by taking formal continuing education units (CEUs). This ongoing learning ensures that you are continually meeting the high standards shown by your license. If you fail to continue to do so, you won’t be able to continue with the practice.  


Clinical social work can be a demanding career, but it can also be highly rewarding. The role of a social worker is essential in many aspects of society today. Whether you will come to work in a hospital, community center, or private practice, your day-to-day effort will ultimately help improve the overall quality of life for your community members.  

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