LCSW: Job Description & Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Get an overview of the requirements - including degree programs, job duties and licensure - to see if this career is right for you.

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Essential Information

A licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) often possesses a master's degree in social work and has passed a state licensing exam. Clinical social workers are mental health professionals who provide therapy, counseling, and intervention services to clients.

Required EducationMaster of Social Work
Other RequirementsTwo years of post-degree clinical experience; state licensing or certification
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)*19% (all social workers)
Median Salary (2012)*$44,200 (all social workers)

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description for Licensed Clinical Social Workers

LCSWs act as advocates and help clients gain access to resources while confronting their personal issues, such as mental illness, addiction, and abuse. A variety of private, public, and non-profit organizations employ LCSWs, with the greatest number of employment opportunities occurring in urban areas. Social workers may specialize in mental health and substance abuse; medical and public health; or child, family, and school social work. They may also work in research, administration, policy-making, or public planning.

Clinical social work often takes place in residential facilities, hospitals, offices, and clients' homes. In addition to a 40-hour work week, social workers may find it necessary to work some evenings and weekends to meet with clients. In some settings, social workers may find that heavy caseloads and understaffing add to work-related pressures.

Career and Economic Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of social workers in general was expected to increase 19% in the period from 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). However, those interested in healthcare-related social work were expected to see the greatest employment increase, with a growth rate of 27%.

The BLS found that salaries earned by social workers varied, depending on their specialty field. In May 2013, child, family and school social workers earned an average annual salary of $46,060; specifically, healthcare social workers earned an average of $52,520.

Requirements for Becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Educational Requirements

To perform clinical work, social workers generally need to earn a Master of Social Work (MSW), which is a two-year degree. Many programs don't require to students to have earned a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) in order to gain admission, but those who have earned BSW degrees may have options for accelerated programs. MSW programs often examine such subjects as research methods, social policy and welfare, human behavior, family dynamics, social justice, and diversity. Students may also be required to complete supervised clinical field experiences.

In addition, a license is required to use the LCSW designation and perform certain types of work. While eligibility requirements vary by state, most require at least two years of supervised clinical experience, according to the BLS.

Skills Required

LCSWs are expected to behave ethically and professionally, demonstrate excellent communication skills and be capable of working with diverse populations. Since they interact with professionals from many different social service and government agencies, they must be able to collaborate well with others. The profession also requires emotional resilience and stability since the work often involves dealing with crises.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics