LMSW vs. LCSW

Earning your Master of Social Work is only half the battle. Pursuing post-graduate licensing is an essential step toward enhancing your career options. Those options, however, depend on whether you become a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) or equivalent master’s level license, or whether you continue along a clinical path and gain your Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) or equivalent based on the state.

Although both licenses require a Master of Social Work (MSW), there are additional requirements in pursuing a LCSW. It is important to note that in most states an applicant must already have a master’s level license in order to be eligible to sit for the clinical licensing exam. It is also worth noting that in some states, including Virginia and Connecticut, there is no master’s level license. After earning an MSW, one may be able to work as a social worker while earning clinical hours towards future license application.

Experience and Education Requirements

A master’s level license requires a master’s degree in social work (MSW) with no post-degree experience. Advanced generalist and clinical licenses require two years of post-MSW experience. In the case of clinical licensure, this experience must be in direct clinical social work.

Social work regulatory boards generally require that applicants have social work degrees from MSW programs that have been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) or the Canadian Association for Social Work Education (CASWE). Any master’s degrees completed outside of the U.S. or Canada must be evaluated for equivalence to U.S. and Canadian programs.

More explicit information on education and experience required for social work licenses is listed in the table below.

Professional Capacities and Career Trajectory

Social workers can be grouped into direct service social workers and macro practice social workers. Social workers with a clinical license generally practice psychotherapy in a variety of settings, including schools, private practice, clinics, hospitals, or residential or day treatment programs. They can provide individual therapy, family therapy and group therapy. In addition, social workers can utilize a variety of therapeutic models.

While social workers without a clinical license can be in direct practice, they cannot practice psychotherapy independently without supervision until they achieve the necessary clinical level licensure. These individuals may also provide case management, consultation or other services. On the other hand, macro social workers can perform functions such as community organizing, program management, political advocacy, policy analysis or human services management.

Although social workers can work in a wide range of roles, many of them are interrelated. A social worker may work for many years in a clinical role and then decide to switch to macro practice and vice versa. In this way, social workers end up with a number of options and may choose to develop a spectrum of skills.

Social Work Licensure Requirements

Social Work Licensure Requirements
State Licenses Education and Experience Exam Required
Alabama Private Independent Practice (Certificate) MSW + 2 years N/R
Alabama Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW) MSW Clinical
Alabama Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 2 years full time or 3 years part time Master’s degree
Alaska Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Master’s degree
Alaska Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 2 years full time or 3 years part time Clinical
Arizona Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Master’s degree
Arizona Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,200 hours over 2 years Clinical
Arkansas Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Master’s degree
Arkansas Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 4,000 hours over 2 years Clinical
California Associate Clinical Social Worker (ASW) MSW N/R
California Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,000 hours of supervised clinical practice N/R
Colorado Licensed Social Worker (LSW) MSW Master’s degree /Advanced Generalist/Clinical
Colorado Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,360 hours of work experience over a period of no less than 24 months Clinical/Advanced Generalist
Connecticut Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,000 hours Clinical
Delaware Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,200 hours over two years with 1,600 hours under supervision Clinical
District of Columbia Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW) MSW Master’s degree
District of Columbia Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) MSW + 3,000 hours over 2-4 years Clinical
District of Columbia Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW) MSW + 3,000 hours over 2-4 years Advanced Generalist
Florida Certified Master Social Worker (CMSW) MSW + 2 years Master’s degree
Florida Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 2 years supervised experience Clinical
Georgia Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Master’s degree
Georgia Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3 years Clinical
Hawaii Licensed Social Worker (LSW) MSW Master’s degree
Hawaii Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,000 hours clinical experience under supervision within 2-5 years Clinical
Idaho Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Master’s degree
Idaho Licensed Master Social Worker -- Independent (LMSWI) MSW Master’s degree
Idaho Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,000 hours in not less than 2 years Clinical
Illinois Licensed Social Worker (LSW) BSW + 3 years Master’s degree
Illinois Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,000 hours supervised clinical experience Clinical
Indiana Licensed Social Worker (LSW) MSW + 2 years Master’s degree
Indiana Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3 years clinical experience, 2 years under supervision Clinical
Iowa Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Master’s degree
Iowa Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW) MSW + 2 years full time or 4,000 hours part-time over 2-6 years Clinical
Kansas Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Master’s degree
Kansas Licensed Specialist Clinical Social Worker MSW + 4,000 hours within 2-6 years within a clinical setting Clinical
Kentucky Certified Social Worker (CSW) MSW + 2 years Master’s degree
Kentucky Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 2 years full-time or 3 years part-time (>20 hours per week) Clinical
Louisiana Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Master’s degree
Louisiana Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 5,760 hours Clinical
Maine Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) Not specified Master’s degree
Maine Licensed Master Social Worker – Clinical Conditional (LMSW-CC) Not specified Master’s degree
Maine Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 2 years of social work experience Clinical
Maine Certified Social Worker – Independent Practice Not specified Clinical
Maryland Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW) MSW Master’s degree
Maryland Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,000 hours supervised clinical experience within 2 years (half must be face to face) Advanced Generalist
Maryland Licensed Certified Social Worker – Clinical (LCSW-C) MSW + 3,000 hours over 2-6 consecutive years (Clinical
Massachusetts Licensed Social Worker (LCW) Not specified Master’s degree
Massachusetts Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) MSW + 2 years (3,500 hours) Clinical
Michigan Licensed Master Social Worker-Macro (LMSW-M) Not specified Advanced Generalist
Michigan Licensed Master Social Worker-Clinical (LMSW-C) MSW + 4,000 hours at no more than 2,000 hours per year after degree completion Clinical
Minnesota Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW) Not specified Master’s degree
Minnesota Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW) MSW + 4,000 hours or 2 years of supervised practice; face-to-face or via electronic media Advanced Generalist
Minnesota Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) MSW + Not less than 4,000 and no more than 8,000 hours of post-graduate clinical social work practice Clinical
Mississippi Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Master’s degree
Mississippi Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSWMac) MSW + 2-3 year period that includes 1,000 hours of face-to-face client contact Advanced Generalist
Mississippi Licensed Certified Social Worker-Clinical (LCSW-C) MSW  + 2-3 year period that includes 1,000 hours of face-to-face client contact Clinical
Missouri Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Masters
Missouri Provisional Licensed Clinical Social Worker (PLCSW) MSW + 3,000 hours supervised experience Clinical
Missouri Licensed Advanced Macro Social Worker (LAMSW) MSW + 3,000 hours supervised experience Advanced Generalist
Missouri Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,000 hours over 2-4 consecutive years Clinical
Montana Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,000 hours of supervised, post-degree psychotherapy work done in not less than 24 months; 1500 hours must be direct client contact Clinical
Nebraska Certified Master Social Worker (CMSW) MSW + 3,000 hours (at least 1,500 hours direct client contact), face-to-face Clinical/Advanced Generalist
Nebraska Licensed Mental Health Practitioner (LMHP) MSW + 3,000 hours obtained in a period of no less than 2 and no more than 5 years — one half of which is comprised of experience with clients diagnosed under the major mental illness or disorder category Clinical
Nevada Licensed Social Worker (LSW) MSW Master’s degree
Nevada Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW) MSW + 3,000 hours over 2 to 3 years, face-to-face Clinical/Advanced Generalist
Nevada Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,000 hours of supervised, postgraduate clinical social work; 2,000 hours must be in the area of psychotherapeutic methods and techniques to persons, families and groups to help in the diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional conditions Clinical
New Hampshire Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) MSW + 2 years of paid and supervised clinical work Clinical
New Jersey Licensed Social Worker (LSW) MSW Master’s degree
New Jersey Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 2 years of satisfactory full-time clinical social work experience within a period of not less than 2 years and not more than 3 consecutive years Clinical
New Mexico Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Master’s degree
New Mexico Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSE + 3,600 hours of post graduate social work practice Clinical
New York Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Master’s degree
New York Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + At least 3 years of post MSW supervised experience in diagnosis, psychotherapy and assessment-based treatment planning Clinical
North Carolina Certified Master Social Worker (CMSW) MSW Advanced Generalist
North Carolina Certified Social Work Manager (CSWM) MSW + 3,000 hours over 2 years Master’s degree
North Carolina Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,000 hours in no less than 2 years and no more than 6 years Clinical
North Dakota Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW) MSW Master’s degree
North Dakota Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) MSW + 3,000 hours post-master’s degree supervised clinical experience earned within 4 years Clinical
Ohio Licensed Social Worker (LSW) MSW Bachelor’s degree
Ohio Licensed Independent Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,000 hours over 2 years (1,500 hours max. per year) Clinical/Advanced Generalist
Oklahoma Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Master’s degree
Oklahoma Licensed Social Worker-Administration (LSW) MSW + 4,000 hours/24 months minimum Advanced Generalist
Oklahoma Licensed Social Worker (LSW) MSW + 4,000 hours over 2 years Advanced Generalist
Oklahoma Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 2 years of full-time post degree experience or the equivalent thereto of part-time experience, a total of 4,000 hours of experience in clinical social work Clinical
Oregon Clinical Social Work Associate (CSWA) MSW N/R
Oregon Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Master’s degree
Oregon Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 24 months full time or the equivalent part-time experience Clinical
Pennsylvania Licensed Social Worker (LSW) MSW Master’s degree
Pennsylvania Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3 years/3000 hours Clinical
Rhode Island Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW Master’s degree
Rhode Island Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) MSW + 3,000 hours of post masters practice of clinical social work during a 24 months to 72 months period of time including 1,500 hours of direct clinical services to clients Clinical
South Carolina Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Master’s degree
South Carolina Licensed Independent Social Worker-AP (LCSW-AP) MSW + 3,000 hours of supervised clinical social work practice in no less than 2 years and no more than 6 years prior license as a master social worker Advanced Generalist
South Carolina Licensed Independent Social Worker-CP (LCSW-CP) MSW + 3,000 hours over 2-4 years (100 face-to-face hours) Clinical
South Dakota Certified Social Worker (CSW) MSW + 2 years Master’s degree
South Dakota Private Independent Practice (CSW-PIP) MSW + 2 years Clinical
Tennessee Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Master’s degree
Tennessee Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW) MSW + 2 years Advanced Generalist
Tennessee Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 2,000 hours of clinical social work experience Clinical
Texas Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Master’s degree
Texas Licensed Master Social Worker – Advanced Practice (LMSW-AP) MSW + 3,000 hours of board approved supervised professional full-time clinical employment experience over a minimum 2-year period but within a maximum 4-year period or its equivalent Advanced Generalist
Texas Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,000 hours Clinical
Utah Social Service Worker (SSW) MSW + 2,000 hours over not less than 1 year Bachelor’s degree
Utah Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 4,000 hours over no fewer than 2 years. 1000 hours must be supervised practice in mental health therapy Clinical
Vermont Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3000 hours over 2 years (1,500 maximum hours per year) Clinical
Virginia Licensed Social Worker (LSW) BSW + 3,000 hours over two years full-time or 3000 hours over 4 years part-time Bachelor’s degree
Virginia Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 2 years supervised clinical experience Clinical
Washington Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) MSW + 4,000 hours of experience with 1,000 hours direct client contact Clinical
Washington Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW) MSW + 3,200 hours Advanced Generalist
West Virginia Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW) MSW Master’s degree
West Virginia Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) MSW + 2 years full time or 3000 hours part time clinical experience Clinical
Wisconsin Certified Independent Social Worker (CISW) MSW + 3,000 hours over 2 years Advanced Generalist
Wisconsin Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,000 hours in not less than 2 years Clinical
Wyoming Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,000 hours supervised clinical social work with 1,500 hours post MSW Clinical

What is a Licensed Social Worker?

Social workers perform an essential role in keeping many of the more vulnerable members of society safe. Licensed social workers can help clients handle issues relating to mental and emotional health. They often address problems relating to public crises like poverty, abuse, and unemployment.

Licensed social workers can choose to concentrate in a number of different concentrations. These can include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Mental health support and advocacy
  • Substance abuse issues
  • Public health
  • Medical social work
  • School social work
  • Children and family therapy
  • Marriage counseling
Social workers can opt to work in administrative, educational, research, or government fields. There is also a consistently high need for social workers in the non-profit and public health sectors.

Licensed social workers have completed the necessary requirements in order to be eligible for an advanced credential. This typically includes an advanced degree in a relevant field, followed by completion of the Association of Social Work Board examination.

LMSW Requirements

To begin the LMSW career path, candidates will need a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. This must be earned at an institution that has been given an accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education.

In order to be eligible for the MSW, students must first earn a bachelor’s degree. Ideally, this should be a Bachelor of Social Work degree--in fact, many MSW programs require it. In some cases, a degree in a relevant concentration may be acceptable as long as it’s in a behavioral science field like sociology, psychology, or human services. Some states also require additional training in ethics practices.

After earning the MSW, prospective social workers will need to pass the ASWB exam. After satisfying this final requirement, social workers may apply for licensure.

LMSW candidates don’t need supervised experience after completing the education and examination components of licensure and may begin practicing in a non-clinical setting.

LCSW Requirements

The LCSW is the highest level of licensure available to social workers. LCSWs are the only social workers permitted to practice in a private setting.

Like those working toward a LMSW licensure, LCSW candidates must first obtain their MSW and pass the ASWB exam. However, their training doesn’t end there. Before they can earn a clinical license, social workers must typically must complete two to three years of supervised experience (specific requirements vary from state to state).

In order to qualify toward the experience component of licensure, the position held by a prospective LCSW must be directly supervised by a licensed clinician who will share responsibility for the candidate’s services. Candidates must regularly meet with their supervisors to go over clinical practices, ethical issues, and any other topics deemed relevant.

Once social workers have completed all of the experience required for eligibility, they may sign up to sit for the ASWB Clinical Examination. They will need to submit proper documentation of their work responsibilities and experience to the licensing board, as well as hours logged on the job.

The Difference Between LMSW and LCSW

The Licensed Clinical Social Worker credential allows social workers to take on a variety of unsupervised responsibilities that the non-clinical Licensed Master Social Worker credential does not.

The LMSW allows social workers to handle many of the same basic tasks as the LCSW. However, they aren’t allowed to practice on their own in a clinical setting.

Non-clinical social workers may be more likely to handle issues involving the public. They may help clients with circumstances like housing issues, job placement, probation and legal issues, and coordinating support through addiction recovery.

Licensed clinical social workers may also take care of these issues, but they may also deal with heavier topics that require more advanced training than the LMSW. A LCSW may be more qualified to take care of clients with substance abuse problems, domestic conflict, mental health disorders, and more.

Social workers with a clinical license should be able to do the following:

  • Establish a healthy therapeutic environment
  • Set achievable treatment goals with clients
  • Help to create positive change in the lives of those who need it
  • Work with other healthcare professionals to provide the treatment needed for clients
Details surrounding the specific requirements for social workers can vary a great deal from state to state. For this reason, it’s critical to check with your state’s licensure board to find out what will be expected to fulfill what’s needed on your career path.

Typical Jobs Where You Need a LMSW or LCSW Credential

For LMSWs, who are considered to be entry level employees in their field, most of the jobs are social work positions at a local or state level. They may work directly with people needing help that doesn’t veer into the clinical arena, or they may find a job in a correctional facility or an employment center.

Licensed Master Social Workers can fill some of the same positions as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker but will need to be directly supervised by a social worker with clinical licensure.

Most of the higher paying positions in the social work sector are held by individuals with a clinical social work license. This credential allows for more freedom when it comes to practicing as a mental health counselor, whether as a private service or for a public organization.

Licensed Clinical Social Workers may help families work through potentially volatile domestic issues like marriage problems and parent-children relationships. They’re able to provide a clinically sound perspective and offer guidance and support throughout the therapeutic process.

A Licensed Clinical Social Worker might also find work in a hospital, inpatient facility, or hospice care center. They can work in most environments that require a clinical eye.

School counselors are also more likely to hold the LCSW credential than the LMSW certification. They’ll have the education and experience to help students during some of the most difficult times in their lives. They’ll also have a better sense of how to advise students and create a plan to help them reach their full potential.
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