Clinical social work is an advanced specialty. It’s focused on diagnosing and treating mental disorders. Social workers also diagnose and treat behavioral and emotional disorders.
All 50 states require clinical social workers to be licensed. Becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) gives you the field’s highest credential. This type of license allows you to improve clients’ well-being. This is done through different kinds of therapy.
State social work boards require that LCSW candidates have an accredited master’s degree. They must also have two years of clinical experience.
Investing in graduate school can pay off. This is because LCSW is typically one of America’s best-ranked social service jobs. Employment statistics show that demand in clinical social work will increase by 13 percent through 2029. Additionally, it offers some of the highest salaries in the field of social work.
Online education is perhaps the most convenient method for finishing your master’s degree. It’s also a great way to enter this in-demand field. Therefore, this article is devoted to outlining the 15 best online LCSW degree programs nationwide.
Methodology to Determine the Best Online LCSW Degree Programs
We began by searching for online graduate degrees accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Programs had to be primarily online with minimal or no campus trips.
Next, we looked at the affordability of the programs. Aside from being accredited, the most important factor for most students is a program’s affordability. Getting a quality education without paying an arm and a leg is vital.
The third factor we examined was the flexibility of the course. Getting a master’s degree online requires a lot of hard work. A flexible schedule makes it easier to complete the coursework that’s ahead of you.
Lastly, we looked at the accessibility of the course. Many students that decide to get their master’s degree have to juggle life, work, and school. This makes ease of access critically important. Being able to quickly access the course and learning materials will enable you to study any time of day and in any location.
Let’s examine these factors in more detail.
The most important factor in our method is accreditation. This is because you need a master’s degree from an accredited school to become an LCSW. As a result, all courses listed in our rankings are accredited.
There are different kinds of accreditation. National accreditation is considered a lower type of that is usually for for-profit schools. Regional accreditation is what you want.
Regional accreditation shows that a school has met very specific standards. These standards differ depending on the degree. However, a regional accreditation ensures that degree programs at schools within the same region have the same academic standards.
For example, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) lists accredited LCSW programs throughout the United States. On their list are many schools, including Appalachian State University and the University of South Carolina. Though these schools are in different states (North Carolina and South Carolina), they are both accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
The specific accreditation requirements vary somewhat from one region to another. However, you will find that just about any accredited LCSW program offers a similar academic experience.
Since each course in our rankings is accredited, no points are awarded for this criterion.
Most students cite affordability as one of their top criteria when choosing a degree. Graduate studies tend to be more expensive than undergraduate studies. This makes the affordability of a program that much more important.
You don’t have to give up the quality of education for affordability. There are many excellent and affordable degree programs that will prepare you to become an LCSW.
When considering affordability, you have to look at the broad picture. Consider the estimated cost of the degree, not just the cost per course. Some degree programs require more credits than others. This means that a program might have a lower cost per course, but require more courses to graduate.
Scores are determined as follows:
- Under $40,000: 5 points
- $40,001-$50,000: 4 points
- $50,001-$60,000: 3 points
- $60,001-$70,000: 2 points
- $70,001 and up: 1 point
As noted earlier, the most important factor is accreditation. If you find a less expensive program, it will offer a similar learning experience to a more expensive program.
Course flexibility is important for a lot of students. This is especially true of students taking online courses.
Since many people that pursue online learning have many other obligations, they need the flexibility to learn on their own schedule. The courses in our rankings provide varying levels of flexibility.
Some, for example, have courses with more strict requirements. This might include weekly or daily virtual class meetings. Other programs allow students to be more independent. Though none of the programs on this list offer self-paced learning, some give you more freedom to learn on your own schedule than others.
Each of the courses in our ranking was evaluated according to the following:
- High flexibility: 2 points
- Moderate flexibility: 1 point
To determine a flexibility score, we considered things like:
- Are you required to meet with instructors or classmates at specific times?
- Are there strict deadlines?
- Are there many assignments, tests, and so forth?
Learning online requires that you be able to access your courses quickly and easily. Though most online degree programs have highly accessible courses, there are some that do it better than others.
To determine an accessibility score, we asked questions such as:
- What is the learning format?
- Is offline learning offered?
- Are mobile learning options offered?
Using the answers to these types of questions, we then ranked each degree program as follows:
- High accessibility: 2 points
- Moderate accessibility: 1 point
Ranking the Best Online LCSW Degree Programs
#15: Arizona State University
The MSW program at Arizona State offers some of the most diverse learning options in the country. Faculty members have expertise in a wide range of specialties, including:
- Borderlands issues
- Child welfare
- Policy advocacy
Students in this top online MSW program also have an opportunity to learn about forensic social work, human trafficking, and other important social work areas.
This program includes coursework in an online classroom setting as well as fieldwork. In fact, students must complete 960 hours of field education. This fieldwork is completed at two different sites to give students a broader range of experiences.
Additionally, students must complete two professional seminars and a specific set of courses to enhance professional development.
This program is unique in that students take one 7.5-week-long course at a time.
Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Affordability: Approximately $90,500.
Flexibility: Moderate flexibility. Students follow a specific set of courses that are taken one at a time. This limits scheduling flexibility.
Accessibility: High accessibility. All courses are completed online. The fieldwork component is completed in facilities in or near your city of residence.
#14: Case Western Reserve University
This online LCSW degree program results in a Master of Science in Social Administration (MSSA). The purpose of this program is to prepare students to deliver critical services to populations in need.
The MSSA program is similar to more typical MSW programs. In fact, this MSSA is recognized as being equivalent to an MSW by the Council on Social Work Education.
You can choose from three different study paths:
- Children, Youth, and Families
- Community Practice for Social Change
- Mental Health With Adults
In this program, you will attend weekly Zoom classes. You benefit from HD video and online collaboration tools. These tools mean you do not have to visit campus for any part of the program.
There is a field education component as well. This allows you to apply what you’ve learned in class in a real-world clinical setting.
Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Affordability: Approximately $76,930 for the Advanced Standing Track. Approximately $94,200 for the Traditional Track.
Flexibility: High flexibility. Case Western offers students flexibility to learn anytime day or night with easy access to courses. Students can choose between three different areas of specialty. There are also various certificate programs and dual-degree options available. Students with a BSW can enter the Advanced Standing Track to speed up the process of getting an MSSA.
Accessibility: High accessibility. Course materials are available online and offline. There is also a mobile app to enhance learning on the go.
#13: University of Southern California
The USC social work program is one of the best in the nation. The school is accredited. The program is also accredited.
The online MSW programs at USC were designed to lead to an LCSW. You can choose from several flexible options for getting your degree. This includes a faster track for students that already have a bachelor’s degree in social work.
USC’s program includes a curriculum that is up-to-date with modern social work themes. This includes a focus on intervention and prevention. Wellness is a primary focus as well.
There are several specialties you can pursue. This includes:
- Adult Mental Health and Wellness
- Children, Youth, and Families
- Social Change and Innovation
USC has developed a virtual fieldwork practicum (VFP) to help online students develop their social work skills. The VFP is completed prior to the in-person field experience.
Affordability: Approximately $73,212 for the advanced track. Approximately $115,120 for the traditional 4-semester track.
Flexibility: High flexibility. There are multiple online options. This includes traditional full-time and part-time options. There is also an Advanced Standing track for students that already have a BSW.
Accessibility: High accessibility. USC was a pioneer in online learning for social work. Courses are offered live online via Zoom. You get remote access to all of USC’s libraries. Academic support is offered online. Technical support is also offered to all students.
#12: Fordham University
Fordham’s online MSW program is widely recognized as one of the best in the United States. The focus of the program’s coursework is on helping students develop future-focused skills. These skills are developed in an advanced and integrated practice curriculum.
Students in this online MSW program first complete foundational coursework. These courses revolve around social work theory and practice. The second part of the degree focuses on advanced practice courses. Once in the advanced part of the degree, you can select from one or more practice areas:
- Individuals and Families
- Organizations and Communities
- Policy Practice and Advocacy
Students benefit from having a dedicated academic adviser. This adviser helps you design a curriculum specific to your interests and your career goals.
In addition to online studies, students must complete field experiences. Fordham has partnerships with approved agencies across the nation where students can fulfill this requirement.
Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Affordability: Approximately $63,558
Flexibility: High flexibility. This degree program offers excellent flexibility. You can work with an adviser to design a course of study specific to your interests. Assignments are self-paced. If you already have a BSW from an approved school, you can enter the Advanced Standing Track, which is shorter and less expensive.
Accessibility: High accessibility. All coursework is easily accessed online 24/7. Students have access to personalized guidance as well. Weekly live classes are also done in a rich online environment.
#11: Temple University
Temple’s online MSW program offers the flexibility and accessibility that online students are looking for.
This is a part-time only program. Though this means it takes longer to finish, it also means it might be more accommodating of your particular schedule. Students should expect to need 3-4 years to complete this program.
Courses are delivered via live stream. This enables you to interact with your professor and other students. Class sizes are limited to 15 to 20 students to keep the student-to-teacher ratio as low as possible.
Other features of this program include:
- A two-week online orientation
- Self-paced assignments
- A fieldwork practicum in or near your city of residence
All online MSW students in this program must also travel to Philadelphia for an intensive three-day residency.
Courses you can expect to take include:
- Practice-informed research
- Advance human rights
You will also pursue mastery of skills related to working with couples and groups, policy practice, and assessment.
Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Affordability: Approximately $58,500.
Flexibility: Moderate flexibility. This program is offered in a part-time format to help students accommodate their schedules. Field experiences are done in or near your city of residence. Online students also have the option of pursuing a MSW-MPH dual degree entirely online. Online learners must go to Philadelphia for a three-day residency, which reduces the flexibility of the course.
Accessibility: High accessibility. Students have access to courses 24/7. Students also have access to professors during class hours and outside of class. Online learners also get access to Temple resources, such as Temple’s libraries, the career center, and the writing center.
#10: Rutgers University
Unlike many online MSW programs, the Rutgers program has an online field experience. This enables students to complete their degree completely online. There are no in-person field experiences.
Most students complete this degree in three years. Those that have an approved BSW can complete the program in as little as four semesters.
Regardless of the track, students can expect to take courses in:
- Advanced social work practice
- Social work research
- Contemporary policy
Additionally, most courses in this program are not held at a fixed meeting time. Instead, students work independently on assignments with due dates. Students can interact with other students and faculty via multiple types of online communications.
Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Affordability: Approximately $60,000
Flexibility: High flexibility. Rutgers offers a traditional MSW track. They also offer an Advanced Standing Track for students that already have a BSW from a CSWE-accredited school. There is a field placement requirement. This placement is done 100 percent online.
Accessibility: High accessibility. All courses are done online. Coursework and materials are easily accessed any time of day or night. The curriculum is designed for students that are independent and self-directed learners.
#9: Widener University
Like the other programs in our rankings, this one is accredited by the Commission on Social Work Education. You can choose from a traditional track or an advanced standing track if you have already completed a BSW.
Additionally, you can choose to pursue a double graduate degree in social work and education. This dual program has an emphasis on human sexuality.
The traditional social work program is focused on trauma. It is a theme that runs through most courses in the program. This is because trauma is a potential cause of so many mental health challenges.
Other features of this program include:
- No set class times
- Collaborative work experience
- Seven-week-long courses
You take one course at a time. This enables you to concentrate your studies more fully on the task at hand. You do have the option of taking more courses if you wish to finish your degree sooner.
Widener also gives you the option of exploring their online learning platform before you enroll, that way you can experience what the program will be like.
Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Affordability: Approximately $57,472 for the Traditional track. Approximately $36,818 for the Advanced Standing track
Flexibility: High flexibility. Widener gives you all kinds of learning options. You can attend full-time or part-time. You can choose to pursue a Trauma Certificate as well. This program also lets you take one class at a time in a non-traditional format. Courses have no set meeting times either.
Accessibility: High accessibility. Each course in this MSW program is easily accessible online. You can learn any time of day or night from any computer, tablet, or other mobile device.
#8: Boston University
Students that need to work part-time on their LCSW degree might consider this program by Boston University. There are several study options. This includes a Clinical Practice major that enables students to be eligible for licensure as an LCSW.
Students can opt for a Macro Practice major as well. This major is for students that want to work with communities, organizations, and government agencies to effect social change.
Online students can also choose between two specialty tracks:
- Traditional Track – A 65-credit program that includes coursework and two field experiences.
- Human Service Experience Track – This track is for students that already have two years of supervised human services experience.
Regardless of the major or track you choose, you will complete required and elective courses completely online. There are weekly classroom sessions that are delivered live and one or two field internships depending on your specific track. These field experiences are arranged in or near your town of residence.
This degree program has a special emphasis on diversity and social and economic justice. Students that wish to work in these areas should give strong consideration to this program.
Accreditation: New England Commission on Higher Education
Affordability: Approximately $56,875
Flexibility: High flexibility. Boston University offers multiple options for completing this degree. You can select from different majors and tracks. This includes an Advanced Standing Track that reduces the credits required by 22.
Accessibility: High accessibility. This degree program was designed for online delivery. Coursework can be accessed anytime. Students participate in short, live class sessions two days a week.
#7: Columbia University
Columbia University is known as one of the best colleges in the U.S. Their MSW program is highly regarded.
This online degree program is fully accredited. Completing this program will prepare you well to become an LCSW.
Thirty credits are required to complete this degree. This includes both online courses and in-person field experiences. Most students finish this degree in two years.
As a student in this program, you can expect to:
- Be taught by experienced social work experts
- Receive career guidance and support
- Benefit from Deep Learning methods
Additionally, Columbia starts each MSW program with a new cohort. This means you will study alongside the same students throughout the program.
Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Affordability: Approximately $54,334
Flexibility: High flexibility. This program is offered totally online or in a hybrid format, if desired. Online students will be placed in field experiences in or near their hometown. Extended program options are available for students that do not want to attend full time.
Accessibility: High accessibility. Courses in this program are easily accessed online 24/7. You can access course materials via computer, tablet, smartphone, or any other internet-enabled device.
#6: University of Denver
The University of Denver’s MSW program is one of the most respected in the nation. It focuses on helping students develop a holistic understanding of social work. It also prepares students to advocate for social justice in a variety of ways.
The MSW program is offered in two formats. For students that already have a BSW, an Advanced Standing track is offered. For students without prior social work education, a Traditional Track is offered.
Furthermore, the University of Denver divides the curriculum into two parts. The first part is foundational knowledge. This includes concentrating studies on the history of social work. It also includes learning about the values and ethics of social work.
The second part of the curriculum is in the concentration area. You can specialize in one of two areas: mental health and trauma or health, equity, and wellness.
Some of the courses you might expect to take include:
- Evidence for Practice
- Leadership and Supervision Skills
- Power, Privilege, and Oppression
- Assessment of Mental Health across the lifespan.
Regardless of the concentration area you choose, you can complete the MSW in as little as 18 months in the Advanced Standing track or 21 months in the Traditional track.
Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Affordability: Approximately $53,136 for the Advanced Standing Track. Approximately $79,704 for the Traditional Track.
Flexibility: High flexibility. This is a 100 percent online MSW program. You can learn anytime day or night according to your schedule. Field experiences are assigned in or near the community in which you live for easier access.
Accessibility: High accessibility. You can participate in live online courses. Recordings of class sessions are available anytime.
#5: University of Tennessee
The University of Tennessee’s program results in a Master of Science in Social Work. Students in the online program take the same courses from the same professors and complete the same requirements as on-campus students.
This program offers flexible learning options to meet your needs. There are full and part-time tracks. There is also an Advanced Standing track for students that already have a BSW.
There are two concentrations that you can choose from:
- Evidence-Based Interpersonal Practice
- Organizational Leadership
The Evidence-Based Interpersonal track prepares you to do therapeutic work with clients. This includes learning how to conduct assessments and help clients acquire healthier coping skills.
The Organizational Leadership track prepares you to address social justice in a range of settings. This includes working in management, non-profit settings, and government agencies, to name a few.
Affordability: Approximately $42,000 for in-state students. Approximately $46,500 for out-of-state students.
Flexibility: Moderate flexibility. This program offers multiple tracks to fit your desired specialty. There are part-time and full-time options as well. Field experiences must be completed at one of the University’s approved partnership agencies. This might make it difficult for students that do not live in the greater Knoxville, Tennessee area.
Accessibility: High accessibility. This program was designed to be completed online. It offers courses that have set times and deadlines. It also offers components that do not have sets times and deadlines. Live classes are offered in the late afternoon or evening to accommodate traditional work schedules.
#4: University of Houston
The online MSW program offered by the University of Houston follows a cohort design. This means that you are admitted to the program with a group of students, and you advance through the program with that same group until you graduate.
The curriculum is divided into two parts. The first part is a foundational period during which you learn general principles and gain skills needed for practicing social work. This first part includes a field component as well.
The second portion of the curriculum focuses on advanced and specific courses designed to help you develop the skills you need for competent practice. Classes include:
- Advanced Social Policy Analysis
- Dynamics of Leadership
- Confronting Oppression and Injustice
Students also take courses in Community Development and Targeted Interventions.
Like every other program in our rankings, this one requires you to complete at least 900 hours of fieldwork. This is a requirement for a program to be accredited.
Affordability: Approximately $31,500 for in-state students. Approximately $63,000 for out-of-state students.
Flexibility: Moderate flexibility. This program offers two tracks, Clinical and Macro, to fit your specific needs. An Advanced Standing option is also available. Courses are designed to be somewhat flexible, but have set deadlines and due dates for assignments.
Accessibility: High accessibility. The MSW program at Houston is offered completely online. There are no campus visits required. All courses are easily accessed on internet-enabled devices.
#3: Virginia Commonwealth University
The online MSW program at VCU is well known as one of the best in the country. VCU offers flexible options for students to complete the degree online. This includes full-time and part-time tracks. The full-time option can be done as a 16-month program or as a 24-month program.
In addition to being able to study from home, you can also complete your field experiences in or near your place of residence. This gives you additional flexibility for completing the program requirements.
This MSW program centers around cultural competence. Likewise, this program emphasizes:
- Gaining hands-on experience
- Preparing students to work in a range of settings
- Preparing students for clinical practice
Additionally, VCU MSW students learn how to work with individuals and families. You’ll explore human rights and diversity. Ethical practice is a main topic of learning as well.
Students interested in a trauma-informed approach will appreciate the emphasis of this program on meeting the needs of people in crisis.
Affordability: Approximately $44,530 for in-state students. Approximately $51,810 for out-of-state students.
Flexibility: High flexibility. VCU’s program gives you full or part-time options. There is also an Advanced Standing track that enables you to finish your MSW in one year.
Accessibility: High accessibility. This online program allows students from across the nation to get their MSW. Live courses are easily accessed. Course materials are easily accessed online as well.
#2: University of Louisville
This online LCSW degree program results in a Master of Science in Social Work. Louisville’s program is considered to be one of the best in the nation. It focuses your learning on applying methods that build stronger communities and promote social justice for all people.
Louisville’s program offers more specializations than most MSW or MSSW programs. You can choose from:
- Alcohol and Drug Counseling
- Mental Health
- Military Social Work
- Psychosocial Oncology
If you already have a BSW, you can apply for the Advanced Standing track, which is 30 credits and can be completed in as little as two semesters. Otherwise, the Traditional track, which is 60 credits, is available. Most students complete it in 4-8 semesters. The length of time depends on whether you attend school full-time or part-time.
The program includes field work in the form of a 900-hour practicum. During the practicum, you’ll put your learning into practice while being supervised by an experienced social worker.
Affordability: Approximately $44,220 for the Traditional track. Approximately $22,110 for the Advanced Standing track.
Flexibility: High flexibility. You can choose from full-time or part-time status. There is also an Advanced Standing track if you already have applicable social work education. Field placements are at an institution of your choosing in the state in which you live.
Accessibility: High accessibility. Louisville designed this program with online learning in mind. It is completely accessible via any internet-enabled device.
#1: Ohio State University
The online MSW program at Ohio State prepares you to provide competent services in a range of areas. This includes mental health, child and youth services, and substance abuse.
You can choose from two pathways. The first is the Traditional pathway. If your undergraduate degree is not in social work or is not accredited, you will need to take this pathway. Alternatively, if you do have a BSW from an accredited institution, you can likely take the Advanced Standing pathway. This allows you to get your MSW in a much shorter period of time. Ohio State offers part-time and full-time tracks as well.
You will learn how to provide services to clients through various means, including:
- Administrative practice
- Direct client services
- Community change and policy reform
Furthermore, all courses can be taken online and on your own schedule, thus giving you increased flexibility.
Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Affordability: Approximately $26,000 for in-state students. Approximately $26,800 for out-of-state students.
Flexibility: High flexibility. The courses in this program do not follow a strict schedule. This allows you to take courses when you can according to your schedule.
Accessibility: High accessibility. All courses are available online. Live class sessions can be accessed from any internet-enabled device.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is an online master’s degree in social work as good as an on-campus master’s degree?
Definitely! In years past, online learning had a bit of a bad reputation. In the early 2000s, the internet was still a relatively new thing. Because of this, colleges were just beginning to develop online learning – and it showed.
Many early online courses were basic, to say the least. Students might have been lucky to have a chat room where they could chat with their classmates or professor. They weren’t able to see or hear one another though.
Today’s online courses are far more advanced. You can participate in live courses. You can watch high-definition recordings of lectures. You can share your screen and otherwise have as much interaction with your classmates as you would on campus.
As a result of all this, online learning has been embraced as an equally effective option for getting an education. This applies to students at all levels, including those in a master’s program.
These advancements have removed the stigma of online learning. Likewise, if an online master’s program in social work is accredited, that’s really all you need to worry about. As discussed in the next question and answer, determining the accreditation of a program (whether online or in-person) is the first step in ensuring you can be licensed as a clinical social worker.
So, don’t worry about whether your program is online or in person. If the program is accredited, you’ll get the education you need to pursue an LCSW designation.
What are the requirements for an LCSW?
There are a few basic steps you must complete to become a licensed clinical social worker.
First, you have to get a master’s degree in social work. The degree must be from a social work program that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
Second, after finishing an MSW, you have to complete additional coursework. Coursework is often taken in the form of short classes. For example, professional development courses offered by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) count for this kind of coursework.
You must also finish a certain number of clinical hours. These clinical hours are supervised. You can do any number of activities as part of clinical hours. This includes:
- Individual therapy
- Group therapy
- Psychological diagnosis
Clinical hours can also be obtained by assessing clients and treating them for psychological disorders. Consultations and evaluations can also count toward clinical hours.
The specific requirements for post-master’s coursework and clinical hours are determined by individual states. Much like the accreditation requirements discussed earlier in this article, the standards from one state to the next are highly similar, for the most part.
Third, you must pass a licensure exam. This is another qualification that varies from state to state. That makes it important to know which exams you have to take to become licensed.
It is most typical for prospective LCSW candidates to take the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). This is a national clinical exam. Additionally, most candidates must pass a law and ethics exam. These exams are administered at the state level. Therefore, they vary from one state to the next.
Once you have completed these essential steps, you may be eligible for licensure in your state. Again, since specific requirements vary, it’s important to check with your state’s licensing board for specific licensure requirements.
What is the difference between an MSW and an LCSW?
MSW stands for Master’s of Social Work. This is a graduate-level degree. It is needed to become an LCSW, or licensed clinical social worker.
An MSW is a degree program. It is designed to prepare you for advanced social work practice. Studies focus on social justice, advocacy, social work practice, ethics, and therapeutic techniques, just to name a few.
If you get an MSW, you are qualified to work in many different fields. Some people with an MSW work for government agencies, like Child Protective Services. In that role, social workers are responsible for many things. One task would be providing resources for children that have been removed from unhealthy homes.
Additionally, some MSW holders work in education. For example, with an MSW, you could work as a school social worker. In that role, you might assist developmentally delayed students. You might do this by creating an educational plan for the child and counseling the child. You might also provide behavioral training for the child.
Other possibilities include working in health care or legal settings. You might work in human rights and advocacy programs. Many LCSWs work in substance abuse and mental health realms.
Where an MSW is a degree program, an LCSW is a professional designation. So, all LCSWs have an MSW, but not all MSWs are LCSWs.
As explained earlier, to become an LCSW, one must take additional courses after graduating with an MSW. Clinical work is also required. You pass licensure exams as well.
As an LCSW, you can perform all of the functions listed above for MSW workers. Additionally, you can diagnose and treat mental disorders.
You can also offer emergency mental health services as an LCSW. For example, you might treat clients that have been involved in a natural disaster for post-traumatic stress disorder in the hours after the disaster occurred. Likewise, LCSW’s can enter private practice and see clients for individual or group therapy.
Who do licensed clinical social workers work with?
One of the nice things about being an LCSW is that you can work with all kinds of clients. This includes clients of different ages. It also includes people of different ethnicities and religious backgrounds too. Many LCSWs work with people that have disabilities, that have abused drugs, or that have been convicted of crimes as well.
The training you get in an MSW program prepares you to provide therapy to these different types of clients. The additional training you get as part of the LCSW licensure further prepares you to be a clinician that can work with a wide range of clients.
Who you work with will depend on several factors. First, your place of work can influence your clientele. For example, if you work in private practice, your range of clients might be quite wide. Then again, many LCSWs in private practice specialize with a certain type of client. Specializations might be juveniles, sexual assault victims, or couples.
As another example, if you work in a rehabilitation facility, your clients might be limited to people recovering from serious illness, injury, or surgery. Likewise, if you work in a school system, your clients might only be children with disabilities.
Another factor that influences the type of clients you work with is your specific training and area of interest.
In graduate school, you might have an interest in restorative justice and take courses on that topic. Then, after graduating, your post-graduate work might include research on the effectiveness of restorative justice programs. Then, as an LCSW, you might work with people that have been convicted of crimes. Your work with them might focus on their rehabilitation. It might also focus on helping them make amends with the victims of their crimes.
Whatever your specialty and no matter your clientele, it is crucial that as an LCSW you have cultural competence. This is not just a suggestion. Instead, the National Association of Social Workers mandates that LCSWs understand the value of people of all backgrounds.
Part of cultural competence is being respectful of the differences between us. This includes working to understand unique perspectives. It also includes striving to preserve clients’ dignity as a human being through the lens of their unique cultural identity. In short, LCSWs must be open-minded, willing to learn new things, and curious about people different from themselves.
The services that LCSWs provide is critically important to many different populations. Being culturally competent allows you to deliver social work services effectively to people in need regardless of who they are or where they come from.
What are some advantages of becoming an LCSW?
The greatest advantage of becoming an LCSW is having the ability to help other people. This is not a vague benefit like “making the world better,” either. Instead, you can make very real, very impactful differences in the lives of your clients.
For this reason, many social workers note that they have a great deal of satisfaction with their jobs. Being able to help people with problems big and small can be very rewarding.
There are many other benefits of being an LCSW as well:
Good pay – Money isn’t everything, but the fact that LCSWs have good income potential is a definite bonus. Some LCSWs make more money than others. For example, LCSWs in private practice will typically earn more than ones that work for non-profit mental health agencies.
Many job options – As noted in an earlier question and answer, there are many different career paths for an LCSW. You can work for government agencies or schools. You can also work in private practice or contract with agencies. The types of clients you work with can also vary widely.
Increasing demand – As the demand for qualified social workers increases, so too do the job options. Job security is also increasing. Someone with the skillset of an LCSW should have no difficulty finding and retaining a long-term job.
Opportunity for learning – The training of an LCSW really never stops. New approaches to therapy change the way social workers deliver services. New technologies also influence how LCSWs do their job. For example, telehealth technologies enable LCSWs to work with clients remotely. This not only improves access to quality mental health care, but it also expands the reach of LCSWs to clients in need in areas near and far.
What are some disadvantages to being an LCSW?
Though there are many reasons that LCSWs enjoy their jobs, there are some disadvantages.
One of the primary disadvantages of this work is that it can be very taxing. Helping people with intense problems can be stressful and mentally draining. This is especially true when a client is struggling. It’s difficult to see other people in pain, and it can be hard to let that go at the end of the workday.
Another disadvantage of this career is that it can require very long hours. In some cases, LCSWs have a regular 9-5 job. However, many others work nights, weekends, and holidays. In some situations, you might even have to be on call and attend to a client’s needs at a moment’s notice.
Though the income potential for LCSWs is strong, there are instances in which pay might not be very good. This is particularly true of new LCSWs that don’t have much experience.
Lastly, it’s a challenge to become an LCSW. You have to finish your bachelor’s and master’s programs. Then you have to finish post-graduate work and pass licensure exams. In many cases, this means 6-7 years of formal education and another 1-2 years of supervised work before you get your license.
What is the job outlook for LCSWs?
The job outlook for social workers in general is quite strong. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that a 13 percent increase in social work jobs is expected through 2029.
These numbers are even higher for clinical social workers. For example, jobs for licensed clinical social workers that specialize in mental health services are predicted to grow by 17 percent by the end of the 2020s. The same growth rate is expected for licensed clinical social workers that specialize in substance abuse treatment.
LCSWs that work in the healthcare field should enjoy rapid job growth rate as well. The BLS predicts this sector of social work will increase by 14 percent through the end of the decade.
In addition to strong job growth, social workers are expected to enjoy decent pay. According to the BLS, social workers on average make about $50,500 annually. However, the pay scale for social work is quite wide. For example, social workers that are just out of college might expect to earn in the low $30,000 range. More experienced social workers might earn closer to $82,500 per year.
Of course, being a licensed clinical social worker might translate into even higher pay. For example, some licensed clinical social workers are in private practice. As self-employed individuals, they tend to charge more per hour. So, rather than making $40 per hour employed at a non-profit mental health clinic, an LCSW might charge $100 per hour in private practice.
Updated October 2020