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 whether you continue along a clinical path and gain your Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Although both licenses require a master of social work (MSW), there are additional requirements in pursuing a license to become a LCSW.

Each state titles their licenses for social work differently. Be sure to check with your state’s licensing board for the most accurate and up-to-date information. 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. In some states, a master’s level license may not be available.

Experience and Education Requirements

A master’s level license requires a master’s degree in social work (MSW) with no post-degree experience. According to the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), advanced generalist and clinical licenses may 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.

Professional Capacities and Career Trajectory

Social workers may be grouped into direct service social workers and macro practice social workers. Social workers with a clinical license may 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 may 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.

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Social Work Licensure Requirements

Social Work Licensure Requirements
State Licenses Education and Experience Exam Required
Alabama Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW or DSW Masters
Alabama Licensed Independent Clinical Social Work (LICSW) MSW or DSW + 2 Years Clinical
Alaska Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW or DSW Masters
Alaska Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW or DSW + 2 Years Full-Time Clinical
Arizona Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW, DSW, or PhD in Social Work Masters
Arizona Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW, DSW, or PhD in Social Work + 3,200 Hours in 2 Years Clinical
Arkansas Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Masters
Arkansas Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 4,000 Hours in 2 Years Clinical
California Associate Clinical Social Worker (ACSW) MSW Not Required
California Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,000 Hours Clinical
Colorado Licensed Social Worker (LSW) MSW Masters, Advanced Generalist, or Clinical
Colorado Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW or DSW + 3,360 Hours in 2 Years Clinical
Connecticut Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW or DSW + 3,000 Hours Clinical
Connecticut Master's Level Social Worker (MLSW) MSW Masters
Delaware Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW or DSW + 3,200 Hours Clinical
Delaware Licensed Masters Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Masters
District of Columbia Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW) MSW or DSW Masters
District of Columbia Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) MSW or DSW+ 3,000 Hours Over 2-4 Years Clinical
District of Columbia Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW) MSW or DSW+ 3,000 Hours Over 2-4 Years Advanced Generalist
Florida Certified Master Social Worker (CMSW) MSW or DSW + 3000 Hours Advanced Generalist
Florida Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW or DSW + 1500 Hours Clinical
Florida Registered Clinical Social Work Intern (RCSW-I) MSW Not Required
Georgia Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Masters
Georgia Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3000 Hours Clinical
Hawaii Licensed Social Worker (LSW) MSW or DSW with Clinical Focus Masters
Hawaii Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW or DSW+ 3,000 Hours Over 2-5 Years Clinical
Idaho Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW or DSW Masters
Idaho Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW or DSW + 3,000 Hours in 2 Years Clinical
Illinois Licensed Social Worker 1 (LSW1) MSW Masters
Illinois Licensed Clinical Social Worker 2 (LCSW2) MSW + 3,000 Hours Clinical
Indiana Licensed Social Worker (LSW) MSW Masters
Indiana Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW or DSW + 3 Years, 2 Years Supervised Clinical
Iowa Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW or DSW Masters
Iowa Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW) MSW or DSW + 4,000 Hours in 2-6 Years Clinical
Kansas Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Masters
Kansas Licensed Specialist Clinical Social Worker (LSCSW) MSW or DSW + 4,000 Hours in 2 Years Clinical
Kentucky Certified Social Worker (CSW) MSW or DSW Masters
Kentucky Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW or DSW + 2 Years, Full-Time or 3 Years, Part-Time Clinical
Louisiana Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Masters
Louisiana Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 5,760 Hours Clinical
Louisiana Certified Social Worker (CSW) MSW Not Required
Maine Licensed Clinical Social Worker - Clinical Concentration MSW or DSW + 3,200 Hours in 2 Years Clinical
Maine Licensed Clinical Social Worker - Non Clinical Concentration MSW or DSW + 6,400 Hours in 4 Years Clinical
Maine Licensed Masters Social Worker, Clinical Conditional (LMSW-CC) MSW Masters
Maine Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Masters
Maryland Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Masters
Maryland Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,000 Hours in 2 Years Advanced Generalist
Maryland Licensed Certified Social Worker – Clinical (LCSW-C) MSW + 3,000 Hours over 2-6 Years Clinical
Massachusetts Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW) MSW or DSW Masters
Massachusetts Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) MSW or DSW - 3,500 Hours Clinical
Michigan Licensed Master Social Worker-Macro (LMSW-M) MSW or DSW + 4,000 Hours Advanced Generalist
Michigan Licensed Master Social Worker-Clinical (LMSW-C) MSW or DSW + 4,000 Hours Clinical
Michigan Limited License Master's Social Worker (LLMSW) MSW Not Required
Minnesota Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW) MSW, DSW, of PhD in Social Work + 4,000 Hours After Licensure Masters
Minnesota Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW) MSW, DSW, PhD in Social Work + 4,000 hours or 2 Years Supervised Practice Advanced Generalist
Minnesota Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) MSW, DSW, or PhD in Social Work + 4,000 Hours Clinical
Mississippi Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW, DS, or PhD in Social Work Masters
Mississippi Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW) MSW, DSW, or PhD in Social Work + 2 Years Advanced Generalist or Clinical
Missouri Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW or DSW Masters
Missouri Licensed Advanced Macro Social Worker (LAMSW) MSW or DSW + 3,000 Hours Advanced Generalist
Missouri Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW or DSW + 3,000 Hours over 2-4 Years Clinical
Montana Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW or DSW + 3,000 Hours in 2 Years Clinical
Nebraska Certified Social Worker (CSW) BSW, MSW, or DSW Not Required
Nebraska Provisional Certified Master Social Worker (PCMSW) MSW or DSW Not Required
Nebraska Certified Master Social Worker (CMSW) MSW or DSW + 3,000 Hours Advanced Generalist or Clinical
Nebraska Provisional Mental Health Practitioner (PMHP) MSW or DSW with Clinical Focus Not Required
Nebraska Licensed Mental Health Practitioner (LMHP) MSW or DSW with Clinical Focus + 3,000 Hours Clinical
Nebraska Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner (LIMHP) MSW or DSW with Clinical Focus + 3,000 Hours Not Required
Nevada Social Worker (SW) BSW or MSW Bachelors
Nevada Independent Social Worker (ISW) MSW or DSW + 3,000 Hours Advanced Generalist
Nevada Clinical Social Worker (CSW) MSW or DSW + 3,000 Hours Clinical
New Hampshire Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) MSW or DSW with Clinical Focus + 3000 Hours Clinical
New Jersey Licensed Social Worker (LSW) MSW or DSW Masters
New Jersey Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW or DSW + 3000 Hours Clinical
New Mexico Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Masters
New Mexico Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW) MSW + 3,600 Hours Advanced Generalist
New Mexico Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,600 Hours Clinical
New York Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Masters
New York Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 2,000 Hours Clinical
North Carolina Certified Master Social Worker (CMSW) MSW or DSW Masters
North Carolina Certified Social Work Manager (CSWM) BSW, MSW, or DSW + 3,000 Hours over 2 Years Advanced Generalist
North Carolina Licensed Clinical Social Worker Associate (LCSWA) MSW or DSW Not Required
North Carolina Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW or DSW + 3,000 Hours in 2-6 Years Clinical
North Dakota Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW) MSW, DSW, or PhD in Social Work Masters
North Dakota Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) MSW, DSW, or PhD in Social Work + 3,000 Hours in 4 Years Clinical
Ohio Licensed Social Worker (LSW) BSW, MSW, or PhD in Social Work Bachelors for BSW Holders or Masters for MSW Holders
Ohio Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW) MSW + 3,000 Hours over 2 Years Advanced Generalist or Clinical
Oklahoma Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Masters
Oklahoma Licensed Social Worker-Administration (LSW-ADM) MSW + 4,000 Hours Advanced Generalist
Oklahoma Licensed Social Worker (LSW) MSW + 4,000 Hours Advanced Generalist
Oklahoma Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 4,000 Hours Clinical
Oregon Certified Social Work Associate (CSWA) MSW Not Required
Oregon Licensed Master's Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Masters
Oregon Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,500 Hours Clinical
Pennsylvania Licensed Social Worker (LSW) MSW or DSW Masters
Pennsylvania Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW or DSW + 3,000 Hours Clinical
Rhode Island Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW or DSW Masters
Rhode Island Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) MSW or DSW + 3,000 Hours Clinical
South Carolina Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW or DSW Masters
South Carolina Licensed Independent Social Worker-AP (LCSW-AP) MSW or DSW + 3,000 Hours Advanced Generalist
South Carolina Licensed Independent Social Worker-CP (LCSW-CP) MSW or DSW + 3,000 Hours Clinical
South Dakota Certified Social Worker (CSW) MSW or DSW Masters
South Dakota Certified Social Worker Private Independent Practice (CSW-PIP) MSW or DSW + 2 Years Clinical
Tennessee Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW or DSW Masters
Tennessee Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW) MSW or DSW + 3,000 Hours Advanced Generalist
Tennessee Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW or DSW + 3,000 Hours Clinical
Texas Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW or DSW Masters
Texas Licensed Master Social Worker – Advanced Practice (LMSW-AP) MSW or DSW + 3,000 Hours Advanced Generalist
Texas Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW or DSW + 3,000 Hours Clinical
Utah Social Service Worker (SSW) BSW or MSW Bachelors
Utah Certified Social Worker (CSW) MSW or DSW with Clinical Focus Masters or Clinical
Utah Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW or DSW with Clinical Focus + 4,000 Hours Clinical
Vermont Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) MSW + 3000 Hours Clinical
Vermont Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) MSW or DSW Masters
Virginia Licensed Master's Social Worker (LMSW) MSW Masters
Virginia Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,000 Hours Clinical
Washington Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) MSW or DSW + 4,000 Hours Clinical
Washington Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW) MSW or DSW + 3,200 Hours Advanced Generalist
Washington Licensed Social Worker Associate Independent Clinical (LSWAIC) MSW or DSW Not Required
Washington Licensed Social Work Associate Advanced MSW or DSW Not Required
West Virginia Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW) MSW Masters
West Virginia Licensed Certifed Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,000 Hours Advanced Generalist
West Virginia Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) MSW, DSW, or PhD in Social Work + 4,000 Hours Clinical
Wisconsin Advanced Practice Social Worker (APSW) MSW or DSW Masters
Wisconsin Licensed Social Worker Independent (LSWI) MSW or DSW + 3,000 Hours over 2 Years Advanced Generalist
Wisconsin Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW or DSW + 3,000 Hours over 2 Years Clinical
Wyoming Provisional Licensed Clinical Social Worker (PLCSW) MSW or DSW Not Required
Wyoming Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) MSW + 3,000 Hours 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 social issues like poverty, abuse, and unemployment.

Licensed social workers can choose to concentrate in a number of different concentrations. These can include:

  • 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 healthcare and social service 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 ASWB examination.

LMSW Requirements

To begin the LMSW career path, candidates will need a MSW degree. This must be earned at an institution that has been given accreditation by the CSWE.

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, advanced standing 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 may also require additional training in ethics practices.

After earning the MSW, prospective social workers will need to pass the respective ASWB exam. Social workers may then apply for licensure. Most 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. Check with your state’s requirements.

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 appropriate ASWB exam. In some states, candidates must verify with their licensing board before pursuing social work exams. 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 clinical hour requirement of licensure, LCSW candidates 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 LCSW license allows social workers to take on a variety of unsupervised responsibilities that the non-clinical LMSW credential does not. However, the LMSW credential allows social workers to handle many of the same basic tasks as the LCSW.

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. 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 may be able to 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 social worker, whether as a private service or for a public organization.

LCSWs 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. Some might also find work in a hospital, inpatient facility, or hospice care center. They can work in most environments that require a clinical eye.

Sponsored Online Social Work Programs

  • Research-driven faculty dedicated to making an impact on social problems
  • Prepares you to apply social work skills across practice settings

  • Four areas of focus: Individuals and Families, Organizations and Community, Evaluation, and Policy Practice and Advocacy

  • Four Specialized Courses of Study: Child and Family, Trauma and Interpersonal Violence, Mental Health and Addictions and Health and Aging
  • Four program tracks: Advanced Standing, Accelerated, Full-Time and Extended

  • From Case Western Reserve University’s top-10 ranked School of Social Work
  • Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks available

  • Offered by USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, a top-ranked graduate school by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Features virtual and in-person field education in or near student's own communities.

  • Ethically integrates faith and social work practice
  • Specialize in clinical practice or community practice

Sponsored Online Social Work Programs