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Social workers provide invaluable services to society. They work with vulnerable populations to help them find stability in their lives. Becoming a social worker requires a fair amount of education and training. However, there are multiple ways in which a person can become a social worker. One way is to earn a Master of Social Work (MSW), which is a master’s degree that focuses on social services. Once someone has earned an MSW, they can take a state licensing exam to become certified as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).
Medical professionals may easily recognize the difference between an LCSW and MSW. Both professionals can play a crucial role in the lives of people who are struggling with addiction and many other mental health conditions. For people not in the medical field, the differences between an LCSW vs. MSW may not be as obvious.
An MSW degree is an excellent idea for anybody considering going into social work or a similar field. To see patients, an individual is required to become an LCSW. However, with an MSW, there are other career paths that can be pursued without becoming an LCSW. Before alternative career paths can be considered, an MSW needs to be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
People interested in social work must first receive their bachelor’s degree in a related topic before enrolling in an MSW program. Common bachelor’s degree subjects include:
For most MSW programs, it takes a minimum of two years of study to complete an MSW degree. The first year of study consists mostly of classroom education with a focus on core social work concepts. During the second year, students participate in more specialized training that focuses on specific topics or sub-specialties of social work. These sub-specialties include:
An MSW is required to become an LCSW. However, there are many other MSW career options that someone can pursue with this degree alone. Some MSW career paths include:
Becoming an LCSW is necessary for anyone with an MSW degree who would like to see patients. For individuals to receive their LCSW, they must pass a licensing examination by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). Licensing exams are available in all states, Washington, D.C. (District of Columbia) and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The ASWB offers several different examinations depending on the license a person is seeking. These include licenses for associate, bachelor’s, master’s, advanced generalist or clinical associate social work degrees. Different states and jurisdictions may only offer some of these licenses. Regardless of the license, exams are comprised of 170 multiple-choice questions that assess an individual’s knowledge of social work. The test lasts four hours and is taken electronically.
The general steps to become an LCSW include:
The typical career path for an LCSW involves some form of clinical work. Many LCSW career options overlap with MSW options. Certain workplaces like hospitals, psychiatric institutions, and private practices will require that an individual is licensed as criteria for employment. Other institutions may not require licensing. Nevertheless, LCSW career options include:
Besides the different career options for LCSW and MSWs, how are the two different? Some of the differences involve:
A bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field is a prerequisite for both LCSW and MSW degrees. However, an LCSW requires additional coursework, clinical experience and passing a licensing exam. For example, individuals may need to take advanced social work classes. The National Association of Social Workers offers additional classwork online or in-person.
Supervised clinical experience is an additional training requirement for individuals seeking an LCSW license after they have obtained their MSW. Clinical experience involves practice diagnosing and treating mental health conditions, interactions with patients, individual and group therapy, advocating for patients and research.
Because LCSWs are licensed and can actively practice, they have the potential to make more money than MSWs, generally speaking. However, the difference between an MSW and LCSW salary will vary substantially by institution, the state where an individual practices and the cost-of-living.
A person who has only received their bachelor’s degree in social work has a median expected salary of approximately $47,000 per year, while a person with an MSW degree has an expected salary of about $56,000 per year. A LCSW has an average salary that ranges between $40,700-$70,600 per year.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of social workers — whether they have an MSW degree or LCSW certification — was projected to grow by 16% from 2016 to 2026. This rate of growth is much faster than for other professions. As more and more people start to value and destigmatize mental health, both MSW and LCSW careers will become even more invaluable in society.
At first glance, it may be hard to know whether an LCSW or MSW is the best choice during recovery. Some tips for choosing the right health professional during treatment include:
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The Recovery Village has locations across the country with open positions available for mental health and substance abuse counselors and other clinical roles locally at our facilities and nationally through our telehealth program. Our staff members collectively hold over 3,000 professional credentials, and our evidence-based approach to addiction treatment has earned our facilities a variety of accolades. We are accredited by The Joint Commission, a leading health care accrediting organization in the United States. View the most recent available positions at our job portal website.
Association of Social Work Boards. “About the Exams.” (n.d.) Accessed June 10, 2019.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Social Workers.” April 12, 2019. Accessed June 10, 2019.
HumanServicesEdu.org. “LCSW vs. MSW (Master of Social Work).” Accessed June 9, 2019.
HumanServicesEdu.org. “Master of Social Work (MSW).” Accessed June 9, 2019.
HumanServicesEdu.org. “Licensed Clinical Social Worker | LCSW.” Accessed June 9, 2019.
Social Work Degree Center. “What Jobs Can I Do With My Master’s Degree in Social Work?” (n.d.) Accessed June 10, 2019.
Social Work Guide. “Careers in Social Work.” (n.d.) Accessed June 10, 2019.
University of Southern California: School of Social Work. “How to Become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).” (n.d.) Accessed June 10, 2019.