What is an LCSW?

wiseGEEK Writer

LCSW is an acronym for licensed clinical social worker, and people with this title are skilled professionals who meet certain requirements and work in a variety of fields. The term social worker is not always synonymous with licensed clinical social worker. In some social work agencies, those employed may have the title of social worker without licensure. Use of this title may be restricted by the state or country and not everyone may claim they are a social worker by virtue of where they’re employed.

A LCSW may work with individuals with substance abuse issues.
A LCSW may work with individuals with substance abuse issues.

Typically when the term LCSW is used it means the person has attained a master’s degree in social work. But someone with an MSW is not necessarily licensed. In order to be licensed, the person with an MSW must then fulfill a number of hours doing practical work, and will need to take board examinations. The number of hours of supervised work to obtain licensing varies. In places like California, for instance, a person seeking licensure must complete over 3000 hours of work in supervised settings.

Some licensed clinical social workers are focused on finding solutions for older adults and their families.
Some licensed clinical social workers are focused on finding solutions for older adults and their families.

It’s a common misconception that the only place an LCSW works is in a social agency like Child Protective Services. Actually, these skilled professionals can work in many different fields. Some may work in socially oriented agencies; others may work in hospitals or treatment facilities for the mentally ill.

Other employment opportunities exist for people with licensure. Trained social workers may go on to teach social work at universities though this may require additional degrees. Many LCSWs offer private therapy and are qualified by their degrees and licensing obtained to legally do so. Some social workers specialize in specific areas, while others may engage in several different fields of work simultaneously.

When people choose to become individual therapists, they often have the choice of completing degrees and licensure to become a marriage and family therapist (MFT or MFCC) or a licensed clinical social worker. Others choose to become psychologists or psychiatrists, which requires further education and, for the latter, medical school. Each field has its own requirements, but it can be said comparatively that an LCSW generally has greater earning potential than does an MFT, and more flexibility in types of available work. Those practicing social work with an LCSW can jump to practicing private therapy instead, but someone with an MFT can’t usually make the jump to social work without an MSW and licensing. Some people do have dual licensure but it’s generally considered superfluous to become an MFT if a person already is an LCSW.

A LCSW may work with teens.
A LCSW may work with teens.

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Discussion Comments


I would like to obtain a MSW in the UK, but practice in the US. But I need to know if I would have to repeat courses or would the US recognize the degree. Hope someone has an answer to this question.


The nice thing about this field is that it does offer a wide variety of options. You can start out doing public sector type work, but if you get burnt out on that, you can offer private counseling. I used to see an LCSW for counseling who had taken that career path. She felt like she had done her time!

In private practice, counselors can choose their own clients. Mine worked only with adult individuals; she did not care to do marriage counseling (said it was "too draining") and did not have the special training needed to work with adolescents. They also have the flexibility to either accept or not accept insurance and to work with either a group practice or solo. Mine actually had sort of a hybrid arrangement; she ran her own business but rented office space and administrative support from an umbrella organization.

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