Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) – What is it?

A Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) is a mental health professional who provides counseling, evaluation, intervention, and case management services to those who are suffering mental, social, familial and/or medical issues. In addition to taking their client’s psychological and emotional states into account, part of what makes social work unique is that LCSWs also examine the social and environmental factors impacting the client’s life. In doing so, they are able to provide resources within the community that can make a positive impact on their lives. A LCSW can work in mental health facilities, social service agencies, hospitals, school systems, or even open their own private practice.


Why Become a LCSW?

LCSWs play a key role in our society by helping those who experience mental illness, struggle with addiction, are survivors of violence, and face a variety of other social challenges. Taking a strengths-based approach, LCSWs provide hope and empowerment to those who need it most. LCSWs can work with a variety of populations and client issues. Depending on your areas of interest and strength, there are many opportunities to work with and help strengthen vulnerable populations.


How to become a LCSW?

To become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), one must first attain their master’s degree in social work (MSW) from an accredited college or university. Once a person graduates with their MSW, they need to accrue a specified number of clinically supervised hours. The number of hours is dictated by each individual state’s licensing board. Certain states require candidates to pass the ASWB Masters Exam prior to accruing their hours, and then once those hours are completed, pass the ASWB Clinical Exam to receive the LCSW license and practice clinically. To get a better understanding of the specific requirements for your state, check out The Therapist Development Center Social Work Licensure by State guide.

Check out TDC's LCSW Exam Prep programs here:

ASWB Master's Exam    ASWB Clinical Exam    

See what's required for your state for a Social Work License:

Social Work Licensure




A Licensed Masters Social Worker (LMSW) is the license acquired in many states right after a social work student receives their MSW, and before they can begin working as a social worker. A LMSW cannot practice clinical social work without supervision. But once the required number of hours are completed and the individual passes the ASWB Clinical Exam, they can apply for clinical licensure and become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). As a LCSW, one can practice clinical social work independently.



While the psychological education and training are very similar (both must obtain master's degrees and supervised clinical hours), LCSWs focus on both the person and their environment. Social workers examine the impact external environmental factors have on a person's situation, life, and presenting problems. MFTs on the other hand, focus more on the role of the family or relationships in their clients’ lives affecting them.


How long does it take to become a LCSW?

While this can vary, an aspiring clinically licensed social worker (LCSW) will spend 6 years studying to earn both a Bachelor's and Master's degree. Post-graduation, it can take anywhere between 2-4 years to earn the required amount of experience and supervised hours that are dictated by each state licensing board. That means it can take roughly 8-10 years, including undergraduate and graduate education and supervised hours to become a LCSW.


How much do LCSWs earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019 the median pay for a LCSW was $50,470/year.  However, median pay can vary greatly by state, locality, and the type of work environment.


What are the responsibilities of a LCSW?

The responsibilities of a LCSW include (but are not limited to):

  • Diagnosing mental illness
  • Assessing a client’s emotional and mental state
  • Evaluating the social and environmental factors affecting a client’s well being
  • Intervening when a client is considered high-risk
  • Collaborating with a client’s other providers
  • Help a client understand their own strengths and areas for growth
  • Assist the client in developing a plan using their strengths to overcome obstacles

Social Workers will help solve important social issues while providing counseling, therapy, and intervention for their clients.