Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) Jobs & Career Guide

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What is an LCSW?

Licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) help clients overcome problems in their life by identifying illnesses, problematic behaviors, and unsafe environments. You will work with different clients and offer therapy, assess and diagnose mental health issues, and create a treatment plan.

In most work settings, licensed clinical social workers will have a caseload of various clients. Clients may range from young children to senior citizens depending on the workplace. Organization, adaptability, and empathy are vital skills that predict success in social work.

What is an LCSW responsible for?

A huge part of a Social Worker’s responsibility is to connect clients with available human resources and organizations to support them during difficult times. Social Workers counsel individuals and families going through crisis; often helping clients deal with poverty, loss, and illness. They ensure the most vulnerable in society are safeguarded from harm.

Social Workers can expect to do some or all the following while working:

  • Identify individuals who need help
  • Assess an individual’s situation and review their needs, strengths, and support systems
  • Help clients manage challenges in their lives
  • Create a plan to improve a client’s situation
  • Research and provide information on community resources, such as food stamps, child care, assisted living, and health-care services
  • Work with government agencies to help clients apply for available benefits such as Medicare and Medicaid
  • Respond to crisis situations, including domestic violence and child abuse
  • Visit schools to assess academic concerns
  • Arrange home visits to evaluate a client’s health, home environment, and family interaction
  • Conduct interviews and follow-ups with clients to ensure the plan for improvement is effective
  • Maintain accurate reports and records
  • Prepare cases for legal action
  • Provide witness services and evidence in court cases

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Where do Licensed Clinical Social Workers work?

Social Workers work with people in a variety of environments.

They may work in academia, research, human services, chemical dependency, or mental-health care settings. Some social work jobs exclusively counsel children while others may focus on people with disabilities. Clinical Social Workers perform their jobs in hospitals and mental-health care settings. Administrative Social Workers make policy changes and improvements to help ensure total system well-being by planning for the future.

A Day in the Life of a Licensed Clinical Social Worker

If you’re exploring the idea of a career in social work, you may be curious about what a day in the life of an LCSW looks like. Given the wide range of work available, it can be tricky to determine precisely what a typical day looks like.

However, it can be assumed that most of a licensed clinical social worker’s day is spent meeting with clients. What does meeting with clients look like? In most cases, you will be administering therapy to your clients. Expect the unexpected! Each session will likely be wildly different from the last, and applying other techniques to different clients depending on their needs is important.

What are some common issues your client might be dealing with? While each client is different, some problems could include depression, anxiety, trauma, eating disorders, and abuse. It’s imperative that LCSWs exercise patience, empathy, and care for each of their clients. Beyond possessing those baseline skills, you will be educated on how to best help your clients and any issues they suffer from.

Beyond offering therapy services and connecting patients to resources, licensed clinical social workers also spend a good portion of their day doing paperwork. This includes documenting progress in therapy and other notes to keep your caseload organized.

In some circumstances, licensed clinical social workers may collaborate with other mental health professionals, doctors, educators, and legal counsel.

Social Work Jobs Video Overview

How do I become an LCSW?

The first thing to know about education when determining if becoming a licensed clinical social worker is for you is to review your specific state’s guidelines. Each state varies slightly concerning education requirements. To check out your state’s unique requirements, check out this resource.

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in a related field, prospective LCSWs must complete a Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW). Most MSW students have received a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as social work or psychology. This prepares them for future coursework by completing prerequisites. Courses vary from program to program but typically include topics such as therapy techniques, social justice and reform, mental health disorders, and data analysis.

Program length can vary by institution but typically lasts between one and two years when attending full-time. Some institutions offer part-time schedules to accommodate working students or parents.

Upon graduating with an MSW, prospective LCSWs must complete exams for licensure. The Association of Social Work Boards administers the exam. The test consists of 170 questions, and students are given a time period of four hours to complete the exam.

Some states also require you to pass a jurisprudence exam. Because the laws and rules that regulate the profession vary from state to state, it’s important that you know the ones applicable to where you are located.

Another aspect of obtaining proper licensure is supervised work hours. The amount of hours varies by state and institution. Typically these hours are completed in conjunction with coursework. Accruing these hours can look a bit like an internship. For example, an MSW student may work at a school under the supervision of a licensed mental health professional. The prospective LCSW may take on a caseload of clients and share progress with a mentor.

Social worker career paths

Social Workers make a difference in their clients’ lives. Compassion and dedication are key character traits in this career choice. There are a variety of positions across many fields of industry for those interested in becoming a Social Worker.

See also; our Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) career guide

Here are just a few of the career options available to those interested in the field:

Medical and Public Health

In the medical field, Social Workers are in high demand. Medical and public health Social Workers provide care to patients in facilities. These may work in hospitals, emergency rooms, hospices, or rehabilitation centers. Some prefer providing support in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or home-health agencies.  A Social Worker in this field counsel’s patients and ensures their needs are taken care of. They act as a liaison between patients, families, and caregivers; providing information and assisting with decision-making and completion of associated paperwork.

Mental Health

People who live with mental health issues often struggle to function normally in their daily lives. A mental health Social Worker provides support and resources to those affected by these issues. They typically work very closely with a team of other mental-health professionals to support individuals and their family members. Mental health Social Workers help clients find employment, apply for economic assistance, and sometimes act as a legal representative in situations of abuse or discrimination. A mental health Social Worker monitors clients’ progress and evaluates treatment plans for effectiveness. If they find the plan is not effective, they will suggest changes to treatment plans, assist with finding new providers or locate facilities to better serve the client.

See also; our guide to psychiatric social worker jobs

Substance Abuse

Social Workers who specialize in addiction, work with clients in a variety of industries. Employment opportunities are plentiful and include rehabilitation centers, private practices, prisons, non-profit organizations, and juvenile detentions facilities. Clients struggling with addiction often experience dramatic mood swings, anger issues, and relapses. A compassionate, patient, and dedicated counselor can often make a difference between recovery or relapse. Part of the rehab process is counseling the client and their family members, as well as identifying treatment options best suited for the client. Many Substance Abuse counselors manage outreach programs to help educate the public about the dangers of addiction.

School Counselor

Today’s school counselors help students with academic achievement, personal and social development, and career development. They spend their time in service to students, guiding them through the school curriculum and providing counseling as needed. A school counselor is focused on ensuring individual success. Students can be from very strong families, dealing with abuse or they can be homeless. They may be academic high-achievers, or may struggle with basic scholastic skills. Counselors provide support and strategies to help students navigate their academic environment and offer resources to assist with their future education and/or career opportunities.

Child Welfare

Social Workers in child welfare are responsible for investigating allegations of abuse and neglect and identifying and locating children in poor living conditions. They protect children from harm and advocate for children who may otherwise have no voice. Child  Welfare Social Workers interview guardians, teachers, and other professionals to ensure the child remains healthy and nourished, and that necessities of life are met. When there are deficiencies in the home environment, the Social Worker liaisons with public and private agencies and facilitates resources as needed. They document all conditions, services, family interactions, and other social circumstances, using that information to develop a plan to keep the child safe and ensure their physical, emotional, and social needs are met. Child welfare counselors assist in legal matters, including preparing documentation of abuse for court issues and testifying in child neglect, endangerment, and abuse cases.

Clinical Social Workers

Clinical Social Workers diagnose and treat mental and behavioral disorders. They also diagnose and manage emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression. A clinical Social Worker provides may conduct individual, group, couple, or family therapy sessions. The clinician works with clients to develop strategies and plans to improve behavior and cope with emotional situations. Clinical Social Workers collaborate with physicians and other health-care professionals to identify resources and programs that will benefit a patient’s condition and improve their quality of life. Some clinical Social Workers opt to be in private practice or facilities with other health-care providers

What Is a Typical Salary for a Licensed Clinical Social Worker?

Social Workers earn an average of $47,000 per year, however this salary varies widely by location, degree, experience, and position.

The national average salary for a licensed clinical social worker falls somewhere between $65,000 and $75,000.

Historically, licensed clinical social workers are paid the most in California, the District of Columbia, and Hawaii. 

Social Worker managers can earn over $85,000.

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