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Pathway Social Work Licensure in CA

The purpose of licensing and certification in social work is to assist the public through identification of standards for the safe, professional practice of social work. Each jurisdiction defines by law what is required for each level of social work licensure.

When social work was developing as a profession, licensure was not established in all states in the United States. Credentialing for the field of social work grew out of the need to regulate practice and provide social workers with a means to identify their level of expertise. Now all 50 states regulate licensure. However, many social workers still take advantage of the NASW credentials as a means of professional identification. To learn more about credentialing, see the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) website.

All 50 states regulate social work practice. Whatever state you decide to work in as a social worker, you may want to obtain licensure, as it identifies your level of education and social work experience for the public. The application process often involves submitting an application, school transcripts, passing a state background check and passing an exam. The Association of Social Work Boards produces the required licensure examinations for 49 states. California contracts with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. Starting in January 2016, California will institute the ASWB Examination.

Requirements to earn a California LCSW license

An LCSW (licensed clinical social worker) license is required for someone wishing to work as an independent clinical social worker in California.

Not all social work jobs require a license, but it is required if you want to have a private practice, supervise social workers in training or hold a clinical administration position. The licensing process and requirements differ between states.

“It allows you to grow in your career,” says Juan Macias, assistant director of career and professional development at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. “You can mentor and coach the next generation of social workers.”

Here are the basic steps to earning an LCSW, according to information from Macias, Grace Park, a USC career counselor, and the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. More detail for those pursuing an LCSW should visit the Board of Behavioral Sciences website.

How to become an LCSW in California:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree

    Students pursuing a career in social work often major in sociology, psychology or a related field. These can lay a good foundation for a pursuit of social work as students will gain insight into areas such as human sexuality, substance abuse and abuse. But people pursuing an LCSW can have a degree from any field including business, technology and the arts.
    • USC offers advancing standing, a program for applicants who holds a bachelor of social work that can be completed in three semesters, full-time or in five semesters, part-time.
  2. Earn a master’s degree in social work

    From “an accredited school of social work,” according to the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. The Council on Social Work has a list of accredited schools. Currently, 24 schools in California are listed as accredited that offer a master’s in social work, including USC’s program that was first accredited in 1922.
    • The USC master’s program ( home > master of social work) also offers flexibility, including four-semester, six-semester or eight-semester program options.
  3. Register to become an ASW

    Associate Clinical Social Worker with the California BBS (Board of Behavioral Sciences):
    • Applicants with a master’s degree outside of California must obtain 18 hours of California law and professional ethics training through a BBS-recognized provider prior to registering as an ASW.
      • This California law and professional ethics training is already included in accredited social work master’s programs in California such as the University of Southern California.
      • The ASW license allows you to perform clinical social work under the supervision of a current licensed mental health professional.
  4. Earn post degree experience

    • You must have an ASW registration number to begin counting hours of work experience.
    • Each person must complete both 3,200 hours of professional experience and 104 weeks of clinical supervision under a verified LCSW license holder. The professional experience hours include minimums and maximums for certain categories of social work practice including individual or group psychotherapy, advocacy, consultation, evaluation and research. The person with an ASW gaining this experience must make sure his or her hours are documented. The supervisor will complete the required forms such as a supervisory form, weekly logs and official experience verification forms. Click here for information on finding the right supervision.
    • If a supervisor is not provided by your employer, you must hire and pay for an outside supervisor.
  5. Complete required pre-licensure courses.

    This required training in areas such as child abuse assessment, aging and long-term care, and spousal and partner abuse are set up as brief courses (7-15 hours per topic), although semester-long courses covering these topics may fulfill corresponding requirements. Check the current list of required courses on this web site, under “Additional Coursework Requirements.” Here is the additional coursework offered by USC.
  6. Apply for, take and pass the California Law & Ethics Exam

    This is a written exam proving that candidates understand current California law and ethics that apply to the field of social work. This exam is unique to California, and if someone with an LCSW license were to move out-of-state, a state-specific law and ethics exam could be required, therefore check with that state’s licensure board. The exam is administered by Psychological Services and the company’s centers offer testing 5-6 days a week in locations throughout the state and some out of state.
  7. Apply for, take and pass the ASWB (Association of Social Work Boards)

    The national clinical examination tests a person’s clinical skills, click here to apply. The test is administered nation-wide, allowing someone with a passing score in one state to be able to use the same proof of clinical social work knowledge in a different state, so long as this exam is accepted in that state as part of its licensing process. Exams are administered by appointment at Pearson Professional Centers; there are no fixed administration dates. Click here for a test guide and practice exam.
  8. Once awarded an LCSW license

    This allows you to be a private practitioner where you can provide counseling without supervision. Licenses must be renewed every two years and the process requires additional training to stay current. On the USC social work jobs board, you can filter for jobs available specifically for clinical social workers.

LEARN MORE
about the on campus MSW program and the online MSW program.