How to Become a LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated July 16, 2022 | Published December 7, 2021

Updated July 16, 2022

Published December 7, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Becoming a licensed clinical social worker requires both education and the process of being licensed. This article will help you to understand what a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) does, and how you may become one. Learning how to become an LCSW may help you decide if this is the right career path for you, and guide you through the steps of getting started. In this article, we describe what an LCSW is, the average salary of an LCSW, the steps to follow to become a LCSW and related frequently asked questions.

What is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)?

Social workers assist others with mental health issues or stress in their professional, social or personal lives. They may provide counselling or psychotherapy services, or help with accessing their clients' issues and referring them to appropriate services. Social workers may work with individuals, couples, families or communities in a variety of different settings, such as private practices, hospitals, school boards, community agencies, and child welfare agencies. In British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, clinical social workers have advanced certification that allows them to diagnose mental disorders using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

How to become a licensed clinical social worker

Here is a list of steps you can take if you are interested in learning more about how to become an LCSW:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

The first step in education toward becoming an LCSW is to obtain a bachelor's degree in social work, which is a four-year program. The Canadian Association for Social Work Education (CASWE) accredits this program and other social work programs. In order to be admitted for a bachelor's degree, a college or university requires a high school diploma, with courses such as economics, sociology, psychology and philosophy being helpful. A bachelor's degree in social work prepares you to become a non-clinical social worker.

2. Earn a master's degree

After earning your bachelor's degree, you need a master's degree in social work to become an LCSW. This two-year program focuses on theories of human behaviour and understanding the social environment to connect with individuals, couples and groups. A master's degree in social work also emphasizes using assessments to diagnose disorders and identifying therapies and interventions to treat these issues. The program combines coursework with 300 to 400 hours of practicum work to apply the learned skills.


  • Master's vs Bachelor's Degree: What's the Difference?

  • Types of Degrees in Social Work to Progress Your Career

3. Apply to the clinical registry

Provincial or territory jurisdiction determines the clinical registry, so it's important to ensure you check your area's requirements before applying. Typically, this application has a fee and requires you to submit a number of materials to be reviewed. Examples of materials required include transcripts of relevant education and courses and resumes outlining social work experience. Applicants may also need references and a criminal record check.

4. Complete required clinical practicum

Once the clinical registry approves your application, you may be required to complete a required practicum of clinical experience. This may vary by provincial and territorial jurisdiction, but it typically requires two years or 1,600 practice hours. During this time, a social worker may be under the direct supervision of a licensed clinical social worker, completing client work in settings such as a private practice, hospital or community clinic, and can focus on their desired area of specialization. The registry may also require applicants to complete clinical hours to evaluate their use of theory and report writing.

5. Pass licensing exams

Once you have completed your required clinical practicum, you may be required to pass the required licensing exams. The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) develops the exam, which contains 170 questions. The exam is comprehensive and covers a variety of social work theories, such as human development, diversity, behaviour, and values and ethics. It also covers assessment and intervention planning.

6. Maintain your licence

The governing provincial or territorial board may require LCSWs to maintain their licence status by continuing to pay membership dues and renewing their licences. They may also require LCSWs to maintain competency training and take any required continuing education. The associations may also monitor social workers in their practice to ensure they are abiding by guidelines.

Average salary of a licensed clinical social worker

The average salary of a licensed clinical social worker is $34.06 per hour. LCSWs in Toronto, Ontario tend to report the highest salaries. Many social workers, both licensed clinical and otherwise, receive additional benefits with their salaries.

Related: How To Negotiate Salary (With Examples)

Frequently asked questions about social work

Take a look at these frequently asked questions about becoming an LCSW:

What if I have a bachelor's degree in another field?

If you have a bachelor's degree in another field, a two-year postgraduate course in social work may be necessary before applying for a master's program. A bachelor's degree in a related field such as psychology, sociology, human services, human development and family studies, or public administration may be helpful. A postgraduate course in social work will focus on practice and research, preparing students for further education and work in the social work field.

What is the difference between a clinical social worker and a regular social worker?

Both clinical social workers and regular social workers work directly with individuals, couples or groups and have advanced training. Clinical social workers have the training and expertise to complete psychosocial interventions. This means that clinical social workers are able to diagnose mental illness and provide treatment.

How long does it take to become a licensed clinical social worker?

In order to become an LCSW, it is necessary to obtain both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. A bachelor's degree may take four years to complete and a master's degree may take two years to complete, resulting in six years of education. The licensing process also requires additional practicum work, which may take additional time.

What is the job outlook for licensed clinical social workers?

The job outlook for registered clinical social workers is fair to good through to 2028. The demand for LCSWs varies depending on province or territory. The availability of these jobs is also based on public spending, which can vary.

In what type of environments do registered clinical social workers work?

There are a number of environments where registered clinical social workers can work. Some registered clinical social workers work in private practice, where they may also be self-employed. Others work in hospitals, mental health clinics or community outreach programs.

How can licensed clinical social workers advance their careers?

There are a few different ways LCSWs can advance their careers. One option is to continue education, earning a doctorate degree in social work. This allows social workers to gain advanced understanding, which can lead to leadership roles in the social work field, including working as an administrator, trainer or evaluator. LCSWs may also advance their careers by opening their own private practices, or moving into a management or supervisory role.

What areas can licensed clinical social workers specialize in?

LCSWs may choose an area of focus. They may specialize in a particular age group, such as children, adolescents or seniors, or focus on particular concerns, such as diversity, social justice, health, or mental health. An LCSW may want to focus on finding a practicum in their chosen area of specialization.

What skills are beneficial for licensed clinical social workers?

Licensed clinical social workers can benefit from a number of skills in their job. These include:

  • empathy

  • communication skills

  • critical thinking skills

  • organizational skills

  • active listening skills

Read more: Writing an Effective Social Work Resume Skills Section

What's the difference between a licensed clinical social worker and a psychologist?

Although both LCSWs and psychologists both work directly to help individuals with their mental health, there are key differences between these two professions. In terms of education, you need a master's degree to become licensed as a clinical social worker while you may be required to have a doctorate to become a psychologist.

In practice, psychologists often work alongside a medical team to treat a patient's mental health issues using cognitive, social and behavioural therapy methods. LCSWs have a more holistic approach in assisting a client, including seeking services, providing therapy, assessing a client's needs and providing an action plan.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organization‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌ Please note that none of the organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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