Massachusetts licenses social work professionals across levels, from the assistant level to the clinical level. Licensed Social Worker Assistant is the lowest license; a majority of states have no corresponding licensing level. Licensed Social Worker is a step above this. The quickest path to LSW is a bachelor’s degree in social work. There are provisions in place in Massachusetts, though, to allow individuals with significant experience in the social work field to attain the license without a BSW.
Licensed Certified Social Worker and Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker both require graduate education. They can represent different experience levels or different disciplines within social work.
It takes longer to achieve the LICSW, as experience is necessary, but this is not the only distinction between the two licenses. The LICSW has a clinical focus; during the required experience period, clinical services must be performed.
An LCSW can perform some social work roles autonomously, but only an LICSW can perform clinical duties autonomously. Some, but not all, casework would be considered to require clinical knowledge and skills; this role would be carried out autonomously only by someone with licensure at the highest level.
Practice at the MSW Level: LCSW and LICSW Requirements
The foundation for licensure as an LCSW or LICSW is a master’s or doctoral degree earned through a school that has CSWE accreditation (See: Master’s of Social Work Programs in Massachusetts). (Also acceptable is an international degree that the CSWE determines to be equivalent.)
The required examination at the LCSW level is the Masters exam offered by the Association of Social Work Boards.
A person who seeks credentialing as a Licensed Independent Certified Social Worker must accrue 3,500 hours of creditable experience over a period of at least two years. During this time, he or she will be licensed at the LCSW level. The supervisor is to hold a license at the LICSW level. Supervision is expected at a rate of 50 hours per year (100 hours total).
Another examination is required at the LICSW level: the ASWB clinical exam.
Practice at the BSW Level and Below: LSWA and LSW Licensing
Licensed Social Worker Assistant is a true entry-level credential. One can achieve the LSWA with a bachelor’s in any field or with an associate degree in a human services discipline. Social work and psychology are referenced in state regulation among the disciplines that could be considered human services. 60 credit hours is considered the equivalent of an associate’s degree.
Even at this level, the licensure process entails examination. The individual will register for the associate exam. The content outline is the same as for the bachelors exam (https://www.aswb.org/exam-candidates/about-the-exams/exam-content-outlines/).
The Licensed Social Worker is considered a social worker, though there are some limitations on scope of practice (http://www.mass.gov/ocabr/licensee/dpl-boards/sw/regulations/rules-and-regs/258-cmr-1200.html). A person who earns a social work degree from a CSWE-accredited program is qualified pending examination and completion of the application process; no further experience is required.
Without any college, it would take ten years spent under the supervision of a social worker to achieve this level. With a bachelor’s in a field other than social work, though, the pre-licensure experience period is just two years (3,500 hours).With two-and-one-half years of college, the requirement is five years; with two years, it is six. A single year of college can reduce the requirement slightly. 30 semester hours of college coursework is figured as a year.
Supervision is to be provided by an LCSW or LICSW or a person who holds a BSW (social work bachelor’s) or MSW (social work master’s). The rate is to be one hour of supervision for every 35 hours worked.
License by Reciprocity
Out-of-state social workers can be granted reciprocity if they have a current license issued by another state and were licensed on the basis of having passed the ASWB exam at the appropriate level.
The licensing authority will seek a transcript, examination score report, and references as well license verification.
The Application Process
In Massachusetts, the licensing process is handled by the Association of Social Work Boards (https://www.aswb.org/exam-candidates/massachusetts-application-processing/). The ASWB has provided a summary of requirements at different levels but advises applicants to consult Massachusetts regulations.
Applicants with questions can call the ASWB at 866-527-2384 or email ‘mass.sw.app at aswb.org’.
Application materials can also be viewed on the website of the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Social Workers (https://www.mass.gov/lists/applications-and-forms-for-the-board-of-social-workers).
Applicants should be prepared to submit an official transcript for their highest applicable degree.
References are important at all levels beyond that of LSWA. Requirements will vary by level; at some levels, a specific type of supervisory reference is required (e.g. second year field placement supervisor). The application packet includes materials related to waiver of liability.
The applicant should have a photograph made.
New applicants pay $173 if they will be supplying all documents themselves (without assistance of the ASWB Social Work Registry).
Applicants who are otherwise qualified will be allowed to register for the examination. Examinations are self-scheduled at testing centers across the nation. Candidates should be prepared to pay additional fees at the examination level.
Massachusetts applicants have the option of enrolling in the Social Work Registry at a reduced rate. The ASWB can maintain a file of documents important to the licensing process and, if requested, forward them to a new board at a later date.
Renewal is biennial. Continuing education requirements vary by licensing level.
Licensure is governed by statutes and regulations and also by policy. By going straight to the source, one can stay apprised of changes. The Massachusetts Board of Registration of Social Workers is the state’s regulatory authority (https://www.mass.gov/orgs/board-of-registration-of-social-workers). The Board can be reached at (617) 727-3073 or ‘swboard at state.ma.us’.