The California Board of Behavioral Sciences licenses clinical social workers. This is a master’s level profession. The National Association of Social Workers-California notes that unlicensed professionals are employed in social work but do not perform psychotherapy (https://www.naswca.org/page/151).
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California’s standards for Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) are stringent. In-state candidates are credentialed first as Associate Social Workers, or ASWs. ASW status is considered registration. This status also depends on having attained a master’s degree (See: Master’s of Social Work Programs in California).
Full licensure at the LCSW level depends on completing a supervised practice requirement and passing a licensing examination. There are additional minor training requirements.
ASW/LCSW Requirement: Initial Education
Prospective social workers begin by enrolling in accredited graduate programs. The California Board of Behavioral Sciences refers prospective social workers to the website of the Council on Social Work Education, or CSWE. (Applicants who complete graduate degrees in social work outside the United States will need to have their degrees evaluated for equivalency before they can be licensed.)
Individuals who attend school in California will have coursework in California law and ethics. Out-of-state applicants, though, will need to document 18 hours of California-specific law and professional ethics.
LCSW Requirement: State-Mandated Trainings
California requires some additional trainings. These may be taken through a school that is approved by the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education or a regional accrediting agency or through a continuing education provider or governmental organization.
The prospective California LCSW will need 15 hours each in 1) alcoholism/ chemical dependency and 2) spousal/ partner abuse and 10 hours each in 1) human sexuality and 2) aging, long-term care, and abuse of dependent adults. The requirement for child abuse assessment and reporting is 7 hours.
An individual who had one or more courses in the above supplemental content areas as an undergraduate can credit them.
Applicants who did not complete their supervised training in California will document at the time that they apply for full licensure that they have met the state-specific law and ethics training requirement.
Additionally, California requires a law and ethics examination. A candidate who has been approved as an ASW will receive testing information.
LCSW Requirement: Supervised Practice
The ASW will work under supervision for a minimum of 104 weeks and accrue 3,200 hours.
Supervised practice may consist of a variety of activities. California has set maximums and minimums for some. The person will accrue 2,000 hours in the combined areas of psychotherapy, treatment, assessment, and clinical psychosocial diagnosis. Of these, at least 750 hours must be spent performing face to face psychotherapy with individuals or groups.
Up to 1,200 hours may be spent in nonclinical activities including research and advocacy. Director supervisor contact is credited as nonclinical. Seminars are creditable, as is professional consultation.
1,700 hours are to be under the supervision of an LCSW. (The individual may also work under supervision by other mental health professionals.)
The supervisee will have at least one hour of individual supervision or two hours of group supervision a week. This requirement can increase based on the number of hours of psychotherapy performed.
Supervision will be according to a supervisory plan.
Supervision that took place in the six year period preceding receipt of the application can be credited, assuming other requirements were met. At the ASW stage, registration renewal is annual.
Provisions for Out-of-State Applicants: There are alternate provisions in place for social workers who met requirements in another state. An out-of-state social worker who has been licensed less than four years will need to have met the 3,200 hour requirement in a traditional or alternate manner. If the other state required 3,200, this is evidence. If the other state set its supervised requirement lower, some credit can be awarded for time licensed (up to a maximum of 1,200 hours). A social worker who had been licensed less than a year would not be able to credit the full 1,200 hours. Having been licensed just a few months, though, could mean having a supervised practice period that was several months shorter.
An out-of-state social worker who has been licensed at least four years will not need to demonstrate having met this requirement.
ASW/ LCSW Requirement: Criminal Background Check
The prospective California social worker will have a fingerprint-based criminal background check when he or she first applies for credentialing. In-state applicants will have their fingerprints made electronically; they will fill out the request for Live Scan Service form.
Applicants who reside out-of-state and are not able to utilize California fingerprinting facilities will need to request traditional fingerprint cards; they should use the email address provided in the application. Although the processing time can take eight to twelve weeks (or longer), applicants are cautioned not to submit prints before application.
LCSW Requirement: Licensing Examination
The licensing exam is the clinical exam offered by the Association of Social Work Boards. California requires a candidate to have completed other requirements before attempting the licensing exam.
The Board may accept examination scores for those who already took the exam in another state. However, there is a time limit on acceptance of scores if the applicant does not hold a current credential in another state.
The Application Process
Application packets can be downloaded from the BBS website (http://www.bbs.ca.gov/applicants/lcsw.html).
The applicant will need a passport-quality photograph.
Social work education is documented through official transcripts.
In-state LCSW applicants provide W-2 forms for the time they were employed as social workers at the ASW level. Volunteers will provide letters; a sample is available on the BBS website.
Out-of-state social workers are to submit license verification from each state where they have been licensed; the current applications notes envelopes are to be sealed.
Application packets provide detail about required supplemental materials. NASW-CA advises reading the materials several times, noting that many LCSW applications are returned because the applicant did not carefully follow all instructions. (Applicants should be aware, too, that information is subject to change and should make sure they have current applications.)
The application fee is $75 at the ASW level, $100 at the LCSW level. California charges a $100 fee for the jurisprudence exam. The ASWB clinical exam carries a fee of $260.
In most cases, application will take place first at the ASW level. NASW-CA notes that individuals from out-of-state who wish to perform psychotherapy in California before completing the LCSW licensing process may apply for the ASW (https://www.naswca.org/page/151).
Out-of-state applicants will provide varying documentation, depending on circumstances (e.g. being currently unlicensed but having ASWB scores that are still valid). The application packet describes multiple possible scenarios.
Licensing information is available from the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (http://www.bbs.ca.gov). The BBS has produced videos to guide prospective licensees through key steps.
The National Association of Social Workers-California is an additional professional resource (https://www.naswca.org/). NASW-CA has published guides to help prospective social workers achieve licensure. They were revised in 2018.
Requirements are subject to change.