Tennessee issues four social work licenses. The Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW) credential is available to professionals with education at the bachelor’s level. Licensed Master’s Social Worker (LMSW) is the entry-level credential for social workers with master’s degree. Both are awarded on the basis of education and examination.
In time, LMSWs can progress to Licensed Advance Practice Social Worker (LAPSW) or Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). The higher licenses are awarded after completion of supervised work experience requirements. LAPSW and LCSW licenses qualify the licenser bearer for private practice.
Each license has a defined scope of practice; scope can be found in state rule.
Standards for Education and Examination
An individual seeking licensure at the bachelor’s level will enroll in a bachelor’s program that has been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. An individual seeking licensure at the master’s level will enroll in either a doctoral program in Social Work or a master’s in Social Work program (Master’s in Social Work programs in Tennessee) that has been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
The CSWE accreditation process takes some time. An individual who attends a social work program that has applied for accreditation but not yet received it may be awarded temporary licensure. The graduate will need to submit an application for full licensure after the program is awarded accreditation. Social workers who are working under temporary licensure will need to complete the necessary steps within the established timeline.
Examination is required for licensure at any level. There is a separate examination for each of the four license types:
- LBSW: Bachelors
- LMSW: Masters
- LAPSW: Advanced Generalist
- LCSW: Clinical
All examinations are administered by the Association of Social Work Boards.
Standards for Supervised Practice
A social worker who is meeting requirements in Tennessee will be licensed as an LMSW after meeting educational requirements and passing the first of two required examinations. The licensee will need to accrue 3,000 hours of qualifying supervised experience. A prospective LAPSW will accrue non-clinical hours while a prospective LCSW will accrue clinical hours.
The approved supervisor will be a social worker who holds licensing at the independent level. The supervisee will need at least 100 hours of supervisor contact. Some supervision can take place in small group settings. However, the supervisee will need a minimum of 60 individual supervision hours. (It is expected that the individual will have approximately one hour of supervision for every 30 hours of qualifying work experience.)
The supervised work period is to be completed in a two- to six-year period. The Board notes that in most cases, people do not finish the clinical requirement in two years, even if they are working full-time. This is because one’s work schedule typically includes administrative tasks and other duties that wouldn’t be considered important in developing proficiency in clinical skills. Clinical competencies include assessment, treatment, and diagnosis.
The supervisor and supervisee will maintain logs to document the clinical work that is actually being performed. Fully 2,000 of the 3,000 hours required for LCSW licensing will consist of direct client contact.
The application section of the Board website includes forms for logging supervision (https://www.tn.gov/health/health-program-areas/health-professional-boards/sw-board/sw-board/applications.html). There are separate forms for LAMSW and LCSW. The supervisor and supervisee can record the subject of the particular session by selecting from the list provided. There is a space for noting information about the supervisory session content and, in the case of clinical supervision, for noting the clinical work that was performed by the supervisee.
Hours may be accrued while working under temporary LMSW licensing.
The social worker will continue to work under supervision until such time as he or she actually holds the independent license.
A social worker who applies for reciprocity at the independent level will need to have completed supervised practice but will not necessarily have been licensed as an LMSW at the time.
The Application Process
Applications are submitted before examination (at least in the case of individuals who are meeting their initial requirements in Tennessee). Application materials can be found on the Board website (https://www.tn.gov/health/health-program-areas/health-professional-boards/sw-board/sw-board/applications.html). Prospective applicants are asked to familiarize themselves with Tennessee statute and rules.
The Board will require a number of supplemental documents. Official transcripts are to be requested and sent directly from the issuing institution.
The Board will require a recent criminal background check. This is to be submitted by the vendor.
The individual will need to create a practitioner profile. The profile will include information about practice setting and credentials and about translation services that may be available to clients. It will also include information about adverse findings such as malpractice settlements that occurred during the prior decade.
The application is to be accompanied by a passport-type photograph and documentation of citizenship.
Application fees vary by level: $50 at the LBSW level, $75 at the LMSW level, $100 at the LCSW or LAPSW level. The individual will also be responsible for an initial licensing fee and a regulatory fee. The total paid with the application may range from $110 to $235. Examination fees are paid to the ASWB. They range from $230 to $260 (again, dependent on level).
Applicants are directed to have their applications in at least 30 days before a Board meeting.
Applicants can expect written notifications concerning the status of their applications.
Approved examination candidates will register with the ASWB. They will be allowed to schedule their own examinations.
Out-of-State Social Workers
Out-of-state social workers will need to request official verification from the licensing agency of the other state(s). Social workers who are applying by reciprocity should provide a copy of the statutes and rules under which they were licensed. The Tennessee Board requests that a copy of the license be included with the application.
A social worker who does not qualify for reciprocity may qualify for license by examination. Social workers who met their supervision regulations before 2011 will be reviewed according to a different set of standards.
Social workers must meet standards set by the Tennessee Board of Social Work Licensure (https://www.tn.gov/health/health-program-areas/health-professional-boards/sw-board/sw-board/applications.html).
The Board can be reached at 800-778-4123.
Social work licensure is governed by statute and rule. Board rules were revised in 2015.