LCSW vs. MSW (Master of Social Work)

It is a worthwhile use of time to consider the differences between having your Master of Social Work (MSW) degree and taking the time to commit to full licensure in the form of becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). There are advantages and disadvantages to both routes that you will need to evaluate from your own set of personal needs and skillset. The clearest difference is that a Master of Social Work is actually a requirement to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in every state, so it might be more informative to consider what you can do once you have achieved your MSW versus what kind of opportunities are available once you have taken the necessary steps to gain full licensure as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

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The Master of Social Work degree requires two years of education beyond your bachelor’s degree and it usually makes sense to have spent your undergraduate period earning a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree. With a BSW you have not only the necessary foundational skillset and baseline knowledge to quickly move into a deeper exploration of social work.

Your Master’s degree also represents a chance to specialize your knowledge of the discipline, for some this could be en route to the LCSW title which we will expand upon later. For others, the Master of Social Work degree period represents time that can be spent gearing up for an entirely different career track such as working in Child Welfare or Social Work Administration. These particular specializations are a good example of how an MSW, while required to gain licensure as a LCSW, does not necessarily equate one-to-one with being on the road towards licensure.

The Master of Social Work (MSW) Degree

The Master of Social Work (MSW) degree itself is one of the most coveted of all degrees by human services employers. There are many potential career routes one could take with a Master of Social Work degree depending on one’s degree concentration. Here are just a few example career paths one might take after earning an MSW degree:

  • Human Services Case Manager
  • Child Welfare Case Manager
  • Human Services Administrator
  • Adoption Placement Specialist
  • Geriatric Social Worker
  • School Social Worker
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

The Human Services Case Manager is a position is one of increased responsibility as an eligibility worker. It usually requires that the case manager is performing ongoing maintenance and eligibility work with certain case files that represent families or individual adults. In most cases a Human Services Case Manager will be working with families who are on Temporary Assistance to Need Families (TANF) and have eligible children in the home. This requires monthly reporting by families and requires monitoring and recurring adjustments to the case and eligibility decisions.

The Child Welfare Case Manager works with children and families in homes where there is an allegation of child abuse or neglect. Increasingly there is a movement within child welfare to keep families together and only remove the child from the home as a last result. This philosophy is balanced against the safety of the child with the child’s safety always taking precedence. In most cases families can be assisted in healing negative and/or abusive patterns by getting help stabilizing the family with government assistance and through parenting classes and safety plans. This helps to ensure that the child is safe and that the home evolves towards a safe and healthy environment for the child.

The Social Work Administrator all are positions within human services agencies that help with the flow of work and efficiency of the organization. Through specialized training during an MSW program the student can develop the necessary skillset to become an effective leader in the work place who helps everyone to increase their professional skills while meeting mandated benchmarks for efficiency and productivity.

The Adoption Placement or Permanency Specialist is the other side of the coin of the Child Welfare worker. Once children have been placed in state care, which can happen for a variety of reasons, there is a need to find adequate foster care homes or in some cases permanent adoption for children. This requires a very specific skillset which can be learned during a specialized Master of Social Work program as is offered by a number of universities.

The Geriatric Social Worker is a specialized social worker, usually having their Master of Social Work degree with a specialization or certificate in Geriatric Social Work. This gives the worker and additional understanding of the psychological impact of aging along with the human behavioral and developmental stages that are associated with aging.

The School Social Worker is a social worker who specializes in helping children who are having difficulties in school due to emotional or psychological issues. This can range from helping to identify developmental delays or learning disabilities to diagnosing more serious chronic mental illnesses. Through a variety of tools that can be learned in specialized MSW programs the School Social Worker perfects a skill set that enables them to help children flourish within the structure of a school setting.

The Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

The Licensed Clinical Social Worker is the mental health counseling branch of social worker and requires a significant degree of training after one earns their Master of Social Work (MSW) degree.

By contrast to the positions above, the LCSW is an extremely specialized and trained social worker who not only has earned their Master of Social Work degree, but has also passed the necessary steps to gain licensure (you can find out about requirements for the LCSW in your state by clicking on the state name next to the map here). This usually requires an extensive period of post-graduate supervised work experience along with passing one of a few different national tests to ensure competency.

In many states, the LCSW is the pinnacle of social work licensure and can require a multi-year process to earn after graduating with one’s MSW. The process is quite extensive and very challenging. However, once you have your LCSW title you are able to open your own private practice in most states which gives you tremendous financial rewards when compared to other MSW level social work. It also allows a degree of flexibility that is unknown among other MSW level positions. Being your own boss is something that is extremely appealing to some people. You also are able to select your clientele and specialize in whatever method of counseling you choose that fits within the state laws and guidelines. If you want to learn more about the LCSW you can do so by reading our article on it here.