I ALWAYS get a lot of questions about my job. I'm currently a Social Worker for a private foster care agency, and in the past I've worked for private adoption agencies. I genuinely appreciate that people are interested in my work and I hope this post doesn't bore you to pieces as I attempt to explain where I'm at in my career. I'm not going to get into answering many of the above questions... not in this post at least, that may be more interesting, but it will be for another day. However, I would like to explain an important milestone that has arrived. :)
So, I'm sure you all know that I completed graduate school in 2008 and obtained my Masters Degree in Social Work. I was then able to call myself an "MSW". In the world of social services, the letters after your name become a big deal as far as professional identity. Not just because you get letters after your name (although that part is fun!), but because it legitimately impacts the kind of work you are able to practice. Although I was very excited to have completed graduate school, I knew I wouldn't feel finished until I made it through the next professional hurdles. For social workers, I think it is safe to say that becoming an LCSW is considered a high accomplishment and sort of the ultimate credential. (Unless you want to get all fancy and go for a PhD). LCSW stands for Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
The requirements for becoming a LCSW vary from state to state. Enter in... the complications of moving from one very strict state to another... to make it an even more extensive process.
Generally speaking, there are several steps across the board to make one eligible to become an LCSW.
1) Once you have your MSW, you have to work for approximately two years under the direct clinical supervision of a LCSW. Clinical Supervision is kind of like "counseling for the counselor". Through supervision, you work with your supervisor to help you process emotions that come up when working with your clients and make sure that these emotions are not interfering with your ability to make proper judgements about treatment and intervention. It also provides a place for direct feedback and guidance in how you are practicing with your clients.
Here is the catch, just because you are employed as an MSW, doesn't mean you will automatically have an LCSW to clinically supervise you so you can obtain supervised hours that count. I've had some great supervisors who were very experienced MSW's and were an awesome source of support, but I wasn't able to count this time of employment towards my hours. It isn't necessarily a shoe in, so when you are able to land employment and be supervised by an LCSW..... many people advise that it is worth it to stay at that particular job merely for the hours alone! I've been SUPER lucky in this regard. In Illinois, I was able to obtain one year of direct supervision. Upon moving here, I was able to start right back up with supervision with another LCSW at my current agency. I feel VERY lucky that this all worked out.
I also feel very lucky that my hours from Illinois transferred to California and I didn't lose any time. (Except the time I spent over the masses of required paperwork, but that is a given I suppose).
Supervision hours- complete..... CHECK!
2) You have to make sure you meet State Educational Guidelines. In Illinois... check, done! In California.... oh no, there are MORE classes you have to take after your masters degree that are specific to the state of California policy, etc. Ugh. Thankfully, they can all be done online. However, they were not free and they took a lot of time.
Finished those... CHECK!
3) In the mean time you have to obtain an interim license known as an ACSW (Associate Clinical Social Worker) and pass exams showing you have completed the online classes. (More fees, more paperwork)
4) Finally, once all of these things are complete. You complete an extensive application that requires verification from various professional parties, state boards, and also verifies that you have not committed any crimes or gone off your rocker yourself. Once this application is complete, you pay again, and send it off for approval. Approval to TAKE the LCSW test.
Then, you wait 60 days for a letter saying you are eligible to take the LCSW exams... CHECK! I got it this week!!
5) You study your butt off to take a standardized exam that has a 47% pass rate in California. If you pass the first exam, they tell you CONGRATS, now pay more money and sign up to take the next test! So then you study your butt off again to text the next exam which is diagnoses based. This one has a pass rate of about 60% (slightly better).
SO..... that is where I am at in my professional journey. If you've made it this far in this post, I'm impressed. Thank you.
Once you pass both tests, you then apply to get your license to become a practicing LCSW. That is my goal. I have one year to complete it before I have to go through the application process again. I'm really not excited to study, and it is going to require a lot of discipline. I'm definitely not in study mode anymore. But, this has been my "professional goal" if you will for a long time, so I've gotta go for it. Being an LCSW would open up many more opportunities for me such as private practice, supervisory roles, teaching, research, etc.
Wish me luck as I attempt to turn myself into a book worm for the next several months!! I'm motivated, but I also am not looking forward to spending hours studying and I'm not a naturally good test taker so it is all nerve racking!
In order to add a bit of fun to this post, here is a photo of me on the eve of graduating with my MSW. Pictured with a few of my favorite graduation gifts, a travel size DSM-IV and a Freud action figure. Just call me nerd now :)