How to Become an LICSW in Massachusetts

Individuals interested in pursuing social work licensure in Massachusetts can use the information below as a resource to learn about the social work profession, the unique elements of clinical social work, the educational requirements to pursue each of the four social work licenses, and the guidelines for becoming a licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW). 

As recent events across the country have shown, especially crises at schools, vulnerable Americans need more support from social workers, according to a news release by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). The Bureau of Labor Statistics has indicated that employment in the social work field is expected to grow 16 percent between 2016 and 2026, and in Massachusetts, social workers are needed in many professional settings, from schools, to mental health clinics, to agencies, to private practices. One of the largest expected areas of growth is health care social work, and Greater Boston is home to a large health care system of 25 hospitals and 20 community health centers.

What Is Social Work?

Social work professionals help connect clients to the services they need to overcome challenges and achieve the best possible outcome for increased quality of life. Clinical social workers work directly with clients who have mental, behavioral, social, and/or emotional disorders by providing diagnoses and treatments.

Social work can be a fulfilling career path for those who care deeply about diversity, equality, and social justice because:

  • Social workers build key relationships with clients and colleagues while growing personally and professionally.
  • Social workers make every day meaningful; they strive to address client needs and are committed to fighting for equality and social justice, especially for vulnerable populations.
  • Social workers have opportunities to advance their career and further their knowledge through continued training and education.

What Is Clinical Social Work?

Clinical social work is a disciplined, evidence-based practice in which practitioners help clients cope with mental health issues, substance abuse, trauma, and relational and interpersonal challenges.

Clinical social workers are the only type of social work professionals with the advanced knowledge and specialized skills to assess, diagnose, and treat psychosocial difficulties and mental illness while also providing general counseling and various kinds of support. These dedicated clinicians work both independently and in collaboration with others to help people overcome mental health concerns resulting from or related to addiction, violence, trauma, medical illness, and other life stressors.

A clinical social worker’s typical work day will vary based on the professional setting, but it is likely to include the following tasks:

  • Diagnosing mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders
  • Consulting and coordinating care with other professionals to develop treatment plans
  • Facilitating individual, family, and group sessions
  • Lobbying for policy changes that will benefit the community

Clinical social work master’s programs such as SocialWork@Simmons prepare students to pursue licensure as professional clinicians who work directly with individuals, families, groups, and communities across myriad settings.

Where Do Clinical Social Workers Practice?

Clinical social workers are the largest group of mental health providers in the United States, offering services in a variety of settings:

  • Schools
  • Substance abuse treatment centers
  • Hospitals
  • College counseling centers
  • Day treatment programs
  • Mental health clinics
  • Outpatient facilities
  • Psychiatric hospitals
  • Private practices
  • Court clinics
  • Prisons and jails
  • Legislative advocacy divisions of institutions

Social Worker Salary

In Boston, Massachusetts’ largest city, most social work practitioners are employed in child, family, or school social work, and job salaries for licensed certified social workers (LCSWs) or LICSWs in these areas depend on many factors such as education and experience.

For current information on social worker job salaries in Massachusetts, visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

Educational Requirements to Become a Social Worker

In order to pursue licensure in Massachusetts, students must fulfill the educational requirements outlined by the Board of Registration of Social Workers and pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) examination. The board issues four types of licenses to students with various levels of education and experience. The educational requirements below provide general information, so be sure to visit Massachusetts’ Board of Registration of Social Workers to read more about additional requirements.

Licensed Social Worker Associate (LSWA)

This license has the least stringent requirements of all the licenses administered by the board. To obtain a social worker associate license, students must earn a bachelor’s degree in any field or an associate degree in a human services field from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-accredited school.

Licensed Social Worker (LSW)

The requirements for this license allow for varying levels of education. A bachelor’s degree is not a requirement, but the most direct way to obtain this license is to earn a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) from a CSWE-accredited school.

Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW)

This license allows practitioners in Massachusetts to have a flexible career path. To obtain this license, students must earn, at minimum, a Master of Social Work (MSW) from a CSWE-accredited college or university. Documented social work experience is not required for licensure. Graduates of BSW programs may be eligible for an accelerated MSW program, which allows them to practice social work sooner.

Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)

LICSW is the highest level of social work licensure available in Massachusetts for students with an LCSW license and an MSW or Doctor of Social Work (DSW) from a CSWE-accredited college or university. This license allows students to practice clinical social work independently.

Social Work Licensure at a Glance

The table below is a general snapshot summarizing the four social work licenses available in Massachusetts and the national median salary, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for some social work occupations.

social work licenses available in Massachusetts
License Type Educational Requirements Documented Clinical Experience Potential Occupations 2017 National Median Salary1
Licensed Social Worker Associate (LSWA) Bachelor’s in any field or associate degree in human services field from an accredited school None required Social service assistant, case management aide, community outreach worker, preventive services caseworker Social and human service assistants can earn about $33,120.
Licensed Social Worker (LSW) Bachelor’s degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited school None required Behavioral management aide, juvenile court liaison, probation officer, human services specialist Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists can earn about $51,410.
Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW) Master’s degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited school None required Social and community service manager, child welfare case manager, marriage and family therapist, social work administrator Social and community service managers can earn about $64,100.
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) Master’s or doctoral degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited school Hold a current LCSW or equivalent; 3,500 hours post-LCSW clinical experience with 100 face-to-face hours with an LICSW-licensed supervisor Owner of private practice, counselor, supervisor, consultant School and career counselors can earn about $54,410.

Guidelines for Pursuing an LICSW in Massachusetts

In order to obtain licensure in Massachusetts, aspiring LICSWs must:

  1. Hold at least a master’s degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited school. Learn more about Simmons’ online MSW program.
  2. Be currently licensed in Massachusetts as an LCSW or equivalent in another jurisdiction.
  3. Submit a completed application to ASWB. The application must be accompanied by the following items:
    • Official transcript – Provide official MSW or DSW transcript from a CSWE-accredited school in a sealed school envelope.
    • Three recommendation forms – All references must be qualified to evaluate the student’s social work experience. Two references from LICSWs are required.
    • Documented post-degree experience – A clinical supervisor licensed at the LICSW level must provide documentation of the student’s completed clinical work experience. Students must have obtained 3,500 hours of clinical social work experience, in no less than two years, after the date they received their LCSW. A minimum of 100 hours must be face-to-face with a clinical supervisor.
    • Application fee
  4. Register for, schedule, and pass the ASWB clinical social work exam.
  5. Apply for a license. The license approval time varies. Generally, it takes up to two weeks for the Board of Registration of Social Workers to receive exam scores, followed by another week or more for the board to issue a license.

Please note: Social work regulations can change, so applicants must contact their state’s social work licensing board to learn more about the best license for them and the requirements for becoming a licensed social worker.

Looking for information on how to become a licensed social worker outside of Massachusetts? Information about state-by-state licensure requirements can be found on the Association of Social Work Boards website.

Social Work License Reciprocity

Social workers licensed in other states who have fulfilled education, experience, and examination requirements comparable to Massachusetts’ requirements can acquire a license without retaking the exam.

For more information on reciprocity in Massachusetts, visit the Board of Registration of Social Workers.

Social Work Post-Licensure

Every two years, all licensed social workers in Massachusetts are required to renew their license on or before its expiration date, or they can reinstate that license at any time within one year after the expiration date. To renew or reinstate licenses, all social workers must complete a certain number of continuing education hours:

  • LSWAs must complete at least 10 hours of continuing education.
  • LSWs must complete 15 hours of continuing education.
  • LCSWs must complete 20 hours of continuing education.
  • LICSWs must complete 30 hours of continuing education.

Renewal fees vary based on the license. Licensees who don’t renew or reinstate their license to practice social work can obtain relicensure at the same level.

Visit Massachusetts’ Board of Registration of Social Workers website for renewal fee information and requirements for obtaining relicensure.

Simmons University's Online Clinically Focused MSW

When students earn their MSW online through Simmons School of Social Work’s clinically focused program, they join an inclusive community of activist practitioners who are dedicated to merging social justice and professional ethics with advanced clinical practice skills. Students will learn a range of evidence-based methods as they take online classes, complete coursework, and interact with real clients during in-person field experiences near their community.

SocialWork@Simmons’ online MSW program offers five start dates per year, and our admissions committee reviews applications on a rolling basis. To help accommodate our students’ active schedules, we offer three program tracks: traditional full time, accelerated, and extended.

Learn more about Simmons’ online MSW program.

Resources for Becoming a Social Worker in Massachusetts

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Social Workers. Data was collected in May 2017. Return to footnote reference

To learn more about SocialWork@Simmons, request information and an admissions counselor will contact you.