What Exactly IS a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)?

During my initial conversations with clients, I often hear: "You are a social worker? But you are a therapist too? I don't really understand." So I thought I would explain a bit about what that "LCSW" after my name really means.

First - yes - I am a social worker. Upon earning my Masters degree I became what's known as an MSW (Master of Social Work). With that degree, social workers can help people in all sorts of situations. Many social workers are community activists, while others work in schools, hospitals, or non-profit organizations. Some social workers are involved in child protective services and the foster care or adoption system. Others work with the homeless population or with those in drug/alcohol recovery. In any of these roles, social workers counsel individuals and families, connect people with resources, and advocate for those who need help.

Next - yes - I am a therapist. The "Clinical" designation of my license is the mental health counseling branch of social work. Many social workers never receive (or want) this type of license because they do not want to be therapists. However, I have always had a knack for making people feel comfortable talking with me and I have always enjoyed helping people solve their problems, so by earning the clinical license within social work, I am able to use these skills to do something I'm passionate about. The clinical training I received focused on mental health, human development, psychological theories, diagnoses, and treatment modalities. To obtain the "clinical license", I completed over 3,200 hours of specific clinical work experience post Masters degree, and passed the 2 exams required by the California licensing board.

So how does a LCSW differ from a psychologist, or a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT)? A big difference is in our viewpoint. LCSW's focus mainly on the individual (or couple/family) within their environment. This means that in addition to your internal psyche (thoughts, feelings, impulses, etc.), I am also taking into account all the other factors affecting you, including your work or school, your health, your spirituality, your culture, your family, and more. LCSW's also have the advantage in being trained in multiple theoretical approaches, so we can come at a problem or situation in many ways, such as from a systems perspective (as in relationships and families - one part of the system causes reactions in another part), or from a psychodynamic perspective (as in current behaviors may be caused by things from the past).

Hopefully, this helps to clear up the confusion around exactly what the title, "Licensed Clinical Social Worker", really means.

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