A Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) is a specific job title held by social workers who hold their Master’s of Social Work (MSW) degree and meet their state’s licensure requirements. There are many roles an LMSW might perform including assisting an LCSW in research, or they might provide therapy under the supervision of an LCSW. Some states allow a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) to provide therapy to clients in a limited fashion. The LMSW might perform a variety of functions within a social work organization including group and one on one therapy as well as making limited clinical assessments usually under the supervision of an LCSW. Usually an LMSW has fairly significant limitations in what kind of therapy they can provide and most LMSW’s will eventually go on to become Licensed Clinical Social Workers in order to have great financial benefits as well as latitude in what job functions they perform.
Becoming a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)
Very few states allow holders of a Bachelor’s of Social Work (BSW) to provide any therapy or hold a protected job title. While the Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) title requires a Master’s of Social Work (MSW), it often has a much lower requirement for supervised clinical hours than becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Often people will become an LMSW en route to becoming a LCSW and can be paid for their job as a LMSW while they earn the supervised clinical hours requirement to become a full fledged LCSW, or other advanced social work title such as Licensed Advanced Macro Social Worker (LAMSW).
Steps to become a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)
You must first begin by completing your education up through a Master’s in Social work. After that you will need to complete supervised hours and then pass a required test. Following the steps below will help you to not only become a LMSW, but to help you more deeply understand what your career path will look like. Understanding that your education will help determine your career is critical and with it the degree concentration you pursue becomes a key decision. Follow these steps to become a LMSW:
- Earn a Bachelor’s of Social Work or closely related degree such as Psychology or Counseling. Preference in Master’s programs are given to Bachelor’s of Social Work that are accredited by the (Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)).
- Apply for and be accepted into a Master’s of Social Work program that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). At this point you may wish to narrow your focus and have a degree specialization based on the population you wish to work with.
- Complete any post-graduate coursework required by your state.
- Complete the Supervised Clinical Hours as required by your states’ licensure board, usually ranging from 0 to 1000 supervised clinical hours and 50 or so hours of direct contact hours with a client. States have tremendous variance in the level of supervised clinical or therapeutic hours required so be sure to check your state’s requirements.
- Pay the fee and pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Master’s Level Exam.
- Complete ongoing continuing education units (CEUs), usually around 40 contact hours per year to renew your license with the state board.
The Difference between an LMSW and a LCSW?
While both a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) and Licensed Clinical Social Work (LCSW) require a Master’s of Social Work as well as clinical experience to become licensed, there are a few notable differences. The differences mostly are determined by what one is allowed to do independently versus under supervision. The LMSW can provide limited mental health and therapy related services independently. Usually they will be required to work under the supervision, both directly and indirectly, of an LCSW, licensed psychiatrist or psychologist. By contrast a Licensed Clinical Social Worker license allows you to provide these same services independently.
Often an LCSW will be focused more on direct mental health and related therapies for individuals. The LMSW on the other hand can often take a larger macro, or large scale focus working on developing social work programs for towns, counties, cities or communities of any size. These could be educational programs to limit certain negative or dangerous behaviors such as drug use, unsafe sex, gang affiliation or the like.
Often an LMSW will act in an advisory capacity by assisting officials in creating policies that incorporate Social Work related concepts. These can include many different social work derived ideas. They might include equity and inclusion to ensure everyone has access and equal opportunity based on need. Another burgeoning idea out of social work is that of trauma informed care which can help police, government institutions and health clinics to create environments that minimize PTSD triggers and create a welcoming atmosphere. The LMSW can also advise governments on how to appeal to minority and refugee communities by ensuring policies are made with cultural competency as a foundation.
Job Duties Expected from LMSWs
An LMSW might work in very different organizations depending on if your focus is working within a clinic, or more as an advisor to policy creators. An LMSW might be expected to perform any of the following duties:
- Working with policy makers to educate the public on a mental health issue
- Helping policy makers tailor a new policy to a specific stakeholder group
- Educating policy makers on ways to create policies that will be effective and well received by very divergent groups.
- When working at a clinic you will often be asked to do intake for new clients
- Ensure you keep clinical case file notes
- Providing supervised mental health and other therapy based services
- Helping your LCSW or Psychologist supervisor to devise a treatment plan
- Providing policy or organizational consultation to develop forward guidance for an organization or agency
Role of the LMSW in Social Work
The role of the Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) varies depending on what career path one has chosen. If a LMSW wishes to work in clinical therapy, the LMSW will work under the guidance of a LCSW, psychologist or psychiatrist to provide mental health therapies. In this role, the LMSW will do initial intakes and assessments of the client. They can provide therapy directly to the client as well per the direction of their supervisor. They might also work closely with their supervisor to develop custom tailored therapies based on the needs of specific clients.
Another LMSW might prefer to work with the macro scale. In this role, the LMSW will work with policy makers and other stakeholders to develop rules, regulations, guidance, policies or even laws with social work principles and concepts as part of the foundation. By understanding group dynamics, societal needs of various groups and ethical social work practices, the LMSW will work in an advisory capacity to ensure that an organization or community can move forward with policies that can be implemented and widely accepted.
Career Opportunities as an LMSW
There are several states that have the job title of LMSW. You will have many opportunities to work within clinical settings providing and developing supervised mental health therapies. Other people with their LMSW will prefer to work in a school setting as a school counselor. Some organizations will hire an LMSW on a contract basis to provide assistance in developing policies with social work concepts and ideas in mind. There are also many opportunities in government such as working with those recently released from incarceration to get their lives back on track. Still other opportunities are available to work in addiction centers working with people struggling with substance abuse. There will also be jobs working with various government agencies in an advisory capacity similar to the role filled in the private sector so you can develop policies that will be embraced by a wider segment of society. Becoming a LMSW is also a wise decision if you are interested in becoming a LCSW as you can earn an income while also attaining your required supervised clinical hours.