What is LCSW?

LCSW stands for licensed clinical social worker. The name social worker can bring up thoughts of someone who works with children or other special populations. While that may be true, social work is a broad profession with a wide range of specialties.

Social Work is More than Child Welfare

The National Association for Social Work defines social work as:

“Helping people obtain tangible services; counseling and psychotherapy with individuals, families, and groups; helping communities or groups provide or improve social and health services; and participating in legislative processes.

The practice of social work requires knowledge of human development and behavior; of social, economic, and cultural institutions; and of the interaction of all these factors.”

NASW, 2021

It’s a broad definition which is why social workers appear in settings as varied as elected government, child and older adult welfare, hospitals, disaster management, hospice, amongst many others. Social workers might appear anywhere people need support.

Not all therapists are social workers and not all social workers are therapists. Unlike psychologists or medical doctors, the title social worker does not currently have what’s called title protection so there is a broad range of education, experience, and focus under the umbrella term. Clinical social workers or social workers with at least a master’s degree and additional training are usually qualified to offer therapy. The title of therapist, psychotherapist, or counselor can include a broad range of educational backgrounds including mental health counseling, marriage and family therapy, amongst other credentials which are state dependent. What differentiates social workers is an education focused on the person in their environment. Social workers are taught to consider inequities in a person’s life including race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc. From the social work perspective, people are not bodies and minds separate from the world. Our external environments make a significant impact on how we feel and think. A clinical social worker will consider that there is always a relationship between a person and the world in which they live.

In order to independently practice as a therapist, clinical social workers (and all mental health professionals) are required to undergo training and practice to meet licensing requirements set by the state. Most social workers practicing as therapists will also undergo additional specialized training. Some may even specialize with certain types of problems or groups of people, such as working with children, trauma, with immigrant communities, etc. In the state of California, a clinical social worker must complete thousands of hours of clinical practice, meet weekly with an experienced supervisor, and meet education and testing requirements prior to being licensed.

Will a Social Worker Be Able to Help Me?

There are many misconceptions around levels of competency amongst mental health professionals based on titles. While a psychiatrist will be a medical doctor with many years of specialized training and may even have some training in psychotherapy, most psychiatrists focus specifically on prescribing and managing psychiatric medications. People looking to see a psychiatrist specifically for therapy may be disappointed to find that few offer this as an option.

Similarly, there may be misconceptions applied to Marriage and Family Therapists or MFTs if you are, for instance, looking for a therapist to work with you one on one. You may think they are unable to offer the right support since their title implies couples and families as specialties. This also goes for social workers and your understanding of what they do. An important factor to consider is that the person you are seeing has training and experience in working with someone like you which can be found by asking them directly or via their stated experience and training.

Try to find someone with a focus or specialty that resonates with you and your experience.

When it comes to therapy, research shows that one of the most important factors to consider is that you trust your therapist and have a good relationship in working with them. The only way to determine this is to connect with a therapist and make that determination for yourself. Many offer free consultations and you could even try meeting with them once or twice before committing. Ask yourself: how does it feel working with this person? Do they seem like someone with whom you could feel safe to share your experiences? Do they seem like they might be able to help?

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