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Working As a Licensed Social Worker

  • Getting Information
  • Assisting and Caring for Others
  • Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates
  • Establishing and Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships
  • Making Decisions and Solving Problems
  • Deal with People

  • Unpleasant/Hazardous Environment

  • Stressful

  • $52,000

    Average Salary

What Does A Licensed Social Worker Do

Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. One group of social workers—clinical social workers—also diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.   


Social workers typically do the following:

  • Identify people and communities in need of help
  • Assess clients’ needs, situations, strengths, and support networks to determine their goals
  • Help clients adjust to changes and challenges in their lives, such as illness, divorce, or unemployment
  • Research, refer, and advocate for community resources, such as food stamps, childcare, and healthcare to assist and improve a client’s well-being
  • Respond to crisis situations such as child abuse and mental health emergencies
  • Follow up with clients to ensure that their situations have improved
  • Evaluate services provided to ensure that they are effective
  • Develop and evaluate programs and services to ensure that basic client needs are met
  • Provide psychotherapy services

Social workers help people cope with challenges in their lives. They help with a wide range of situations, such as adopting a child or being diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Social workers may work with children, people with disabilities, and people with serious illnesses and addictions. Their work varies based on the type of client they are working with.

Some social workers work with groups, community organizations, and policymakers to develop or improve programs, services, policies, and social conditions. This focus of work is referred to as macro social work.

Advocacy is an important aspect of social work. Social workers advocate or raise awareness with and on behalf of their clients and the social work profession on local, state, and national levels.

The following are examples of types of social workers:

Child and family social workers protect vulnerable children and help families in need of assistance. They help families find housing or services, such as childcare, or apply for benefits, such as food stamps. They intervene when children are in danger of neglect or abuse. Some help arrange adoptions, locate foster families, or work to reunite families.

Clinical social workers—also called licensed clinical social workers—diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders, including anxiety and depression. They provide individual, group, family, and couples therapy; they work with clients to develop strategies to change behavior or cope with difficult situations; and they refer clients to other resources or services, such as support groups or other mental health professionals. Clinical social workers can develop treatment plans with the client, doctors, and other healthcare professionals and may adjust the treatment plan if necessary based on their client’s progress. They may also provide mental healthcare to help children and families cope with changes in their lives, such as divorce or other family problems.

Many clinical social workers work in private practice. In these settings, clinical social workers also perform administrative and recordkeeping tasks, such as working with insurance companies in order to receive payment for their services. Some work in a group practice with other social workers or mental health professionals.

School social workers work with teachers, parents, and school administrators to develop plans and strategies to improve students’ academic performance and social development. Students and their families are often referred to social workers to deal with problems such as aggressive behavior, bullying, or frequent absences from school.

Healthcare social workers help patients understand their diagnosis and make the necessary adjustments to their lifestyle, housing, or healthcare. For example, they may help people make the transition from the hospital back to their homes and communities. In addition, they may provide information on services, such as home healthcare or support groups, to help patients manage their illness or disease. Social workers help doctors and other healthcare professionals understand the effects that diseases and illnesses have on patients’ mental and emotional health.

Some healthcare social workers specialize in geriatric social work, hospice and palliative care, or medical social work:

  • Geriatric social workers help senior citizens and their families. They help clients find services, such as programs that provide older adults with meals or with home healthcare. They may provide information about assisted living facilities or nursing homes, or work with older adults in those settings. They help clients and their families make plans for possible health complications or for where clients will live if they can no longer care for themselves.
  • Hospice and palliative care social workers help patients adjust to serious, chronic, or terminal illnesses. Palliative care focuses on relieving or preventing pain and other symptoms associated with serious illness. Hospice is a type of palliative care for people who are dying. Social workers in this setting provide and find services, such as support groups or grief counselors, to help patients and their families cope with the illness or disease.
  • Medical social workers in hospitals help patients and their families by linking patients with resources in the hospital and in their own community. They may work with medical staff to create discharge plans, make referrals to community agencies, facilitate support groups, or conduct followup visits with patients once they have been discharged.

Mental health and substance abuse social workers help clients with mental illnesses or addictions. They provide information on services, such as support groups and 12-step programs, to help clients cope with their illness. Many clinical social workers function in these roles as well.

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How To Become A Licensed Social Worker

Although most social workers need a bachelor’s degree in social work, clinical social workers must have a master’s degree and 2 years of post-master’s experience in a supervised clinical setting. Clinical social workers must also be licensed in the state in which they practice.


A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is the most common requirement for entry-level positions. However, some employers may hire workers who have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as psychology or sociology.

A BSW prepares students for direct-service positions such as caseworker or mental health assistant. These programs teach students about diverse populations, human behavior, social welfare policy, and ethics in social work. All programs require students to complete supervised fieldwork or an internship.

Some positions require a master’s degree in social work (MSW), which generally takes 2 years to complete. Master’s degree programs in social work prepare students for work in their chosen specialty by developing clinical assessment and management skills. All programs require students to complete a supervised practicum or an internship.

A bachelor’s degree in social work is not required in order to enter a master’s degree program in social work. Although a degree in almost any major is acceptable, courses in psychology, sociology, economics, and political science are recommended. Some programs allow graduates with a bachelor’s degree in social work to earn their master’s degree in 1 year.

In 2015, there were more than 500 bachelor’s degree programs and more than 200 master’s degree programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

Some universities offer doctoral programs in social work, where students can earn a Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) or a Ph.D. Most doctoral programs in social work require students to have a master’s in social work and experience in the field. Many doctor’s students go on to work as postsecondary teachers.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Most states have licensure or certification requirements for nonclinical social workers. Requirements vary by state.

All states require clinical social workers to be licensed. However, some states provide exemptions for clinical social workers who work in government agencies. Becoming a licensed clinical social worker requires a master’s degree in social work and a minimum of 2 years of supervised clinical experience after graduation. After completing their supervised experience, clinical social workers must pass a clinical exam to be licensed.

Because licensing requirements vary by state, those interested should contact their state board. For more information about regulatory licensure boards by state, contact the Association of Social Work Boards.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Clients talk to social workers about challenges in their lives. To effectively help, social workers must be able to listen to and understand their clients’ needs.

Empathy. Social workers often work with people who are in stressful and difficult situations. To develop strong relationships, they must have compassion and empathy for their clients.

Interpersonal skills. Being able to work with different groups of people is essential for social workers. They need strong people skills to foster healthy and productive relationships with their clients and colleagues.

Organizational skills. Social workers must help and manage multiple clients, often assisting with their paperwork or documenting their treatment.

Problem-solving skills. Social workers need to develop practical and innovative solutions to their clients’ problems.

Time-management skills. Social workers often have many clients and administrative responsibilities. They must effectively manage their time to provide adequate service to all of their clients.

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Licensed Social Worker Jobs


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Licensed Social Worker Career Paths

Licensed Social Worker
Clinical Social Worker Case Manager
Director Of Social Services
6 Yearsyrs
Clinical Social Worker Psychotherapist Case Manager
Medical Case Manager
8 Yearsyrs
Clinical Social Worker Consultant Case Manager
Director Of Case Management
11 Yearsyrs
Medical Social Worker Therapist
Clinical Care Manager
9 Yearsyrs
Medical Social Worker Team Leader Program Director
Director Of Residential Services
7 Yearsyrs
Therapist Social Work Case Manager Director Of Social Services
Director Of Admissions And Marketing
7 Yearsyrs
Therapist Supervisor Program Director
Director Community Programs
7 Yearsyrs
Medical Social Worker Senior Social Worker Social Work Supervisor
Director Of Social Work
6 Yearsyrs
Clinician Clinical Supervisor Nursing Director
Health Director
9 Yearsyrs
Clinician Clinical Supervisor Clinical Manager
Manager Of Clinical Services
10 Yearsyrs
Clinician Patient Care Manager Director Of Social Services
Resident Services Director
6 Yearsyrs
Program Coordinator Lead Teacher House Manager
Housing Director
6 Yearsyrs
Program Coordinator Administrator Nurse Manager
Administrative Director, Behavioral Health Services
11 Yearsyrs
Program Coordinator Administrator Registered Nurse Case Manager
Health Care Manager
8 Yearsyrs
Social Worker Assistant Social Work Case Manager Clinical Director
Outpatient Services Director
9 Yearsyrs
Social Worker Assistant Office Manager House Manager
Housing Program Manager
6 Yearsyrs
Ambulatory Care Coordinator Mental Health Clinician Psychotherapist
Health Unit Supervisor
5 Yearsyrs
Team Leader Assistant Director Center Director
Director Of Family Service Center
9 Yearsyrs
Social Worker Assistant Social Work Case Manager
Geriatric Care Manager
9 Yearsyrs
Alcohol And Drug Counselor Family Counselor Family Service Counselor
Family Manager
6 Yearsyrs
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Average Length of Employment
Social Worker 3.6 years
Social Worker Lead 2.9 years
Top Careers Before Licensed Social Worker
Internship 13.5%
Therapist 3.8%
Volunteer 3.5%
Counselor 2.9%
Clinician 1.9%
Supervisor 1.7%
Top Careers After Licensed Social Worker
Therapist 6.0%
Clinician 4.5%
Internship 3.2%
Director 1.9%
Counselor 1.8%

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Average Yearly Salary
Show Salaries
Min 10%
Median 50%
Median 50%
Median 50%
Median 50%
Median 50%
Median 50%
Median 50%
Max 90%
Best Paying Company
Washington Regional Med Sys
Highest Paying City
New York, NY
Highest Paying State
Avg Experience Level
3.9 years
How much does a Licensed Social Worker make at top companies?
The national average salary for a Licensed Social Worker in the United States is $52,584 per year or $25 per hour. Those in the bottom 10 percent make under $35,000 a year, and the top 10 percent make over $77,000.

Real Licensed Social Worker Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Licensed Master Social Worker 2 (Chinese Language) New York State, Office of Mental Health Queensbury, NY Oct 14, 2010 $62,918
Licensed Master Social Worker 2 (Chinese Language) New York State, Office of Mental Health Queensbury, NY Oct 14, 2010 $60,498
Licensed Master Social Worker I (Korean Language) New York State Office of Mental Health Queensbury, NY Sep 24, 2010 $54,789
Licensed Social Worker I (Korean Language) New York State Office of Mental Health New York, NY Sep 24, 2010 $54,789
Licensed Social Worker Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, Inc. New York, NY Aug 28, 2014 $53,000
NYS Licensed Social Worker YAI/National Institute for People Withdisabilities New York, NY Jun 18, 2008 $43,472

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Top Skills for A Licensed Social Worker

  1. Treatment Plans
  2. Intake Assessments
  3. Group Therapy Sessions
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Collaborated with internal and external service providers to develop optimal treatment plans to achieve patient goals.
  • Conduct comprehensive initial intake assessments including medical, social & financial assistance.
  • Facilitate group therapy sessions specializing in the areas of shame and guilt resolution.
  • Provided clinical mental health services through a trauma-informed lens including assessments, treatment planning, interventions, and discharge of services.
  • Provided crisis intervention, mental health and chemical dependency assessments and short-term treatment to adult and adolescent inmates.


Average Salary:

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Top 10 Best States for Licensed Social Workers

  1. Nevada
  2. California
  3. Alaska
  4. Rhode Island
  5. Idaho
  6. Utah
  7. New York
  8. Wyoming
  9. North Dakota
  10. Arizona
  • (116 jobs)
  • (1,290 jobs)
  • (37 jobs)
  • (49 jobs)
  • (74 jobs)
  • (77 jobs)
  • (715 jobs)
  • (16 jobs)
  • (11 jobs)
  • (163 jobs)

Licensed Social Worker Resume Examples And Tips

The average resume reviewer spends between 5 to 7 seconds looking at a single resume, which leaves the average job applier with roughly six seconds to make a killer first impression. Thanks to this, a single typo or error on your resume can disqualify you right out of the gate. At Zippia, we went through over 2,431 Licensed Social Worker resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

Learn How To Create A Top Notch Licensed Social Worker Resume

View Resume Examples

Licensed Social Worker Demographics










Hispanic or Latino


Black or African American





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Foreign Languages Spoken




































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Licensed Social Worker Education


Fordham University


New York University


Adelphi University


Ohio State University


University of Southern Mississippi


University of Maryland - Baltimore


Howard University


University of Texas at Arlington


University of Alabama


Cleveland State University


Columbia University


University of Pittsburgh -


Youngstown State University


Wayne State University


University of Cincinnati


University of South Carolina - Columbia


Saint Cloud State University


University of Akron


University of Southern California


Case Western Reserve University

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Social Work


Mental Health Counseling










Criminal Justice


School Counseling


Counseling Psychology




Clinical Psychology


Human Services


Human Development


Public Health


Public Administration


Educational Leadership


Liberal Arts







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What Is It Like To Work As A Licensed Social Worker


What was your job title?

Licensed Social Worker.. Show More

What do you like the most about working as Licensed Social Worker?

Making a positive impact for my client that they wanted... Show More

What do you NOT like?

The accredited MSW should be sufficient to practice the specialized areas of social work. The Ridiculous testing after so much schooling is further decreasing our earning power. This is causing the averaged alumni with a MSW to work knowing they are just a few paychecks shy of seeking someone within our own profession for help.

The LICENSE should be based on confirmation of school accreditation and graduation...not re-testing. Quite frankly, it's insulting to all MSW graduates!

The excessive paperwork places Additional undue stress upon SW and should be trimmed as much as possible. This also applies to the Health Information Technology (HIT) selected by the company. The HIT should have the capabilities to process forms necessary for daily work, data collection, and. ease of access... Show More

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Updated May 19, 2020