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Tennessee Social Work Licensing Requirements

Tennessee is home to over 6.5 million people, over 10,000 of whom are employed as social workers in the state.1,2 Social workers work with people when they are at their most vulnerable, and because of that, they must adhere to certain standards. In Tennessee, social workers are governed by the Board of Social Workers. If you are interested in becoming a social worker in Tennessee, you must understand the licensing requirements and standards of the state. Keep reading below to learn more about the licensure options and discover which path is right for you.

How to Become a Social Worker in Tennessee

Educational Paths

Tennessee has four licensure options available for social workers. The minimum education required to become licensed is a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW), but other licenses require a master’s degree in social work (MSW). The following details the different educational options for individuals seeking licensure as social workers.

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

Like in many other states, to become licensed in the state of Tennessee you must have a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) from a school accredited by the Council of Social Work Education (CSWE). If your program was in the process of applying for accreditation when you graduated, you can apply for a temporary license, but your full license will be contingent upon your program being granted accreditation. Holding a BSW can allow an individual to apply to become a baccalaureate social worker and is the first step in obtaining a graduate degree in social work. BSW programs introduce students to the social work industry through human behavior, social work practice theory, and research courses. Most BSW programs have a field practicum component that allows students to gain hands-on experience and see what social work is really like.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

The other degree required for some levels of social work licensure in Tennessee is a master’s degree in social work (MSW). This advanced degree must also be accredited by the CSWE. The CSWE website provides a directory of colleges across the US that have accredited programs. By using this website, you can ensure that your MSW program will be accepted by the Board when you apply for licensure. If your program was in the process of pursuing accreditation when you graduated, you can request a temporary license from the Board, but cannot become fully licensed until your program is granted accreditation. Most MSW programs will offer an accelerated track for students who hold a BSW. These students can usually complete the master’s program in one year instead of the two years it generally takes.

Steps for Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in Tennessee

To practice social work in Tennessee and to use the title “social worker,” you must be licensed by the Tennessee Board. The Board offers four licenses: Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW), Licensed Master’s Social Worker (LMSW), Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW), and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Each license allows for a different range of social work practice; read below to understand the requirements for each and decide which social work license in Tennessee is best for you.

Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW)

In Tennessee, aspiring social workers may apply for an LBSW with a bachelor’s degree from a from a CSWE-accredited school. This license allows an individual to provide basic, non-clinical social work services such as case management and mediation. LBSWs in Tennessee are not required to receive supervision for their work but must work for an organization and cannot practice privately. Once you have earned a CSWE-accredited BSW, you can complete the following steps to become licensed as an LBSW in Tennessee.

1. Submit an LBSW application to the Board.

The first towards becoming an LBSW is to submit a completed LBSW application packet to the Board, indicating that you are applying for LBSW licensure by examination. Along with this packet, you will also need to submit a Declaration of Citizenship form and the Mandatory Practitioner Profile Questionnaire. During this step, you must also complete a criminal background check and request that your school send a copy of your BSW transcript to the Board. The fee for this application is $110 (as of December 2018).

2. Take the ASWB Bachelors exam.

After the Board reviews your LBSW application and determines that you have submitted the required materials, they will give you permission to take the ASWB Bachelor’s exam, which is required for licensure. This is a 170-question, multiple-choice exam, though only 150 of the questions will be scored. As of December 2018, the fee for the ASWB Bachelor’s exam is $230.

3. Receive your LBSW license from the Board.

Once you fulfill the above-stated requirements, the Board will grant your license and you can practice as an LBSW in the state of Tennessee.

Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)

Individuals interested in becoming an LMSW in Tennessee must have a master’s degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited school. Like the LBSW, this license allows a social worker to provide general, non-clinical services as part of an organization. However, LMSW licensees are also able to practice clinical social work under the supervision of an LCSW. The following steps outline the process of becoming licensed as an LMSW.

1. Submit an LMSW application to the Board.

The first step in the LMSW licensure process is to complete an LMSW application packet and submit it to the Board. You must also include the Declaration of Citizenship form and the Mandatory Practitioner Profile Questionnaire. In addition to submitting these documents, request that your school send your MSW transcript to the Board and complete a criminal background check. The fees for this application are $160 as of December 2018.

2. Take the ASWB Master’s exam.

After your application has been reviewed by the Board, you can register for the ASWB Master’s exam. The ASWB exam consists of 170 multiple-choice questions, only 150 of which will be scored. As of December 2018, the fee for the bachelor’s-level ASWB exam is $230. The Board will receive your scores from the ASWB within two weeks of your test date.

3. Receive your LMSW license from the Board.

Once you have submitted an approved application and passed the licensing exam, the Board will issue your LMSW license. After this point, you can begin practicing social work in Tennessee within the scope of practice defined for an LMSW.

If you intend to apply for an advanced practice or clinical social worker license in Tennessee, you are required to have a valid LMSW first.

Licensed Advanced Practitioner Social Worker (LAPSW)

In Tennessee, if you wish to practice social work independently, becoming a Licensed Advanced Practitioner Social Worker (LAPSW) is one option. The LAPSW license allows a social worker to provide non-clinical services privately or as part of an organization. It also allows for the practice of clinical social work under the supervision of an LCSW. LAPSW candidates must hold an MSW from a CSWE-accredited program or a doctoral degree in social work. They must also hold a valid LMSW license before beginning the process of becoming an LAPSW. If you hold an LMSW license and would like to become an LAPSW, the following steps will be required.

1. Accumulate 3,000 hours of supervised social work experience.

Because LAPSWs have a higher level of autonomy than LBSWs and LMSWs, they must complete additional training for licensure. Once you are licensed as an LMSW, you must complete 3,000 hours of non-clinical social work experience in no less than two but no more than six years. During this time, you must receive at least 100 hours of face-to-face supervision from an LAPSW or LCSW who has been licensed for at least three years and has completed training in supervision.

2. Submit an LAPSW application to the Board.

After you have completed the required amount of supervised experience as an LMSW, you can submit an application for your LAPSW license to the Board. There are several additional documents you will need to submit, including the a verification form and supervision logs from your supervisor, a copy of your LMSW license, the Mandatory Practitioner Profile Questionnaire, and the Declaration of Citizenship form. You may need to request another copy of your transcript for the Board and completed an updated background check. As of December 2018, the total fees for LAPSW licensure are $235.

3. Take the ASWB Advanced Generalist exam.

The ASWB Advanced Generalist exam is required for LAPSW licensure in Tennessee. Like the Master’s exam you completed for your LMSW, the Advanced Generalist exam consists of 170 multiple-choice questions and scores are sent the Board shortly after your test date. As of December 2018, the Advanced Generalist exam fee is $260.

4. Receive your LAPSW license from the Board.

After completing the steps above, the Board will grant your LAPSW license. Once this license has been issued, you can practice non-clinical social work independently but must practice clinical social work under the supervision of an LCSW.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

The LCSW is the only license in Tennessee that allows you to practice clinical social work independently. Candidates hoping to become LCSWs must have an MSW from a CSWE-accredited school or a doctoral degree in social work. You must complete supervised experience as an LMSW before being eligible to earn an LCSW license. If you would like to become an independent clinical social worker in Tennessee, complete the following steps after earning your LMSW.

1. Accumulate 3,000 hours of supervised clinical social work experience.

After earning their LMSW, an LCSW candidate must provide 3,000 hours of direct clinical social work services to clients under the supervision of an LCSW. For every 30 hours of client contact, you must receive at least one hour of supervision. The LCSW supervising you must have been licensed for at least three years and have completed additional training in supervision. The 3,000 hours of experience needs to be completed in a period of no less than two and no more than six years.

2. Submit an LCSW application to the Board.

After completing the required amount of supervised experience, you can submit a completed LCSW application packet to the Board. You will need to submit several supplemental documents, including a form verifying your supervised experience, the Mandatory Practitioner Profile Questionnaire, the Declaration of Citizenship form, and a copy of your LMSW license. Contact the Board to determine whether you need to provide another copy of your transcript or an updated criminal background check. As of December 2018, the LCSW application costs $235.

3. Take the ASWB Clinical exam.

The ASWB Clinical exam is required for LCSW licensure in Tennessee. After the Board grants permission for you to take the exam, you can register through the ASWB website. Like all ASWB licensing exams, the Clinical exam contains 170 multiple-choice questions. Its content is focused on the practice of clinical social work.

4. Receive your LCSW license.

After you have passed the ASWB Clinical exam and the Board determines that you have submitted a complete application, you will receive your LCSW license in Tennessee. This will allow you to practice clinical social work independently. After three years of practice, you will become eligible to provide supervision to LMSWs and LAPSWs.

Social Work Licensure by Reciprocity in Tennessee

Tennessee offers reciprocity to social workers licensed in other states if they meet the Board’s educational and training requirements for the Tennessee social work license they are seeking. If you are seeking licensure by reciprocity in Tennessee, you will need to complete the appropriate application for your level of licensure and submit it to the Board. You will need to include a number of supporting documents, including verification of your current license, past licensing exam scores, and materials verifying your training and education. If the Board determines that you meet criteria for licensure, you will be granted a Tennessee social work license without having to repeat the licensing exam or any required supervised experience.

Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

Social workers in Tennessee must renew their licenses every two years. All social workers must participate in continuing education activities before renewing, but each license requires a different number of hours and educational content. Although renewal periods are two years long, a certain number of hours must be earned during each individual year to qualify for renewal.

  • LBSWs must complete nine hours of continuing education per year. Four hours must be in social work, three hours must be in professional ethics, and an additional two hours can be in either of those categories. As of December 2018, the renewal fee is $45.
  • LMSWs must complete 12 hours of continuing education per year. Seven hours must be in social work, three hours must be in professional ethics, and another two hours can be in either of those categories. As of December 2018, the renewal fee is $95.
  • LAPSWs and LCSWs must complete 15 hours of continuing education per year. 10 hours must be in social work, three must be in ethics, and two can be in either of those categories. As of December 2018, the renewal fee is $95.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Tennessee Chapter provides a listing of continuing education opportunities available across the state of Tennessee.

Tennessee Social Worker Jobs and Salary Information

According to 2017 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a social worker in Tennessee (across all categories of social work) is $45,148.2 11,260 social workers are employed in the state, with the highest number (5,670) working in the field of child, family, and school social work.2 Projections suggest that between 2016 and 2026, employment opportunities for social workers in Tennessee will rise by 16%, amounting to roughly 175 new social work positions each year during this time period.3 The largest increase in Tennessee social work jobs is expected to be in the field of mental health and substance abuse social work (22.1%).3 With a cost of living below the national average and projected growth in the field, Tennessee is a good place to consider beginning a career in social work.4

TypeNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Child, Family, and School Social Workers5,670$40,670
Healthcare Social Workers3,030$51,990
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers1,790$36,370
Social Workers, All Other1,130$51,560

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2017.2

Social Work Associations in Tennessee

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Can I begin practicing independently once I become registered as an Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)?

Answer: Yes, once you complete the process outlined above to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in Tennessee and are issued a license, you are eligible to practice social work without any supervision.

Question: For the 3,000 hours of work experience required for licensure as an LAPSW or LCSW, can I count experience I gained years ago?

Answer: Yes, as long the experience was acquired within a period of two to six years and was completed under a valid LMSW license.

Question: What kinds of qualifications are required of the person supervising my experience?

Answer: An LAPSW or LCSW may supervise your experience as long as he or she has been licensed for at least three years and has completed training in supervision.

Question: What kind of degree do I need to practice social work in Tennessee?

Answer: To practice social work in Tennessee, you will need either a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) or a master’s degree in social work (MSW) from a CSWE-accredited school.

References:
1. US Census Bureau Quick Facts, Tennessee: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/tn
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2017 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Tennessee: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_tn.htm
3. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
4. Sperling’s Best Places, Tennessee: https://www.bestplaces.net/cost_of_living/state/tennessee