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Tennessee Social Work Licensing Requirements

Tennessee is home to over 6.5 million people and employs over 10,000 social workers.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 Tennessee Department of Health: Health Related Board (the Board). If you are interested in becoming a social worker in Tennessee, you must understand the requirements and standards for the state. Keep reading below to learn more about the licensure options and 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 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). 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 only other required degree to become a licensed social worker 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 Tennessee Health Board. 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 as opposed to the two years it generally takes. An MSW is required for some of the licenses offered by the Tennessee Board.

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 social worker (LMSW), licensed advanced practice social worker (LAPSW), and licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Each license carries different requirements; 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. Once you have met the education requirement you must complete the following steps to become licensed:

1. Take and pass the ASWB bachelors exam.

LBSW candidates should register for and schedule the bachelor’s level ASWB exam. The ASWB exam is a 170-question exam; only 150 of the questions will be scored. Candidates in Tennessee must answer at least 75% of the answers correctly to pass. If a candidate fails the first time, he or she can retake the exam two more times, waiting 90 days between each attempt. If the candidate is unsuccessful after three attempts, he or she must wait one year before retaking the ASWB exam. As of November 2015, the fee for the bachelor’s level ASWB exam was $230.

2. Apply for licensure with the Tennessee Board

After taking the ASWB exam, LBSW candidates must apply to the Tennessee Board. Along with the application, LBSW candidates must submit the following:

  • A passport-style photo
  • Authorization for a criminal background check*
  • An official transcript sent directly to the Board
  • Declaration of citizenship form, supplied in the application packet
  • Completed practitioner profile*
  • $110 application fee**

*All applicants must take the ASWB exam prior to applying for a criminal background check.
**As of November 2015.

3. Receive your baccalaureate license from the Tennessee Board.

Once you fulfill the above-stated requirements, you become an LBSW in the state of Tennessee and can practice social work under supervision. A temporary license may be granted to LBSW applicants whose college has not yet received its CSWE accreditation. The school must be able to prove that it has applied for accreditation with CSWE and that its social work accreditation is in candidacy.

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. LMSW candidates will also have to complete the following steps:

1. Take and pass the ASWB masters exam.

LMSW candidates should register for and schedule to take the master’s level ASWB exam. The ASWB exam is consists of 170-questions, only 150 of which will be scored. Candidates in Tennessee must answer at least 75% of the answers correctly to pass. If a candidate fails the first time, he or she can retake the exam the exam two more times, waiting 90 days between each attempt. If the candidate is unsuccessful after three attempts, he or she must wait one year before retaking the ASWB exam. As of November 2015, the fee for the bachelor’s level ASWB exam was $230.

2. Apply for licensure with the Tennessee Board

After taking the ASWB exam, LBSW candidates must apply to the Tennessee Board. Along with the application, LMSW candidates must submit the following:

  • A passport-style photo
  • Authorization for a criminal background check*
  • An official transcript sent directly to the Board
  • Declaration of citizenship form, supplied in the application packet
  • Completed practitioner profile*
  • $160 application fee**

*All applicants must take the ASWB exam prior to applying for a criminal background check.
**As of November 2015.

3. Receive your LMSW license from the Tennessee Board.

Once you fulfill the above-stated requirements, you become an LMSW in the state of Tennessee and can practice social work under supervision. There is no experience requirement for LMSWs. A temporary license may granted to LMSW applicants whose college has not yet received its CSWE accreditation. The school must provide proof that it has applied for accreditation with the CSWE and that its social work accreditation is in candidacy.

If you intend on applying for an advanced practice or clinical social worker license, 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. LAPSW candidates must hold an MSW from a CSWE-accredited school and a valid LMSW. Once those criteria are satisfied, LAPSW candidates must:

1. Accumulate the required experience.

Because LAPSWs are able to practice independently, they are held to higher standards when it comes to licensure. LAPSWs must obtain 3,000 hours of non-clinical social work experience (100 of which must be supervised) in no less than two but no more than six years. Of those 100 hours, 60 hours must be under direct supervision and no more than 40 hours may be group supervision.

Supervisors must be an LAPSW who has been licensed for at least three years or an LCSW if supervision began after December 1, 2010. If supervision began prior to December 1, 2010, the supervisor can be an LAPSW that was recently licensed.

2. Take and pass the ASWB advanced generalist exam.

The ASWB advanced generalist exam is required for LAPSW candidates in Tennessee. LAPSW candidates must register for the 170-question, multiple-choice exam. Passing scores will have at least 75% of correct answers. An applicant who fails the exam may retake the exam a maximum of two times. If the applicant has not passed the advanced generalist exam within three attempts, he or she must wait 12 months to reapply.

3. Apply to the Tennessee Board.

LAPSW candidates must complete the
social worker application in the state of Tennessee. Candidates must submit the following information along with their application:

  • A passport-style photo
  • Authorization for a criminal background check*
  • Copy of valid LMSW renewal card
  • One professional reference from a current or previous employer (form provided in the application packer)
  • Supervision log and supervisor verification form (provided in the application packet)
  • An official transcript sent directly to the Board
  • Declaration of citizenship form, supplied in the application packet
  • Completed practitioner profile*
  • $235 application fee**

*You must pass the ASWB exam prior to submitting your criminal background check.
**As of November 2015

4. Receive your LAPSW license from the Tennessee Board.

After completing the above requirements, you will receive your LAPSW license for the state of Tennessee. LAPSWs may practice non-clinical social work independently, but they must practice clinical social work under the supervision of an LCSW.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

The LCSW is the only license that allows you to practice clinical social work independently. Candidates hoping to become licensed clinical social workers must have an MSW from a CSWE-accredited school. LCSWs must possess an LMSW prior to applying for clinical social work licensure. The other Tennessee LCSW requirements are detailed below:

1. Accumulate the required experience.

LCSW candidates must have 3,000 hours of clinical social worker experience– 100 of the hours must be directly supervised and 60 of the 100 hours must be face-to-face supervision. Hopeful LCSWs must obtain this work experience within two to six years after becoming an LMSW. LSCW supervisors must be an LCSW for at least three years (if supervision started after December 1, 2010). If supervision began before December 1, 2010, LCSWs can supervise LCSW candidates immediately after becoming licensed.

Because LCSW candidates must fulfill their experience requirement within six years of becoming an LMSW, it is important for applicants to decide whether or not they want to become LAPSWs or LCSWs. Both licenses require a valid LMSW to apply, but the LAPSW calls for non-clinical experience whereas the LCSW calls for clinical experience. If you wish to become an LCSW after becoming an LAPSW, you will have to meet the experience requirement as previously stated.

2. Take the ASWB clinical exam.

The ASWB clinical exam is required for LCSW candidates in Tennessee. LCSW candidates must register for and schedule the 170-question exam online. Passing scores will have at least 75% of correct answers. An applicant who fails the exam may retake it no more than three times, paying the registration and application fees each time. If the applicant has not passed the clinical exam within three attempts, he or she must wait 12 months to reapply.

3. Apply to the Tennessee Board.

Candidates hoping to become LCSWs in the state of Tennessee must complete the
clinical social worker application. In addition to the completed application, candidates must submit the following:

  • A passport-style photo
  • Authorization for a criminal background check*
  • Copy of valid LMSW renewal card
  • One professional reference from a current or former employer (form provided in the application packer)
  • Supervision log and verification of supervision (provided in the application packet)
  • Verification that the supervisor has completed six hours of continuing education in clinical supervision
  • An official transcript sent directly to the Board
  • Declaration of citizenship form, supplied in the application packet
  • Completed practitioner profile*
  • $235 application fee**

*You must pass the ASWB exam prior to submitting your criminal background check.
**As of November 2015

4. Receive your LCSW license.

After completing the above requirements, you will receive your LCSW license for the state in Tennessee and will able to practice clinical social work independently. After three years of practice, you will become eligible to supervise other licensed and aspiring social workers.

Social Work License Reciprocity in Tennessee

Tennessee offers reciprocity to social workers licensed in other states if they provide the following to the Board:

  • Completed application for the appropriate social work license
  • Completed criminal background check
  • Proof that the applicant has met the requirements of the license
  • The license fee
  • Passport-style photo
  • A photocopy of their home state’s social work board rules and regulations
  • A photocopy of their home state (original) license
  • A photocopy of the applicant’s renewal card or certificate including the license number and expiration date

Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

Social workers in Tennessee must renew their license every two years. Each license has unique continuing education requirements.

  • LBSWs must have 18 continuing education (CE) hours per renewal period. Eight hours must be in social work, six hours must be in professional ethics, and four hours can be in either social work or ethics. As of November 2015, the renewal fee was $70.
  • LMSWs must acquire 24 CE hours every two years, or per renewal period. LMSWs must have 14 hours in social work, six hours in professional ethics, and four hours in either category. As of November 2015, the renewal fee was $120.
  • LAPSWs and LCSWs need 30 CE hours in order to renew their license. Of those 30 hours, 20 must be in social work, six must be in ethics and four can be in either professional ethics or social work. As of November 2015, the renewal fee was $120.

The 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

Social workers are well-compensated in Tennessee; the highest average social worker salary in the state is $52,110.2 10,230 social workers are employed in the state and they earn an annual average salary of $44,346.2 Projections show that by the year 2022, employment opportunities for social workers will rise by 12.4%, amounting to roughly 340 jobs.3 The largest increase in jobs is projected to be for healthcare social workers (19.1%).3 Further, the cost of living in Tennessee is 13% lower than the national average. Considering the social worker salaries reported, Tennessee would be a good place to start a career.4

TypeNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Child, Family, and School Social Workers5,360$39.470
Healthcare Social Workers2,990$48,990
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers1,150$36,810
Social Workers, All Other730$52,110

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2014.2

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, 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 two to six years of obtaining your LMSW.

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.

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/table/PST045215/47
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014 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: http://www.bestplaces.net/cost_of_living/state/tennessee