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Washington Social Work Licensing Requirements

The state of Washington has a population of over 7 million and is one of the top 10 fastest growing states, according to the US Census.1 The growing state employs over 12,000 social workers in the areas of child, family, and school; healthcare; mental health and substance abuse; and other minor categories.2 If you’re interested in becoming a social worker in Washington, you will need to understand the licensure requirements of the profession. The Washington State Department of Health (the Department) regulates and sets the requirements for social workers in the state. Provided below is a detailed guide of the process social workers must go through to become licensed and practice in the state.

How to Become a Social Worker in Washington

Educational Paths

A minimum of a master’s degree in social work (MSW) from a school accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is required to practice social work and become licensed in Washington. It may be advantageous for a student to obtain a bachelor’s in social work (BSW) as it can decrease the duration of the master’s degree program in most cases. Keep reading to learn the differences between a bachelor’s and a master’s in social work.

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

Seven schools in Washington have CSWE-accredited BSW programs. The CSWE ensures that the bachelor’s and master’s programs (with the accreditation) across the state have standardized curriculums and that all social work students will be exposed to the same basics of social work. BSW programs prepare students for entry-level, professional social work practice and for graduate education. BSW programs include lectures and field work to prepare students to apply their scholarly training to real-world work settings. In these programs, students learn to practice social work with different audiences, including individuals, families, groups and communities.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

In order to become licensed and practice social work in Washington, you must possess an MSW from a CSWE-accredited school. If you received a BSW before applying to graduate school, you may qualify for advanced standing, allowing you to complete the MSW in one year as opposed to the two years that it generally takes. All graduate programs will have similar classes such as human behavior, social work policy and ethics, methods and interventions, and a field practicum. However, each school may have expertise in certain focus areas and electives will vary as well. Be sure to research the focus areas and curriculums of different graduate schools to ensure that you select the program that fits with your career goals. Once you have obtained your MSW, you will have the highest level of education necessary to become a licensed social worker in Washington.

Steps for Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in Washington

In Washington, individuals must have an MSW degree before they can become licensed. The Health Department administers four types of licenses. The steps to becoming an advanced social worker and independent clinical social worker are described below. The associate-advanced social worker and associate-independent clinical social worker include the same steps, respectively, but are titles specifically give to out-of-state applicants. These are described more fully in the Social Work License Reciprocity section below. Continue reading to understand the specific requirements for each type of license.

Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW)

To become an LASW, applicants must possess at minimum a master’s degree in social work from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Once the education qualification has been satisfied, aspiring social workers can move to the next step in the process to licensure for the state of Washington.

1. Obtain the required experience.

To meet the experience requirement of an LASW, you will need to gain at least 3,200 hours of work experience after completing your graduate degree. 800 hours of experience must include face-to-face client contact and 90 hours of the required experience must be supervised. Supervisors must hold either an independent clinical social worker license or hold an associate social worker license and have been licensed for the past two years. For the hours that must be supervised, no more than 50 hours may be group supervision; the remaining 40 must be one-on-one supervision.

In addition to social work experience, the Washington Health Department requires all licensed social workers to take four hours of HIV/AIDS training.

2. Apply to the Department and submit required documents.

Aspiring licensees must complete the social worker license application packet found on the Department’s website. Applicants must request that official transcripts be sent directly to the Washington Department of Health and their supervisors must provide the verification form certifying that the applicant’s experience was supervised. The application will also ask for personal statements about the candidate’s physical and mental health, any substance abuse problems, felony convictions, liability claims, and detail on previous professional licenses held and any revocation of privileges. LASW candidates must submit an application to the state prior to registering for the ASWB exam.

As of October 2015, the application and licensing fee was $266 ($141 application fee and $125 initial license fee).

3. Take and pass the ASWB advanced generalist exam.

The ASWB advanced generalist exam meets the requirements for LASW licensure in the state of Washington. Once approved by the state, applicants must register for and complete the ASWB advanced generalist exam. A minimum score of 80 is required to pass. If the applicant fails the exam, he or she must wait 90 days to apply to retake the exam. After unsuccessfully attempting to pass the exam three times, there is a one-year waiting period to reapply for licensure. As of October 2015, the cost of the exam was $260.00.

Within two weeks of the passing exam date, the Department will receive the test scores and notify potential licensees.

4. Receive LASW license from the Department.

After satisfying the above steps, you will become a licensed advanced social worker (LASW) in the state of Washington.

Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)

Individuals hoping to become licensed independent clinical social workers (LICSWs) will be able to practice independently or without supervision in the state of Washington. An LICSW is the highest license a social worker in the state can hold. Licensure candidates must possess a master’s degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited school. LICSW applicants must have a certain number of hours of experience, pass the ASWB examination, and submit an application to the Washington Health Department. Continue reading for details on the steps to becoming an LICSW.

1. Acquire 4,000 hours of experience.

Because LICSWs can practice independently, they must have more experience than that of an LASW; LICSW candidates must have 4,000 hours of post-graduate, social work experience in no less than three years. 1,000 of those hours must be supervised by an LICSW and must be face-to-face client contact. Additionally, 130 hours must under direct supervision– 70 of which can be group supervision and the other 60 must be one-on-one supervision. LICSW candidates must take four hours of HIV/AIDS training.

2. Apply to the Department and submit required documents.

Aspiring licensees must complete and submit the application packet for LICSWs for the state of Washington. Along with the application, LICSW candidates must show proof of their education by requesting an official transcript and their supervisor must verify the LICSWs supervision along with his or her (the supervisor’s) qualifications via the verification form. Fees for the LICSW application and license are the same as the fees for LASWs: $266* ($141 application fee and $125 initial license fee).

*As of October 2015.

3. Take and pass the ASWB clinical exam.

LICSWs must take the ASWB clinical exam to become licensed by the Health Department of Washington. Upon state approval, applicants can register for and complete the ASWB clinical exam. The test is a 170-question, multiple-choice exam with passing scores ranging from 96 to 105 correct questions. If the applicant fails the exam, he or she must wait 90 days to apply to retake the exam and pay all application and examination fees again. As of October 2015, the cost of the exam was $260.00.

4. Receive LASW license from the Department.

After satisfying the above steps and successfully passing the clinical ASWB exam, you will become a licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW) in the state of Washington and be eligible to practice without supervision.

Social Work License Reciprocity in Washington

The Washington Health Department does not offer any formal reciprocity with any other states, but the Department has an associate license that social workers who have been licensed in other states may apply for. Social workers can apply for licensure as an associate-advanced social worker or an associate-independent clinical social worker. To apply, candidates must have a master’s or doctorate in social work from a CSWE-accredited school and possess a valid social worker license (or clinical social worker license) from another state. Furthermore, associate social worker applicants must take four hours of HIV/AIDS training as all other licensed social workers in the state. The application fee for associate social workers (advanced and independent clinical) was $50 as of October 2015.

Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

LASWs, LICSWs, and associate social workers must renew their license every year no later than their date of birth. It is required by the Department that all licensed social workers take 36 hours of continuing education requirements every two years. Six of the 36 hours must be in professional ethics. Every six years, all licensed social workers must complete six hours of training in suicide assessment in Washington.

The renewal fee for LASWs and LICSWs is $142*; for associate social workers, the renewal fee is $40*.

*As of October 2015

Washington Social Worker Jobs and Salary Information

The state of Washington employs over 12,580 social workers.2 The majority of the social workers are employed in child, family, and school social work (6,470 employed) and the highest-compensated social workers work in a small, uncategorized sub-sector labeled “other” by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (averaging $58,920 per year). The social worker industry is growing in Washington. From 2012 to 2022, Washington social work jobs are anticipated to increase by 15.6%, equating to 450 jobs annually.3 As of May 2014, the average salary for a social worker was $52,812.2

TypeNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Child, Family, and School Social Workers6,470$48,250
Healthcare Social Workers3,000$57,210
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers2,070$46,870
Social Workers, All Other1,040$58,920

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2014.2

Social Work Associations in Washington

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Can I begin practicing independently once I become licensed as an Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)?

Answer: Yes, once you have met the qualifications required for an LICSW and receive your license, you may begin practicing independently.

Question: For the hours of work experience required, can I count experience I gained years ago?

Answer: Yes, in the state of Washington, experience from any period of time (post-graduate) will count towards licensure for LASW candidates. LICSW candidates, however, must obtain their 4,000 hours of experience in no less than three years.

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

Answer: Supervisors for LASWs licensees must be either an LICSW or an LASW who has been licensed for two years. LICSW licensees may only be supervised by LICSWs.

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

Answer: To practice in the state of Washington, social workers need a master’s degree in social work (MSW) from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

References:
1. US Census Bureau Quick Facts, Washington: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/53,00
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Washington: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_wa.htm
3. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm