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Washington Social Work Licensing Requirements

The state of Washington has a population of over 7.5 million, over 13,000 of whom are employed as social workers in the state.1,2 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 sets and regulates 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. Although not required for licensure in Washington, it may be advantageous to obtain a bachelor’s in social work (BSW), as this 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. Accreditation by the CSWE ensures that programs follow standardized curricula, exposing social work students to the same fundamentals of social work practice. BSW programs prepare students for entry-level, professional social work practice (in states that recognize bachelor’s-level practice) and for graduate education. BSW programs include lectures and fieldwork to prepare students to apply their scholarly training to real-world work settings. In these programs, students learn to practice social work with individuals, families, groups, and communities.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

In order to become licensed and practice social work in Washington, the minimum required level of education is 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 instead of 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 curricula 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 minimum 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 either an MSW or a doctoral degree in social work before they can become licensed. The Health Department issues two permanent types of licenses. The steps to becoming a Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW) and a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) are described below. The Department also issues temporary associate licenses to individuals who are in the process of earning supervised hours needed for full licensure. Continue reading to understand the specific requirements for each type of license as well as the types of services these licensees can provide in Washington.

Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW)

To become an LASW in Washington, applicants must possess a master’s degree or doctoral degree in social work from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). LASWs are able to practice social work (including clinical services such as psychotherapy) under the supervision of an LICSW or other licensed, independent mental health services provider. To become an LASW after you have completed a qualifying graduate degree in social work, follow the steps below.

1. Apply to become a Licensed Social Worker Associate-Advanced (LSWAA).

Before earning an LASW license, you will need to earn supervised work hours (see Step 2). Before beginning these, however, you must become a Licensed Social Worker Associate-Advanced (LSWAA). This is a provisional social work license that is held by individuals in Washington who have completed the educational requirements for licensure but still need to fulfill their supervised experience requirements. To apply for an LSWAA license, complete the LSWAA application packet and send it to the Department or complete the application online. Whichever method you choose, you will need to provide supplemental materials to the Department. These include:

The Department will notify you when they have approved your LSWAA application and you can begin earning your supervised hours.

2. Obtain the required experience.

To become an LASW, you will need to earn at least 3,200 hours of supervised work experience after completing your graduate degree. 800 hours of experience must be earned from face-to-face client contact. While completing your supervised work experience, you must receive at least 90 hours of supervision. Of your supervision hours, at least 50 must be with an LASW or LICSW who has at least two years of experience post-licensure. Up to 40 hours of supervision can be with other types of qualified mental health services providers (such as licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychiatric nurse practitioners).

3. Submit the LASW application.

After you have completed your supervised experience, you are eligible to submit an application for full LASW licensure. To do this, complete the Social Worker License Application Packet and send it to the Department or complete the application online. You will need to provide some supplemental materials, such as the Verification of Social Worker Postgraduate Supervised Experience form. As of December 2018, the application and license fees for the LASW are $216.

4. Take and pass the ASWB Advanced Generalist exam.

The ASWB Advanced Generalist exam is required for LASW licensure in the state of Washington. Once your LASW application has been reviewed by the Department and found to be complete, the Department will give you permission to register for the exam. As of December 2018, the cost of the exam was $260. Within two weeks of your test date, the Department will receive your test scores.

5. Receive your LASW license from the Department.

After the Department has approved your LASW application and received documentation from the ASWB that you have passed the Advanced Generalist exam, you will receive your license. After your LASW license has been issued, you can begin practicing social work under the supervision of an LICSW in the state of Washington.

Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)

Becoming licensed as a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) will allow you to practice independently in the state of Washington. An LICSW is the highest level license a social worker in the state can hold. Licensure candidates must possess a master’s or doctoral degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited school. To become licensed as an LICSW, you must complete a certain amount of post-graduate work experience, pass the ASWB Clinical examination, and submit an application to the Department. Continue reading for details on the steps to becoming an LICSW.

1. Apply to become a Licensed Social Worker Associate-Independent Clinical (LSWAIC).

Before beginning the supervised work experience that is required for all LICSW applicants (see Step 2), you will need to apply for a Licensed Social Worker Associate-Independent Clinical (LSWAIC) license. This is a provisional license that will allow you to work under the supervision of an LICSW until you become fully licensed. To apply to become an LSWAIC, complete the application packet or submit an application online. Additional materials you will need to submit with this application include:

  • A transcript from your MSW (sent directly from your school to the Department)
  • The Approved Supervisor Licensed Social Worker form indicating who will be supervising you
  • The AIDS Education and Training Attestation form showing that you have met the Department’s requirements for training in this area (note that if you have not already received qualifying training, you will need to do so before submitting this form)
  • $51 in application fees (as of December 2018).

After the Department reviews your LISWAIC application, they will inform you when your license is granted and you can begin your supervised postgraduate experience.

2. Acquire 4,000 hours of supervised clinical social work experience.

Because LICSWs can practice independently, they must have more experience than an LASW; LICSW candidates must complete 4,000 hours of postgraduate clinical social work experience in no less than three years. 1,000 of those hours must be face-to-face client contact under the supervision of an LICSW. While completing these hours, you must spend at least 130 hours must under direct supervision. At least 70 of your supervision hours must be with an LICSW, though any portion of the remaining 60 can come from another qualified mental health services provider.

3. Submit the LICSW application.

After completing 3,000 supervised hours, you will be eligible to submit an application for a full LICSW license. As with your previous application, you can print out the application packet and mail it to the Department or complete the application online. In addition to this application, you will need to submit some supplemental materials, including the Supervised Postgraduate Experience form. As of December 2018, the LICSW licensing and application fees are $216.

4. Take and pass the ASWB Clinical exam.

Aspiring LICSWs must take the ASWB Clinical exam to become licensed. Upon approval of your LICSW application, you will be notified that you are eligible to register for the exam, which costs $260 as of December 2018. The ASWB Clinical exam is a 170-question, multiple-choice test, and your scores will be sent to the Department approximately two weeks after you complete the exam.

4. Receive your LICSW license from the Department.

After satisfying the above steps and successfully passing the ASWB Clinical exam, the Department will grant your Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker license. This will allow you to practice in the state of Washington without supervision.

Social Work License Reciprocity in Washington

The Washington Health Department does not offer any formal reciprocity with any other states. If you hold a license in another state and would like to become licensed in Washington, you can submit an LASW or LICSW application to the Washington State Department of Health if you meet the requirements for licensure in Washington (including the appropriate number of supervised hours). If you have previously passed the ASWB exam required for your level of licensure, you will need to have your scores transferred to Washington so that you are not required to complete the exam again.

Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

LASWs, LICSWs, and associate social workers must renew their licenses every year no later than their date of birth. The Department requires that LASWs and LICSWs complete 36 hours of continuing education every two years. Six of the 36 hours must be in ethical and legal topics. Every six years, all licensed social workers must complete six hours of training in the recognition and management of suicidality. Associate social workers (LSWAAs and LSWAICs) are also required to complete continuing education but on a different schedule. Renewal of these licenses requires completion of 18 continuing education hours every year. Every two years, six of these hours must be in ethical and legal topics. Before receiving their permanent licenses, associate social work licensees will be required to show that they have completed 36 hours of continuing education.

As of December 2018, the renewal fee for LASWs and LICSWs is $116, the fee for LSWAAs is $25, and the fee for LSWAICs is $41.

Washington Social Worker Jobs and Salary Information

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), over 13,500 social workers are employed in the state of Washington.2 The majority of these social workers are employed in child, family, and school social work (7,020 employed) and the highest-compensated social workers are those in the “all other” category (i.e., those who do not fall into one of the other three BLS social work categories), with an average annual salary of $68,180.2 The number of social work jobs in the state of Washington is expected to increase by 13.2% between 2016 and 2026, which will equal approximately 187 new social work positions each year.3 As of May 2017, the average salary for social workers in Washington (across all categories of social work) was $58,688.2

TypeNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Child, Family, and School Social Workers7,020$50,540
Healthcare Social Workers3,610$61,050
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers2,170$54,980
Social Workers, All Other750$68,180

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2017.2

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, postgraduate experience from any period of time will count towards licensure for LASW candidates. LICSW candidates, however, must obtain their 4,000 hours of experience in no less than three years. If you are earning pre-LASW or LICSW hours in Washington under an associate license, however, know that you cannot renew an LSWAA or LSWAIC license more than six times and the Department will not grant extensions. This means that you will need to complete your supervised experience within seven years of obtaining your associate license.

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

Answer: The primary supervisor for an individual working towards an LASW license must be either an LICSW or an LASW who has been licensed for at least two years. An individual working towards the LICSW must be primarily supervised by an LICSW who has been licensed for at least two years. For both types of supervisees, some supervision can also be provided by licensed mental health practitioners in other disciplines, such as psychiatry or psychology.

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) or a doctoral degree in social work from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

References:
1. US Census Bureau Quick Facts, Washington: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/wa
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2017 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