Okay, maybe that was not the exact quote from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but if Prince Hamlet was a social work student or recent graduate he surely would have pondered the thought.
While researching a different article about licensure, I came across this question posted in the National Association of Social Workers – NASW’s Official LinkedIn Group by Nina Thompkins:
A couple of things:
- Thank you, Nina, for posting the question. LinkedIn groups are much more useful when members ask thought-provoking questions.
- Good questions in LinkedIn groups are only good if members take the time to provide thoughtful responses. Nina’s question prompted a lively discussion from several social workers.
In today’s post, I’m going to summarize the feedback from the discussion and share my thoughts as well about the advantages of licensure vs non-licensure.
You ready? Let’s do this.
Many readers of this blog are in different countries where local laws and regulations related to licensing social workers may vary greatly. Regardless of where you practice social work, the exercise of weighing licensure options is relevant.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll use the licensure definitions widely accepted in the United States of America.
The NASW defines licensure this way:
LICENSURE Professional licensing for a given professional group such as doctors and social workers. Licensure is typically the strongest form of regulation that the state can implement and has legal implications. Licensure is a tool to protect the public, patients, and clients from unscrupulous or poorly trained professionals providing services for which they have no education or training (NASW, 2008).
This LinkedIn discussion thread specifically focused on clinical licensure. NASW defines clinical social work this way:
Clinical social work shares with all social work practice the goal of enhancement and maintenance of psychosocial functioning of individuals, families, and small groups. Clinical social work practice is the professional application of social work theory and methods to the treatment and prevention of psychosocial dysfunction, disability, or impairment, including emotional and mental disorders. It is based on knowledge of one or more theories of human development within a psychosocial context.
The perspective of person-in-situation is central to clinical social work practice. Clinical social work includes interventions directed to interpersonal interactions, intrapsychic dynamics, and life-support and management issues. Clinical social work services consist of assessment; diagnosis; treatment, including psychotherapy and counseling; client-centered advocacy; consultation; and evaluation.
The Association of Social Work Boards guidance recommends social workers becoming clinically licensed secondary to graduating from an accredited Master of Social Work (MSW) program and completing approximately two to three years of supervised direct clinical practice.
Now that you’ve got those definitions clear, let’s look at what social workers have to say about licensure.
Licensure For Social Workers
Social workers replying to Nina’s question used the metaphor of licensure “opening the doors of opportunity”:
Other social workers mentioned the reality of employers requiring a license to be considered for employment. Social workers also cited the stipulation that most insurances will only reimburse licensed providers:
Other social workers cited the aspects of respect and credibility that having a license gives the social worker and adds to the profession:
Non-Licensure For Social Workers
None of the social workers commenting in the discussion thread outright advised against getting licensed. They did, however, make a case for non-licensure depending on career path or interests.
Some reasons not mentioned in the discussion that may exist for not pursuing licensure include:
- No easily accessible supervisor to provide clinical supervision
- Living in a rural area where access to supervision is limited or nonexistent
- Costs are prohibitive to obtaining quality supervision outside of your agency setting
I love the nature of this entire discussion. You get access to a wealth of experience from social workers you’d otherwise never have an in-person contact or a conversation with.
Nearly all the commenters were strongly in favor of becoming licensed, and I tend to agree with the philosophy:
It’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.
At the very least you should:
- Research the types of jobs you want and where you want to live. I’ve mentioned before the importance of meeting with social workers doing the job you seek. Ask for their feedback and recommendations about licensure vs non-licensure paths.
- Extensively research the local and state guidelines. A great starting resource is Social Work License Map. Double check with your specific state’s licensing board about specific requirements.
It’s important to remember the comments above are based on their personal experiences and perspectives. You’ll need to verify what applies in your specific situation and jurisdiction.
Do you have other questions or thoughts about social work? Leave a comment below.