Social Work Licensure in Montana

Montana's social work regulations differ from the regulations of most other states. Montana only offers one level of social work licensure: the licensed clinical worker credential. Candidates must have at least a master's degree in social work to obtain a license.

Candidates for licensure must have graduated from a program with accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and must pass an exam from the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). Licensure applicants must also complete 3,000 hours of supervised experience.

Although bachelor's degree holders do not qualify for licensure in Montana, they can still work within the field. Social workers licensed in other states must obtain a master's degree to qualify for reciprocity in Montana. Out-of-state social workers who hold a master's degree and clinical certification can apply for Montana social work licensure by endorsement.

Types of Social Work Degrees in Montana

Aspiring social workers in Montana can pursue a bachelor's, master's, or doctorate in the field. The Board of Behavioral Health requires licensed social workers to hold at least a master's degree. However, bachelor's degree holders can pursue jobs that do not require licensure, including positions as case workers or administrative assistants. Professionals with doctoral degrees qualify for clinical licensure and often secure high-paying leadership and administrative positions.

Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

A bachelor's degree in social work (BSW) prepares students to work in social work positions that do not require licensure. BSW students learn about human behavior and social circumstances. Graduates often work as advocacy specialists, administrative aids, and case workers. Although BSW holders do not qualify for a clinical license, obtaining a bachelor's degree is the first step toward earning a graduate degree and qualifying for licensure.

Master's in Social Work

Full-time students typically complete their master's degree in social work (MSW) in two additional years, although some accelerated programs take only one year. The Montana Board of Behavioral Health requires clinical social workers to hold a master's degree, so an MSW is the minimum education requirement for social work licensure in Montana. Professionals with a master's degree and clinical licensure are eligible for most social work roles, including positions as mental health or medical social workers. Master's degree holders have higher earning potential than professionals with only a bachelor's.

Doctoral Degree in Social Work

Although an MSW is considered terminal, social workers can pursue a doctorate in the field. While Ph.D. programs focus on theory and research, doctoral social work programs emphasize the practical and administrative aspects of the field. Although a doctorate is not required to obtain clinical licensure in Minnesota, professionals with a doctoral degree often secure high-paying managerial positions. Most students complete doctoral degrees within three years.

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker in Montana

Only clinical social workers in Montana need licensure. The state does not offer licensure for bachelor's- or master's-level social workers. Clinical social work candidates must have a master's degree from a CSWE-accredited program, pass the required exam, and complete a set number of supervised work hours.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

  1. Education: To become a licensed clinical social worker, candidates must hold a degree from one of the accredited social work schools in Montana or from an accredited out-of-state institution. Candidates must have a master's degree in social work, which most complete in two years. Including undergraduate education, candidates typically complete six years of education before qualifying to take the certification exam.
  2. Experience: Candidates should have completed 3,000 hours of supervised, professional work experience over at least two years. Half of the candidate's hours should be in direct client contact. Supervisors must be licensed social workers, psychologists, or psychiatrists with either training in clinical supervision or three years of post-license experience.
  3. Examination: LCSW candidates must pass either the ASWB advanced generalist exam or the ASWB clinical exam. Each exam comprises 170 questions. The advanced generalist exam focuses on macro-level knowledge, while the clinical exam deals with micro-level material.
  4. Background Check: Clinical social work candidates must undergo a fingerprint background check through the Department of Justice. The department usually takes four to eight weeks to complete background checks.
  5. Fees: Montana's Board of Behavioral Health requires LCSW candidates to pay a $200 application fee. The background check costs an additional $27.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Licensed Social Worker in Montana?

Since Montana only offers clinical social work licensure, all licensed social workers in the state must hold a master's degree. Most candidates complete education requirements in six years; a BSW typically requires four years, and an MSW usually takes two years. Candidates must also complete at least two years of supervised work experience before taking the certification exam. Candidates for social work licensure in Montana typically need eight years to complete education and experience prerequisites.

Out of State Licensing Reciprocity in Montana

The Montana Board of Behavioral Health, which issues social work licensure, does not maintain reciprocity agreements with other states. However, licensed social workers who move to Montana may apply for a license by endorsement.

Candidates for licensure by endorsement must submit proof that they have worked as a social worker in another state for at least two consecutive years. Candidates then submit official transcripts and three letters of references from licensed social workers. Applicants must also submit a background check.

Candidates for licensure by endorsement may complete the application available through the Montana Board of Behavioral Health and submit proof that they have completed 3,000 hours of supervised clinical social work experience. Either path requires a $200 application fee.

License Renewal

Clinical social workers in Montana must renew their license annually. Social workers complete a renewal application form, which is available through the state government's website. Social workers must complete at least 20 hours of education per year.

Social workers in Montana can renew their license from November 1 to December 31, although the Montana Board of Behavioral Health allows late renewals through February 14. Renewal costs $175, and late renewal costs an additional $175.

Accredited Social Work Programs in Montana

Since Montana does not have reciprocity agreements with other states, students who intend to practice social work in Montana should consider pursuing their social work degree in state. The Montana Board of Behavioral Health requires social work licensure candidates to hold bachelor's and master's degrees from CSWE-accredited programs. The directory below includes accredited social work programs in Montana.

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

Many social workers specialize in children and families, schools, healthcare, mental health, or substance abuse. Some areas, such as mental health and substance abuse, require social workers to hold a master's degree and clinical certification. Social workers in all areas deal with vulnerable populations and need the skills to calm argumentative clients and handle confrontational situations professionally.

  • Child and Family Social Workers: Child and family social workers assist at-risk children and teenagers and help families find stability. These social workers often help parents apply for food stamps and place abused or neglected children in foster homes.
  • School Social Workers: School social workers assist kids and teenagers in school settings. These professionals help students deal with difficult social and home-life situations while fostering academic success.
  • Healthcare Social Workers: Healthcare social workers help people with acute illnesses receive benefits. They may also provide group counseling to patients.
  • Mental Health Social Workers: These social workers diagnose patients and connect them with resources. Although they are not psychiatrists, mental health social workers often collaborate on treatment plans and develop strategies for battling obstacles related to mental illness. These clinical professionals must typically hold a master's degree.
  • Substance Abuse Social Workers: These professionals help individuals struggling with addictions to dangerous and unhealthy substances, including alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs. They assist patients in recovery programs, and may meet clients individually or in groups. These professionals often need a master's degree and a clinical license.

Salary Expectations for Social Workers in Montana

Social workers in Montana earn average salaries ranging from about $35,000 to about $49,000, depending on their specialization area. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, children and family social workers in Montana earn an average of $35,940 per year. Healthcare social workers generally earn the highest salaries in the state.

Average Salary for Social Workers in Montana

Child and Family Social Workers $35,940
School Social Workers $35,940
Healthcare Social Workers $48,620
Mental Health Social Workers $36,720
Substance Abuse Social Workers $36,720
Source: BLS

Professional Organizations for Social Workers in Montana

Many professional organizations accept social work students. These organizations often provide networking opportunities, such as conferences or regional meetups, that help students gain professional contacts that often lead to job opportunities. Many professional organizations also provide opportunities for social work advocacy and maintain exclusive job postings for members. Nationwide organizations typically have state or regional chapters.

  • National Association of Social Workers - Montana Chapter: The National Association of Social Workers is the largest professional organization in the country. The Montana chapter advocates for the profession and provides local job postings. NASW offers several widely recognized, specialized credentials for social workers.
  • School Social Work Association of America: The School Social Work Association of America provides resources for social workers who deal with children and teenagerss in school settings. The organization hosts an annual conference, provides continuing education and networking opportunities, and offers webinars and a summer leadership and legislative institute. The association also has state chapters.
  • Clinical Social Work Association: CSWA advocates at the state and national levels for better pay, benefits, and insurance for clinical social workers. The organization maintains a job board for members and offers professional support related to healthcare and technology.
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