Social Work Licensure in Tennessee

Professionals can pursue four types of Tennessee social work licensure: licensed baccalaureate social worker (LBSW), licensed master social worker (LMSW), licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), and licensed advanced practice social worker (LAPSW).

Licensing requirements include a social work degree, exams, an application, fees, and in some cases, field experience. Aspiring social workers in the state can choose from a variety of social work schools in Tennessee. Social work students should research career options to choose the path that aligns with their personal interests.

Learners can pursue on-campus or online social work programs in Tennessee. Online social work degrees typically offer increased flexibility and are ideal for busy students. Both bachelor's and master's programs generally require an internship or practicum, which most distance learners complete at a local site.

Types of Social Work Degrees in Tennessee

Social work degrees are available at every level. Associate of social work degrees typically take about two years to complete; most graduates of associate programs pursue further education in the field. Full-time students generally complete their bachelor's in social work in four years, and master's programs typically take two additional years.

During master's-level studies, learners choose a specialization. A graduate degree increases career opportunities and earning potential. Most doctoral programs take about three years to complete and qualify graduates for college teaching positions.

Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

A bachelor's in social work meets the minimum requirements for licensure. Bachelor's programs cover general social work topics to provide students with foundational knowledge in the field. Many graduates of bachelor's programs pursue a master's degree. However, bachelor's degree holders are eligible for nonclinical social work positions. Full-time students typically complete bachelor's programs in four years, and bachelor's-level licensure does not require additional experience.

Master's Degree in Social Work

A master's in social work qualifies graduates for several types of licensure and opens a variety of career options. Learners can pursue their master's degree on campus or online; distance learning is ideal for working professionals and those with personal obligations. Most students complete their master's in social work in about two years, including practicum or internship requirements.

Doctoral Degree in Social Work

A doctoral degree in social work is the highest level of education available. The degree affords graduates with the most job opportunities and the highest earning potential. Doctoral students generally spend about two years completing advanced coursework and about a year working on their dissertation, which involves in-depth research. Graduates often work as clinicians, professors, or administrators.

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker in Tennessee

Tennessee professionals can pursue four types of social work licensure. The LBSW credential qualifies holders for nonclinical social work positions. Professionals with an LGSW license can maintain their own private social work practice. The LCSW license qualifies professionals to have their own clinical private practice and typically results in high earning potential.

Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker

  1. Exam: After earning a bachelor's degree in social work, candidates must take the bachelor's-level exam from the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). The exam comprises 170 questions, only 150 of which are scored. Candidates must earn a score of at least 75% and cannot retake the exam more than two times. The exam costs $230.
  2. Application: Candidates must submit an application to the Tennessee Board of Social Workers. Each applicant must also submit a passport-style picture of themselves, official transcripts, a citizenship form, a completed practitioner profile, and a $110 application fee. Candidates must undergo a criminal background check.

Licensed Graduate Social Worker

  1. Exam: Candidates for the LGSW credential must hold a master's degree in social work. Candidates must pass the ASWB masters exam, which comprises 170 multiple-choice questions. Individuals must score at least a 75% to pass the exam, which costs $230.
  2. Application: After fulfilling education and exam requirements, individuals can apply for licensure. Applicants must include a passport-style photo, official transcripts, citizenship form, and a completed practitioner profile. Candidates must submit to a criminal background check and pay a $160 application fee.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

  1. Experience: Candidates for the LCSW credential must have a master's degree in social work and must have completed at least 3,000 hours of clinical social work experience. Of those hours, at least 100 must be directly supervised and 60 must be one-on-one.
  2. Exam: After completing education and experience requirements, candidates take the ASWB Clinical exam. The online exam comprises 170 questions, and individuals must earn a score of at least 75% to pass. Candidates cannot retake the exam more than three times.
  3. Application: LCSW candidates must apply for licensure with the Tennessee Board of Social Workers. Candidates must submit an application, a passport-style photo, a copy of their LMSW renewal card, a professional reference, their supervision log, evidence of experience hours, a practitioner profile, and a citizenship form. Applicants must also submit to a background check and pay a $235 application fee.

Licensed Advanced Practitioner Social Worker

  1. Experience: After earning a master's degree in social work, candidates must complete at least 3,000 hours of nonclinical social work experience. Of those hours, at least 100 must be supervised, with at least 60 being under direct supervision.
  2. Exam: After completing education and experience requirements, candidates must take the ASWB advanced generalist exam. To pass, individuals must earn a score of at least 75% on the 170-question test.
  3. Application: Candidates must submit an application to the Tennessee Board of Social Workers and must include a passport-style photo, a copy of their LMSW renewal card, a professional reference, their supervision log and supervisor verification, a citizenship form, an official transcript, a practitioner profile, and a $235 application fee. Candidates must submit to a criminal background check.

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

Completing education and experience requirements takes several years; however, the exact amount of time required varies by license type. Licensed social workers must hold at least a bachelor's degree, which most students complete in four years. In addition to a degree, candidates for licensure must complete a required experience.

Most types of social work licensure in Tennessee require at least two years of field experience. Individuals pursuing master's-level licensure typically require eight years of education and experience, including four years to earn a bachelor's, two years to earn a master's, and two years to complete required field experience.

Out-of-State Licensing Reciprocity in Tennessee

Social workers licensed outside of the state can receive licensing reciprocity in Tennessee, as long as they meet certain requirements. Out-of-state candidates must apply for social work licensure in Tennessee, must pass a criminal background check, and must provide evidence that they have met the requirements for their out-of-state license. Applicants for reciprocity must also pay the licensing fee, submit a photocopy of their home state's licensing rules and regulations, and provide a photocopy of their renewal card or a certificate that includes their license number.

License Renewal

Social workers in Tennessee must renew their license every two years. Each type of license has specific continuing education requirements. LBSW holders must complete 18 continuing education credits per renewal period, including eight hours in social work or ethics, and the renewal fee is $70. LMSW holders must earn 24 continuing education credits, including 14 credits in social work and six credits in professional ethics, as well as pay a $120 renewal fee. LAPSW and LCSW holders must complete 30 continuing education credits, including 20 credits in social work and six credits in ethics, and the fee is $120.

Accredited Social Work Programs in Tennessee

Individuals who earn their social work degree in Tennessee have a competitive edge over graduates of out-of-state programs, because social work programs require field experience, and graduates of accredited social work programs in Tennessee have experience with state-specific issues.

In-state programs also familiarize students with Tennessee social work licensure requirements. Aspiring social workers should be sure to attend a school with regional accreditation and accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education. By choosing an accredited program, students ensure that other institutions and employers will recognize their credits and degree and that their social work degree will meet the requirements for licensure. The directory below includes accredited social work programs in Tennessee.

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

The social work field includes a variety of careers. Individuals with more advanced degrees generally have more employment options. Professionals with an associate degree in social work can qualify for positions as social and human services assistants; many aspiring social workers use these positions to gain experience for further studies.

A bachelor's in social work is the minimum degree requirement for licensure, but graduates with a master's or doctoral degree have the most career opportunities. Below are a few of the career options for professionals with a social work degree.

  • Social and Human Services Assistant: Social and human services assistants help clients with mental, emotional, and behavioral issues. They assist social workers and human services workers in their daily responsibilities while gaining experience in the field.
  • Healthcare Social Worker: Healthcare social workers provide advice and care to patients struggling with chronic, terminal, or acute illnesses. They provide counseling and education to the patient, advice to caregivers, and therapy to family members. They work in hospitals and hospice centers.
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker: These social workers assess and treat clients affected by mental illness and abuse of substances such as alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. They conduct individual and group therapy sessions and perform crisis intervention.
  • Child, Family, and School Social Worker: Child, family, and school social workers support children and families in crisis. Some work with children in school settings, and some work with children who have been neglected, abused, or abandoned. These social workers often assist with adoption and foster care.
  • Social Worker: Social workers help clients deal with problems in their daily lives, such as mental, emotional, and behavioral issues. Social workers may diagnose and treat these issues.

Salary Expectations for Social Workers in Tennessee

Individual salaries for social workers in Tennessee vary by position, education level, and geographic location. Generally, doctoral degree holders have the highest earning potential in the social work field, followed by master's degree holders. Healthcare social workers, who typically hold a master's degree, earn about $20,000 more per year than social and human service assistants, who often hold only an associate degree.

Average Salary for Social Workers in Tennessee

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker $36,370
Child and Family Social Workers $40,670
Social and Human Services Assistant $32,600
Healthcare Social Workers $51,990
Social Worker $51,560
Source: BLS

Professional Organizations for Social Workers in Tennessee

Joining a professional organization has many benefits for students and professionals. Professional organizations in Tennessee comprise members working in the same field and same state, which provides common ground for networking and sharing ideas. Through professional organizations, members often form connections that lead to employment opportunities.

  • Tennessee Board of Social Workers: The Tennessee Board of Social Workers governs social work practice in the state while promoting the health, welfare, and safety of Tennessee citizens. The board keeps members updated on changing laws and regulations in the field.
  • National Association of Social Workers Tennessee Chapter: The NASW is the largest social work organization in the United States. The Tennessee chapter hosts events during which members network, learn about trends in the industry, and share new ideas.
  • Tennessee Association of School Social Workers: TASSW comprises state social workers in the education sector. Members receive access to professional development, continuing education, and networking opportunities.
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