Social Work Licensure in Washington

Washington social workers must hold a license to practice in certain areas, such as clinical social work. The Department of Health manages social work licensure in Washington, issuing them to applicants who meet the educational, experience, and testing requirements. Candidates for any level of Washington social work licensure must have a master's in social work.

After earning a master's in social work degree, graduates can apply for Washington social work licensure. Graduates of online social work programs in Washington are also eligible to earn licensure, as long as the program holds accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Licensure candidates must pass the appropriate Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam.

Social workers licensed in other states must meet Washington's requirements to obtain a license in the state, including the completion of 3,200 to 4,000 hours of supervised professional experience. Out-of-state social workers do not need to retake the ASWB exam. Washington social workers must renew their license annually and complete a certain number of continuing education credits every two years.

Types of Social Work Degrees in Washington

Professionals with a social work degree in Washington qualify for a variety of career paths. Graduates with a bachelor's in social work can hold many entry-level positions, including positions in nonprofit organizations and government agencies. Roles in some fields, including school social work and child and family social work, require only a bachelor's in social work (BSW).

Many bachelor's degree holders pursue a master's in social work (MSW) to advance their careers. Although some states offer social work licensure to BSW holders, candidates for Washington social work licensure must have at least a master's degree. Clinical social workers must also have several years of professional experience. A doctorate prepares social workers for academic and research careers.

Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

A bachelor's degree in social work typically requires about 120 credits, including general education requirements and fieldwork. Most full-time students earn their BSW in four years, and graduates qualify for most entry-level positions in the field. After earning a BSW, professionals often practice child and family social work or school social work. Many graduates pursue further education to increase job opportunities and earning potential. As an alternative to on-campus social work programs in Washington, many students pursue an online bachelor's in social work.

Master's Degree in Social Work

Certain social work careers, including clinical social work positions, require a master's degree. A master's degree is ideal for social workers seeking career advancement and higher salaries. MSW programs offer specialized training in social work concentrations, including healthcare and mental health. Students complete a practicum to gain hands-on experience, and MSW graduates meet the educational requirements for Washington social work licensure. Busy students benefit from the flexibility of online MSW programs, which helps students balance work, school, and personal obligations.

Doctoral Degree in Social Work

Social workers can pursue a Ph.D. in social work or a doctorate in social work (DSW). Both degrees prepare graduates for careers as social work professors or researchers. No social work licensure in Washington requires a doctorate, so the degree primarily appeals to experienced professionals seeking the top positions in the field. Professionals with a doctoral degree in social work generally have increased job prospects and earning potential.

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker in Washington

Requirements for social work licensure in Washington are more stringent than in many states. Bachelor's degree holders qualify for licensure in many states, but only candidates with an MSW can earn social work licensure in Washington.

The Department of Health offers social work licenses for advanced social workers and independent clinical social workers, as well as two associate licenses for candidates completing professional experience requirements. All four licenses require a master's degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited program.

Licensed Advanced Social Worker

  1. Master's in Social Work: Candidates for the Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW) credential must hold an MSW or a doctoral-level social work degree from a CSWE-accredited program. Applicants submit official transcripts.
  2. Supervised Experience: Applicants must complete at least 3,200 hours of post-graduate experience, with 800 hours in direct client contact and 90 hours supervised by an LICSW or LASW. Of those hours, 50 must include direct supervision, either one-on-one or in a group, and 40 hours must include one-on-one supervision. No more than 40 hours can entail distance supervision.
  3. ASWB Exam: Candidates must pass the ASWB advanced generalist exam. ASWB recommends that test takers hold an MSW and at least two years of post-degree experience in nonclinical settings. Applicants should not register for the exam until the Department of Health approves their application.

Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker

  1. Master's in Social Work: Applicants must hold a master's or doctorate in social work from a CSWE-accredited program. Candidates submit official transcripts to the Department of Health.
  2. Supervised Experience: Licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW) candidates must have completed at least 4,000 hours of post-graduate experience over at least three years. Of those hours, at least 1,000 must be in direct client contact supervised by an LICSW. At least 130 hours must be directly supervised by an LICSW or licensed mental health practitioner, including 70 supervised hours and 60 hours of one-on-one supervision. No more than 60 hours can be completed with distance supervision.
  3. ASWB Exam: After the Department of Health approves their application, experience, and education, candidates must pass the ASWB clinical exam. ASWB sends exam scores directly to the Department of Health.

Licensed Social Worker Associate - Advanced

  1. Master's in Social Work: Candidates for the associate license must hold a master's or doctorate in social work from a CSWE-accredited program. Most MSW programs require two years of coursework, including a practicum. Applicants must submit official transcripts.
  2. Verification of State License: Applicants must submit a list of states in which they have held a license, including applications for a credential that was not granted. Each state must submit a verification form directly to the Washington State Department of Health.
  3. Training: This license is for social workers who are completing professional experience requirements for the licensed advanced social worker credential. Candidates must complete four hours of HIV/AIDS training before receiving the associate license.

Licensed Social Worker Associate - Independent Clinical

  1. Master's in Social Work: Candidates must hold at least a master's degree in social work. Most students complete their MSW in two years, including field experience. The program must hold CSWE accreditation, and candidates must provide official transcripts.
  2. Verification of State License: Candidates with out-of-state social work credentials must submit verification of their license. This includes all states in which the applicant holds expired or current licenses, as well as states in which they unsuccessfully applied for licensure. The issuing state submits a verification form directly to the Washington State Department of Health.
  3. Training: Social workers hold this license while meeting professional experience requirements for the licensed independent clinical social worker credential. Candidates must complete four hours of HIV/AIDS training to obtain the associate license.

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

Becoming a licensed social worker in Washington requires several years of education and training. Both the LASW and LICSW credentials require a master's degree in social work and two to three years of post-graduate professional experience.

An MSW typically requires two years of post-bachelor's coursework, including a practicum. After graduation, licensure candidates complete 3,200 to 4,000 hours of supervised experience, which must meet specific requirements. Graduates can receive a provisional license to complete experience requirements.

Out-of-State Licensing Reciprocity in Washington

The Washington State Department of Health does not automatically offer reciprocity with any other states. Because Washington social work licensure requires an MSW, out-of-state licensed social workers with a BSW must earn a master's degree to obtain social work licensure in Washington. However, candidates who hold an equivalent out-of-state license and meet Washington's requirements can apply for a license in the state.

To obtain a Washington social work license, out-of-state professionals must meet the state's educational requirements and pass the appropriate ASWB exam. Exam scores do not expire, so out-of-state professionals do not need to retake the exam.

Candidates must also meet Washington's supervised experience requirements. Professionals can fulfil the experience requirements through documentation from a previous employer. The licensing fee is $216.

License Renewal

Licensed social workers must renew their license on a regular basis. Periodic renewal ensures that professionals maintain high standards and receive continuing education on the latest techniques and research.

Social workers in Washington must renew their license annually. The license expires on the social worker's birthday. Renewal costs $116, and candidates must meet continuing education requirements. Social workers must complete 36 hours of continuing education every two years, including six hours in law and ethics. Every six years, social workers must also complete six hours in suicide assessment, treatment, and management.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) offers free and discounted continuing education courses. For the suicide assessment requirement, Washington recognizes training that appears on the best practices registry of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

Accredited Social Work Programs in Washington

Prospective students should ensure potential social work programs in Washington hold accreditation. The Washington State Department of Health only licenses graduates of programs with accreditation from the CSWE.

However, prospective social workers are not limited to social work schools in Washington. Graduates of any CSWE-accredited program qualify to practice in the state of Washington. The licensure process is identical for students with social work degrees from in-state and out-of-state programs.

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

Professionals with a social work degree in Washington can pursue a variety of career paths. Some social workers specialize in working with children and pursue positions as child and family social workers or school social workers. Others support patients dealing with acute or chronic medical conditions. Clinical social workers diagnose and treat mental and behavioral issues; clinical positions require social work licensure in Washington.

Each specialization requires specific education and experience. Some specializations available to bachelor's degree holders in other states require professionals to hold a master's-level social work degree in Washington.

  • Social Workers: Social workers help clients solve problems and cope with everyday life. They work in various specializations and support patients of all ages and backgrounds. Some positions require a bachelor's degree, while some, including clinical positions, require an MSW and a state license. Salaries vary widely.
  • Child, Family, and School Social Workers: Social workers in this specialization work with children and families,through agencies and in school settings. They may assist parents with the housing or adoption process, or they may work with students to improve their academic success.
  • Healthcare Social Workers: These social workers operate in the healthcare sector to help individuals, families, and groups understand medical diagnoses and make healthy choices. They also help patients access healthcare services.
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers: Social workers in this field assist clients with mental and behavioral problems. They also support families and groups. Most social workers in this concentration need a master's degree.
  • Social Work Professors: Social workers at colleges and universities split their time between teaching classes and engaging in research. Some teach graduate classes in the field, mentoring aspiring social workers. Nearly all professor positions require a doctorate.

Salary Expectations for Social Workers in Washington

Salaries for Washington social workers vary by position and education level, ranging from an average of $50,000 per year for child, family, and school social workers to more than $80,000 per year for social work professors. Salary differences reflect the varying educational and experience requirements for social work specialties. While school social workers often need only a bachelor's degree, social work professors generally need a doctorate.

Salaries also reflect Washington's social work license requirements. Clinical social workers, who must have an MSW and a state license, typically earn more than social workers who can practice without a license.

Average Salary for Social Workers in Washington

Child, Family, or School Social Worker $50,540
Healthcare Social Worker $61,050
Social Workers, All Other $68,180
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker $54,980
Social Work Professors $82,650
Source: BLS

Professional Organizations for Social Workers in Washington

While social workers benefit from joining national professional organizations, Washington also offers several opportunities for local support. These state organizations bring together social workers with various specializations and provide networking opportunities through conferences and events. Many professional organizations also offer continuing education resources, which the state requires for license renewal. Social workers at all career stages benefit from employment resources, such as career centers and job listings.

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