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Navigating the LCSW Licensing Process


The Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) is the regulatory agency responsible for licensing Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) in the State of California. The BBS also licenses Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and Educational Psychologists (LEP). Currently the BBS has over 100,000 active licensees and registrants.

The LCSW Licensing Process in a Nutshell

We need to gather an understanding of the "big picture" of the LCSW licensing process before we discuss the more detailed aspects of this process. Any person pursuing a LCSW license in California will follow a similar path:

  1. Get your qualifying Master’s degree;  
  2. Register with the BBS as an ASW registrant and begin earning post degree experience;
  3. Apply to take the California Law & Ethics Examination;
  4. When you have earned the total 3,200 hours and passed the CA Law & Ethics, apply for the Clinical Examination;
  5. Pass the Clinical examination;
  6. Apply for initial licensure;
  7. Get your official LCSW license

Different individuals might take a slightly unique path towards licensure depending on whether or not they move out of state or take a few years off. However, the vast majority of future LCSWs will follow a path much like the one described in 1-7 above.

A Detailed Look at How to Become an LCSW in California

As you might assume, the entire process of becoming an LCSW in California takes years to complete. The process involves a variety of forms, applications, and examinations. This handout (and the accompanying presentation) provides you with valuable information on how to make the licensure process a smooth one.

ASW Registration Process

You will apply to be a registered ASW upon graduation from your MSW program. The application is easily accessible in the "Forms and Publications" section of the BBS Web site.

The ASW registration application can be broken down into three parts:

  1. One page application form
  2. Official school transcripts with the MSW degree posted
  3. Live Scan receipt

The one page application requests the applicant to fill out some basic information. The applicant also requires a passport sized (2X2) photo. The applicant should pay particular attention to the address entered on this application. As required by law, the BBS must post the address of record for all its registrants and licensees. Consider using a business or post office box address to protect your privacy.

The school transcripts must be in the school's sealed envelope and have the qualifying degree date posted.

A copy of your Live Scan receipt should also accompany your application. You should get your fingerprints done before you send in your ASW application to the BBS. The forms for Live Scan fingerprinting and the instructions are included in the ASW registration application.

The BBS advises, whenever possible, to send in a complete application package (e.g. items 1-3 in one package). Whenever sending important documents to the BBS, make photocopies prior to mailing and consider using a "priority mailing service" with delivery confirmation and a tracking feature.

NOTE: You must become registered as an ASW before you can begin counting supervised post-masters work experience and weeks of supervision towards examination eligibility requirements.

Additional Coursework Requirements

In addition to your MSW, you will also have to complete some additional coursework requirements which are in place to ensure you have education in key subject matter areas.

  1. Child Abuse Assessment and Reporting
  2. 7 hours - see Title 16, California Code of Regulations (CCR) section 1807.2 for specific content required

  3. Human Sexuality
  4. 10 hours - see Title 16, CCR section 1807 for specific content required

  5. Alcoholism and Other Chemical Substance Dependency
  6. 15 hours - see Title 16, CCR section 1810 for specific content required

  7. Spousal or Partner Abuse Assessment Detection, and Intervention
    • In-State Applicants:
      • Not required for those who entered a MSW program prior to 01/01/1995
      • No specific hour requirement for those who entered a MSW program prior to 12/31/2003, but must be of sufficient length to cover the topics of assessment, detection and intervention
      • 15 hours for those who entered a MSW program after 1/1/2004
    • Applicants with Out-of-State education, experience or licensure:
      • 15 hours
  8. Aging, Long Term Care, and Elder/Dependent Adult Abuse
    • 10 Hours ONLY for those who entered a degree program on or after 1/1/2004
    • For all others this is not a requirement

  9. California Law and Professional Ethics
    • 18 hours - ONLY for those with an out-of-state degree, experience or licensure
    • See BPC section 4996.17 for specific content required
    • Graduates from California schools have already met this requirement

These additional coursework requirements may be completed while you are enrolled in your MSW program, but must be complete prior to applying for Examination Eligibility. To see which courses from your school fulfill these requirements, visit the "Schools" section of the BBS Web site.

If you graduate and still need to take some of these courses, you can take them after you graduate from accredited or approved universities; county, state, or governmental entities; or approved Continuing Education (CE) Providers. A list of approved (CE) approved providers is available on the "Forms and Publications" section of the BBS Web site.

Remember to Renew Your ASW Registration Every Year

Once you are registered with the BBS, you must renew your registration every year in order to count supervised experience and weeks of supervision towards the examination eligibility requirements. If your registration expires or lapses, you will not be able to count supervised experience or weeks of supervision gained for the period in which the registration is invalid.

The BBS recommends renewing your registration at least 60 days in advance of the registration expiration date. The expiration date appears on your registration certificate. The BBS sends courtesy renewal reminders to your address of record, and you can also print a Manual Registration Renewal Application off of the BBS Web site.

Required Supervised Work Experience

In addition to your degree and additional coursework, you are required to accrue a significant amount of supervised work experience. You must accrue 3,200 hours of supervised work experience and 104 weeks of supervision. Both the supervised work experience and the weeks of supervision are broken down into categories. See LCSW Breakdown of Required Experience for more information.

This experience must be gained under the supervision of a licensed mental health professional. Depending on the type of license your supervisor holds, he or she needs to meet different requirements in order to supervise you. A list of acceptable supervisor license types and general supervision requirements follows:

  1. Licensed Clinical Social Workers - must be licensed for two years in California or another state, complete a 15-hour supervision course and hold a valid California license
  2. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists - must be licensed for two years in California or another state, complete a 15-hour supervision course, and hold a valid California license
  3. Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors - must be licensed for two years in California or another state, complete a 15-hour supervision course and hold a valid California license
  4. Licensed Psychologist - must be licensed for two years in California or another state and hold a valid California license
  5. Licensed Physicians nationally board certified in psychiatry - must be licensed for two years in California or another state and hold a valid California license

NOTE: ASWs are required to obtain 1,700 hours of the total 3,200 hours of post-master's degree experience under a LCSW, as well as 13 weeks of supervision under a LCSW to qualify for licensure. For a detailed list of other supervisor requirements please see the Responsibility Statement for Supervisors of an Associate Clinical Social Worker.

Check Your Supervisor's License

You cannot gain hours under someone holding an invalid (delinquent) license. You can verify the status of your supervisor's license anonymously using the BBS' "Online License Verification" feature.

104 Weeks of Supervision

Any week in which an ASW participates in one hour of individual supervision or two hours of group supervision counts as one supervised week. Of your 104 required weeks of supervision, 52 of those weeks must be weeks in which you meet with your individual supervisor for at least an hour. Of the 52 required weeks of individual supervision, at least 13 weeks must be with an LCSW supervisor.

You will need to be supervised in order to accrue work experience, so you will be completing the 104 supervised week requirement and the 3,200 hours of work experience requirement simultaneously. You must complete both requirements, however, before you can apply for examination eligibility.

Beginning January 1, 2010, ASWs working in a government entity, school, college or university or an institution that is both non-profit and charitable may obtain all supervision via videoconferencing.

3,200 Hours of Supervised Work Experience

The 3,200 hours of supervised work experience breaks down into different categories.

  • A. Clinical psychosocial diagnosis, assessment, and treatment, including individual or group psychotherapy/counseling (minimum 2,000 hours)
  • 1. Face-to-face individual or group psychotherapy (minimum 750 hours)
  • B. Client centered advocacy, consultation, evaluation, and research (maximum 1,200 hours)

Of the required 3,200 hours of work experience, 1,700 hours must be gained under the supervision of an LCSW. The remaining 1,500 hours can be gained under either an LCSW, LPCC, LMFT, licensed psychologist, or licensed physician nationally board certified in psychiatry.

You need at least one hour of direct supervisor contact to count ANY work experience in a given week. One hour of direct supervisor contact can be either one-hour of individual supervision or two hours of group supervision. Group supervision should not include more than eight individuals receiving supervision.

40 hours of work experience is the maximum amount of work experience that you can claim in a week.

Review the Definition of Psychotherapy in the Context of Clinical Social Work

The BBS advises all registrants to carefully read the definition of psychotherapy as it relates to clinical social work. In addition to supervising you, your supervisor may also be supervising MFT Interns/Trainees or other types of mental health professionals. Within the context of each profession, psychotherapy could be defined differently.

You can review the definition of psychotherapy as it relates to clinical social work by accessing the Statutes and Regulations Relating to the Practice of Marriage and Family Therapy, Educational Psychology, and Clinical Social Work. This publication is accessible from the BBS homepage. The definition of psychotherapy in the clinical social work statute will be found in section 4996.9.

Face-to-Face Psychotherapy/Counseling and Extra Weekly Supervision

In order to count any supervised experience in a week, you need one hour of direct supervisor contact (one hour of individual supervision or two hours of group supervision). However, if you go over 10 hours of face-to-face psychotherapy/counseling (A1 above) in a week, you need to obtain two hours of direct supervisor contact in that week in order to count all the face-to-face psychotherapy/counseling experience gained in that week.

Two hours of direct supervisor contact can be two hours of individual supervision, four hours of group supervision, or one hour of individual supervision and two hours of group supervision.

For example, Kari regularly receives one hour of direct supervisor contact each week. Her workweek consists of 20 hours of clinical psychosocial diagnosis and treatment (A), 12 hours of client centered advocacy (B), and eight hours of face-to-face individual psychotherapy (A1). In her typical workweek, Kari is meeting the requirement.

However, in one week, she has to cover for a colleague and take on a lot of additional face-to-face individual and group psychotherapy duties. Her workweek now consists of 12 hours of client-centered advocacy (B) and 28 hours of face-to-face individual and group psychotherapy (A1). Since she has now gone over 10 hours of face-to-individual or group psychotherapy in this week, she must obtain two hours of direct supervisor contact for this week to count over 10 hours of face-to-face individual and group psychotherapy for this week.

Understanding this rule is critical because other mental health professionals (e.g. MFT Interns/Trainees) have very different rules relating to supervision and direct psychotherapy/counseling services. Your supervisor might confuse the two requirements. Make sure you understand the requirements in order to ensure you are being credited with all the experience that you are earning.


While gaining your hours you will use the following forms:

Applying for Exam Eligibility and Tips Relating to the Exam Process

The LCSW Examination Eligibility Application is available in the Forms and Publications section of the BBS Web site. You will send in your Clinical Social Worker Experience Verification forms and any verification of completion of additional coursework with this application package. The application includes a checklist to assist you in sending all the correct materials.

The Six-Year Rule

All hours of experience must be gained within the most recent six years from the time you apply for LCSW examination eligibility.

Example: Susan applies for LCSW examination eligibility. The Board receives her application on 4/27/2012. All of the hours she gained between 4/27/2006 and 4/27/2012 will be acceptable.

Once your application is approved, you will begin the process of taking your examinations (the Standard Written and the Written Clinical Vignette Examination). Once you are in the examination process, meeting your examination deadlines is critical. Failing to meet an examination deadline results in the abandonment of your examination eligibility and requires you to resubmit an application to become re-eligible. Once you pass both examinations, you can apply to receive your clinical social worker license.

For more information please visit the Applicant/Registrant section of the BBS Web site.