There are currently more than 682,000 people working in social work careers in the United States alone, according to data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Further, positions within this field are expected to increase by 16 percent by the year 2026, a rate the BLS indicates is "much faster" than the average growth rate of all other occupations combined.

While there are many roles an entry-level social work graduate can decide to take, another option is to earn your master's degree (or higher) and become a licensed clinical social worker, or LCSW. What does an LCSW do?

Licensed Clinical Social Worker Job Functions

Medicine Net shares that the technical job definition of an LCSW is "a social worker trained in psychotherapy who helps individuals deal with a variety of mental health and daily living problems to improve overall functioning."

In simple terms, this means that as an LCSW, you would spend your days helping people overcome obstacles that are preventing them from living their best lives possible. Sometimes this involves treating them directly and other times requires referring them to other organizations within the community that can provide additional necessary resources.

LCSWs can work in a variety of settings, some of which include hospitals, substance abuse clinics, schools and universities, military facilities, and child welfare agencies.

That said, adds that one of the benefits of becoming an LCSW is that you're also able to work in private practice if you wish. This enables you to choose the type of people you want to see as well as the methodology you'd like to use during the treatment process.

LCSW Salary Potential

How much can you earn as an LCSW? According to the Profile of the Social Work Workforce (a report compiled by George Washington University and the Health Workforce Institute and School of Nursing that was released in October 2017), the mean wage for social workers with a master's degree is $48,025 per year. Those with doctoral diplomas have a mean yearly salary of $60,412.

In addition to salary potential varying by level of education, it can also change based on where you work. For instance, the workforce profile also found that individuals with master's degrees and above who work for the federal government tend to make the most, earning roughly $68,000 per year. Conversely, those who are employed by nonprofit, tax-exempt, or charitable organizations often make the least, with a median annual wage of $45,000.

LCSW Training and Education Requirements

The BLS reports that a master's degree is required to work in clinical settings, after which licensure must be obtained to work as an LCSW.

Each state has its own licensing requirements, so it's important to know what those are in your state of residence if you choose this as your social work career. If you're unsure of what those rules are, the Association of Social Work Boards offers an online search that enables you to quickly and easily identify your state's social work licensing requirements.

For instance, if you live in California, to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, you must have a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree and at least 3,000 hours of supervised experience post-degree in order to earn this designation. Alternatively, if you want to work as an LCSW in Louisiana, in addition to earning your master's degree, you must also have 5,760 hours of post-degree supervised experience.

How to Become a Successful Licensed Clinical Social Worker

If your goal is to become the most successful LCSW you can be, The New Social Worker (a social work careers magazine) indicates that there are a few actions you can take to achieve this higher-level status:

  • Envision what your dream work life looks like as an LCSW. Think about what you want your work environment to look like and how you want it to feel. The more you can see it in your mind, the easier it will be for you to create it.
  • Develop a mission statement so you have a fully defined purpose stating what it is you expect to do with your social work career. This will help guide you as you make future social work career decisions.
  • The New Social Worker further recommends that you identify the population you want to work with most and seek ways to help that particular demographic while also building relationships with others in your field who have similar visions and philosophies as you.

Being more successful also means having a willingness to be creative and innovative with your solutions, so don't be afraid to think outside the box.

Start Your Education Toward a Social Work Career Today

If this social work career track interests you, Saint Leo University offers a Master of Social Work – Two Year Full Time Program. This curriculum is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education and provides the educational foundation you need to pursue your state's licensing requirements.

There are plenty of potential clients in need of your help out there, so take a step toward a rewarding social work career in which you can truly make a difference in the lives of others.