Career Opportunities for Licensed Clinical Social Workers

Career Opportunities for Licensed Clinical Social Workers – Many people aim to work in a sector that allows them to use their passion for helping others and make a positive difference in the world around them. This can feel very satisfying and give a real sense of purpose to a career. Although there are multiple industries where this is possible, training to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) is one of the best examples. 

The truth is that it is not just the chance to help the most vulnerable in society that makes working as an LCSW so appealing. Good rates of pay and the chance to advocate social justice issues that are close to one’s heart also warrant a mention. There are also a variety of specific roles licensed clinical social workers could move into and multiple career pathways for them to follow.

But what is a licensed clinical social worker, how does one become one, and what specific pathways could they follow, once qualified? 

Licensed clinical social workers: What are they?

This type of social worker is one that has attained the relevant qualifications to deliver specific therapeutic support to clients. This sees them delivering services to the neediest in society and helping people to tackle issues, problems or situations in life that are causing them distress. It also means they can use their advanced knowledge in social work specialties to help individuals, communities, and families to overcome behavioral, emotional or mental obstacles. 

To become an LCSW, it is essential to have the right clinical training. This ensures that one is able to use the latest techniques, models and evidence-based interventions when working post-graduation.

As any clinical social worker job description shows, getting this kind of advanced training is essential to excel in the sector. The online Master of Social Work (MSW) programs from Cleveland State University are a popular choice for people looking to move into licensed clinical social work and teach all one needs to know. With a comprehensive curriculum and a reputation as one of the country’s top universities, CSU’s online MSW courses are the ideal entry point to clinical social work. 

What are clinical social work licenses?

While courses such as a Master of Social Work teach social workers all they need to know to move into an LCSW role, they also need to gain a clinical social work license. This allows trained individuals to practice clinical social work on an independent basis. 

It is normally awarded by the licensing board in the state where an individual is working or the regulatory body that looks after the practice of social work. In addition to completing an MSW course, gaining a clinical social license normally involves picking up a certain number of practice hours, completion of licensure exams and an application to gain the clinical social work license. After this license is issued, individuals are obliged to engage in continuing professional development to keep it moving forward. 

Career pathways for licensed clinical social workers

As noted previously, one major attraction for people moving into licensed clinical social work is the variety of career pathways available. This means students can find the perfect niche to work in post-graduation. 

But which are the most common options for LCSWs in career terms? 

Medical social worker

One popular career option for licensed clinical social workers to follow is becoming a medical social worker. This pathway sees professionals in this sector working across a range of healthcare settings, such as clinics, rehabilitation centers and hospitals. The primary focus of this clinical social work role is providing psychosocial assistance to clients in these settings and assessing their social, environmental, and emotional requirements. 

Medical social workers can also help patients in healthcare settings to navigate the health system and with the coordination of resources when they are ready to move back into society. Medical social workers can also provide support to patients who are struggling to cope with an illness/condition and can also support their families. With the average salary for a medical social worker in the USA being around $70,000 and the chance to work closely with clients to deliver the best outcomes, this is a role in the industry that attracts a lot of attention.

School social worker

There are some awesome career tips any working professional should take on board in areas such as how to fuel career growth or how to set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based (SMART) career goals. This is why it is particularly important to find a role in an area of social work that one enjoys.  

Working as a school social worker is, therefore, a good choice for those who want to work with young people once qualified. School social work positions can also be good for those who want to work in an educational setting, rather than in a front-line clinical environment. This position can also come with the added bonus of regular school hours and a good number of holidays per year.

But what would the main tasks be in this position? In essence, these social work experts are employed in educational settings (such as schools) to support students’ emotional, behavioral, and social needs. This is done to help students not only achieve academic success but also tackle any issues that could be causing them distress. 

School social workers can deliver counseling to students who need it, perform crisis intervention and work with students on specific issues that could be affecting them (such as mental health problems or bullying). They may also work with teaching staff to plan out strategies to help students and signpost families to relevant community resources. 

Child welfare social worker

As the job title suggests, this is another LCSW career pathway that involves ensuring the safety of children. It can also cover looking after the well-being of children within the child welfare system. Common duties involved in a child welfare social work position include:

  • Investigating reports of child abuse/neglect
  • Delivering counseling to children/families who need it
  • Assessing how safe a child’s environment may be
  • Signposting families/children to relevant resources 
  • Facilitation of adoption and foster care processes 
  • Advocacy work around children’s best interests on a wider scale

As with the other career options for licensed clinical social workers on our list, this role not only comes with a high status but is also crucial in protecting the most vulnerable in society. It therefore, offers superb job satisfaction and enables these professionals to make a real difference to the world. If one has a passion for helping younger people, it is naturally a good choice.

Criminal justice social worker

Another career pathway that qualified clinical social workers could choose to follow is criminal justice social work. These highly trained professionals operate within the criminal justice system across settings such as law enforcement agencies, probation offices and correctional facilities. This kind of role delivers support to inmates, support for those on probation and help for ex-offenders. 

Common duties of a criminal justice social worker range from case management to support services and counseling for clients. Good examples of this include helping an ex-offender recently released from prison access employment assistance or addressing mental health issues with an inmate. 

This kind of clinical social worker may also get involved with advocacy on behalf of their clients and push for things like alternatives to prison as the acceptable choice for dealing with offenders. This type of role is especially good for social workers who have a real passion for helping people reintegrate into society and change the path their life is on. It is also a good option if they want to work in an exciting and fast-paced part of the social work sector.

Mental health social worker

With an average salary of around $65,000 per annum, and the chance to help people at their lowest, this in-demand role is growing in importance as mental health issues become more prevalent across the country. 

It is thought that 22.8% of US adults suffered from mental illness in 2021, for example, and this figure shows how key social work professionals can help people like this. The assistance that mental health social workers provide not only cares for their clients but also protects society from the potential dangers posed by unchecked mental health issues.

Mental health social workers deliver support to individuals who are experiencing mental health problems in settings such as hospitals, private practices, and community medical centers. Their day-to-day role usually involves assessing the mental health needs of clients, counseling clients, creating treatment plans, delivering ongoing support for clients’ mental health requirements, and enabling access to psychiatric services for clients.

Substance abuse social worker 

This area of social work involves helping people who are afflicted with substance abuse and addiction issues. The main duties of these social workers are assessing clients, offering support to them, and offering support to their families. This is with a view to helping clients recover from their substance abuse/addiction issues and rehabiliting them into functioning members of society. To help with these goals, this kind of social worker will enable access to treatment programs, help draw up plans to prevent relapses and offer ongoing help to clients around their recovery. 

Although all social work roles come with a great sense of job satisfaction, it can feel extra special when helping someone beat their addictions and stay clean of them moving forward. It also enables social workers to have a direct impact on substance abuse/addiction as an issue and stops it from having a negative effect on society. 

Policymaking and leadership in social work

While many of the most popular career pathways for LCSWs involve direct client contact, leadership positions at the top of the industry are also key. These can often be the type of roles social workers aspire to as their end goal, and after picking up experience at less senior levels previously. 

One of the most important elements of this type of social work pathway is the work leaders do around creating policy. These policies set the direction the sector will head in and provide guidelines for certain situations for social work professionals. They can also have an impact on how accessible social work is to people within society and how inclusive the industry is. 

As one may expect, this social work pathway comes with high salaries, high status, and the ability to really make a mark on how the industry operates. It is also a good choice if you want to move away from direct client contact and into a more administrative area of the sector. There is also a good variety of specific leadership roles in social work to consider — from director of rehabilitation to executive director, development director and more.

Skills needed to thrive as a licensed clinical social worker

Although the above may all involve working in different niches within clinical social work, there are still some core skills that underpin any role in this industry. It is therefore, essential to not only know what these are but also take the time to refine any that may be lacking on a personal level. Doing this will mean entering clinical social work from a position of knowledge and with the right skill set to succeed.


One of the most crucial skills is communication. This is so important because it enables social workers to engage with clients and their families in a clear, appropriate way that they understand. As a result, they are more likely to not only take in what is said but also fully grasp it. It is key to note that it is not only verbal communication that is key here — being able to properly communicate via email, video call and letter is also a must.

Active listening

The next essential skill that any licensed clinical social worker needs is the ability to listen — enabling them to fully understand the issue and get all the key facts. Taking the time to listen also shows clients they are taking what they say seriously and showing them respect. This is key for helping to forge a sense of trust, which will help to give them the most effective support. 

People skills 

People skills are also important in this type of job because it involves social workers dealing with real-life people. As a result, it is critical that they build a rapport with clients and their families and avoid being antagonistic. People skills are also key for helping social workers work well with colleagues, senior management, and other professionals they may collaborate with on a case. 

Problem solving

It is fair to say that clinical social work can sometimes involve tense situations or uncomfortable exchanges. Due to this, LCSWs must remain calm under pressure and not react emotionally to any situation they are in. This enables them to not only de-escalate what is happening but also always remain professional. 

Problem -solving is generally a useful skill for clinical social workers to have. This is because people in these roles often come across complex challenges that require creative thinking to solve. Having excellent skills in this area can enable social workers to be more effective and help clients overcome seemingly impossible situations. 

The future of licensed clinical social work 

Although it is always hard to predict what is to come in any sector, two factors will be most significant in influencing the future of licensed clinical social work. Firstly, it is expected that professionals in this field will remain in high demand, due to the increasing need for them to protect the most vulnerable in society. This is not only in terms of helping clients who come to them directly, but also advocating new social justice issues that may crop up moving ahead.

It is also likely that technology will make its presence felt even more across social work in general. This has already started happening to some degree, but it is safe to assume more technology will impact professionals in this industry as time passes. While this is currently social media and video calls, things like VR or The Metaverse will be changing how the industry looks in the future. 


Although people may think of licensed clinical social workers as one homogenous role, there are in fact many specialties trained professionals in the sector can move into. It is key to learn about the most common career options and focus on one area if thinking of moving into the sector. This will not only make for a more satisfying, exciting career overall, but also make social workers more motivated to excel in it. 

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