FAQs on Applying for Licensure

Frequently Asked Questions on Washington State Social Work Licensure

What are the social work licensure categories in Washington State?

There are four:

  • Licensed Social Worker Associate Advanced (LSWAA)
  • Licensed Social Worker Associate Independent Clinical (LSWAIC)
  • Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW)
  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)

All four categories are defined and regulated by the Washington State Department of Health.

What is the difference between advanced social work and independent clinical social work?

According to RCW 18.225.10, “advanced social work means the application of social work theory and methods including emotional and biopsychosocial assessment, psychotherapy under the supervision of a licensed independent clinical social worker, case management, consultation, advocacy, counseling, and community organization.”

The LASW will only allow you to practice under supervision and is designed for people working in agencies, hospitals, schools, or other institutions. If you choose to become an LASW, you will have to reapply to become an LICSW if you practice under the definition of an LICSW in the future.

According to RCW 18.225.10, “independent clinical social work means the diagnosis and treatment of emotional and mental disorders based on knowledge of human development, the causation and treatment of psychopathology, psychotherapeutic treatment practices, and social work practice as defined in advanced social work. Treatment modalities include but are not limited to diagnosis and treatment of individuals, couples, families, groups, or organizations.”

The LICSW will allow you to practice independently or in an agency setting.

Is the clinical license ranked or rated higher or better than the advanced credential?

According to legislation passed by the legislature in 2013, for purposes of job classification, licensed advanced social workers and licensed independent clinical social workers shall both be considered the top tier of licensure for the profession.

What is an associate?

According to RCW 18.225.10, “associate” means a pre-licensure candidate who has a graduate degree in a mental health field under RCW 18.225.090 and is gaining the supervision and supervised experience necessary to become a licensed independent clinical social worker, a licensed advanced social worker, a licensed mental health counselor, or a licensed marriage and family therapist.”

Associates are often recent graduates from schools of social work, beginning their post graduate careers and building the hours of experience and approved supervision necessary for licensure. Associates may not independently provide therapy or counseling for a fee, monetary or otherwise. Associates must work under the supervision of an approved supervisor. Associates shall provide each client or patient, during the first professional contact, with a disclosure form according to RCW 18.225.100, disclosing that he or she is an associate under the supervision of an approved supervisor.

What are the requirements for an associate license?

• A degree from a master’s or doctoral social work educational program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
• Completed application to the Washington State Department of Health that is signed and dated.
• The application and initial licensure fee.
• Completed out of state verification forms sent directly from each state (if applicable).
• Passing a background check.
• Four (4) hours of HIV/AIDS education/training.
• Official transcripts sent directly from the School of Social Work where the degree was obtained.

The associate then begin accruing the necessary hours of employment, approved supervision and continuing education necessary to achieve full licensure within the maximum seven year period. This expanded time period to obtain full licensure became effective July 28, 2013.

Associate licenses are valid for one year and must be renewed every year on the date of issuance. An associate license may be renewed no more than six times, provided that the applicant for renewal has successfully completed eighteen hours of continuing education in the preceding year. Beginning with the second renewal, at least six of the continuing education hours in the preceding two years must be in professional ethics.

Associates are encouraged to begin attending workshops and other approved continuing education events at the time they obtain the associate license, accruing these continuing education hours as they accrue hours of employment and approved supervision. This will make the renewal process go easier.

What are the required hours of employment and supervision for each social work license category?

Licensed Advanced Social Worker:

Minimum of 3,200 hours with 90 hours of approved supervision by a licensed independent clinical social worker or a licensed advanced social worker who has been licensed for at least two years. 800 of the required hours must be direct client contact. Of those hours, 50 hours must include direct supervision by a licensed advanced social worker or licensed independent clinical social worker; the other 40 hours may be with an equally qualified licensed mental health practitioner.

40 hours must be in one-to-one supervision and 50 hours may be in one-to-one supervision or group supervision. Distance supervision is limited to 40 supervision hours.

Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker:

Minimum of 4,000 hours of experience, of which 1,000 hours must be direct client contact, over a three-year period supervised by a licensed independent clinical social worker, who has been licensed or certified for at least two years. Approved supervision must total at least 130 hours. 70 hours must be with an independent clinical social worker; the other 60 hours may be with an equally qualified licensed mental health practitioner. 60 hours must be in one-to-one supervision and 70 hours may be in one-to-one supervision or group supervision. Distance supervision is limited to 60 supervision hours.

What is approved supervision?

In accordance with RCW 18.225.090, to provide supervision towards licensure at the Advanced Social Worker (LASW) or Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) level, the approved supervisor must be licensed for at least two years and have two years of clinical experience post licensure.

WAC 246-809-334 states that to supervise a license candidate, the supervisor must hold a license without restrictions that has been in good standing for at least two years. The supervisor shall not be a blood or legal relative or cohabitant of the license candidate, license candidate’s peer or someone who has acted as the license candidate’s therapist within the last two years. Prior to the commencement of any supervision the supervisor must provide the license candidate with a declaration, on a form approved by Washington State Department of Health, stating that the supervisor has met the requirements of WAC 246-809-334 and thereby qualifies as an approved supervisor.

The declaration form states:

“As an approved supervisor, I attest I have completed the following:

A minimum of fifteen clock hours of training in clinical supervision obtained through:
• A supervision course;
• Continuing education credits on supervision; or
• Supervision of supervision.

And twenty-five hours of experience in supervision of clinical practice.

And have two years of clinical experience post license.

I attest I will gain thorough knowledge of the supervisee’s practice activities including:
• Practice setting;
• Recordkeeping;
• Financial management;
• Ethics of clinical practice; and
• A backup plan for coverage.”

The declaration must be completed by Supervisor and provided to license candidate prior to the commencement of supervision in accordance with WAC 246-809-334.

Licensed associates are encouraged to inquire fully of prospective employers about the availability of (multiple) supervisors that meet the above requirements. While approved supervision may be found in private practice settings, it can be expensive and difficult to obtain due to many agencies being risk averse about permitting an outside supervisor to fully access the work of the supervisee.

NASW-WA provides an advertising based roster of supervisors committed to providing approved supervision, many at discounted rates. This is intended for those who cannot obtain supervision towards licensure where they work.

What is the flow or chain of events on the path towards licensure for new graduates?

• Council on Social Work Education accredited masters or doctorate social work degree.
• Washington State Department of Health application for one of the associate credentials.
• Accrual of minimum hours of employment, approved supervision and continuing education, over the specified time period, needed for full licensure.
• Washington State Department of Health application for full licensure.
• Approval from Washington State Department of Health to take the Association of Social Work Boards’ Advanced Generalist or Clinical level examination.
• Passing of the Association of Social Work Boards’ Advanced Generalist or Clinical level examination results in full licensure.

What do I need to know about the Association of Social Work Boards’ Advanced Generalist or Clinical level examination?

Candidates for the Licensed Advanced Social Worker credential are required to take and pass the Association of Social Work Boards’ Advanced Generalist level examination. They cannot do so until the Washington State Department of Health advises that the candidate has met all other requirements for licensure. Candidates will receive notice of approval to sit for the examination from Washington State Department of Health. At that time, candidates may contact the Association of Social Work Boards to schedule the Advanced Generalist level examination.

Candidates for the Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker credential are required to take and pass the Association of Social Work Boards’ Clinical level examination. They cannot do so until the Washington State Department of Health advises that the candidate has met all other requirements for licensure. Candidates will receive notice of approval to sit for the examination from Washington State Department of Health. At that time, candidates may contact the Association of Social Work Boards to schedule the Clinical level examination.

A passing score is required for licensure in Washington State at either the Advanced Generalist of Clinical level. NASW-Washington State Chapter is pleased to offer a licensure examination preparation workshop several times each year. The Licensure Examination Preparation Course assists social workers in their preparations to take either the clinical or advanced ASWB exam that is required for social work licensure in the State of Washington and most other states.

The Course has a well received approach of emphasizing three elements as significantly contributing to a passing score on the examination. These are anxiety management, focused content review and avoiding mistakes in answering questions. The course includes a 200+ page manual and a sample test, helpful in practicing the techniques of avoiding mistakes in answering questions.
The course also includes a review of the major content areas of the examination including:
• Human Development, Diversity and Behavior in the Environment
• Assessment, Diagnosis and Treatment Planning
• Micro, Mezzo and Macro Interventions
• Psychotherapy, Clinical Interventions and Case Management
• The Social Work Relationship
• Professional Ethics and Values
Washington State has a first time pass rate in excess of 80% compared with the national pass rate of just below 75%. NASW-Washington State Chapter believes that this course has a lot to do with more Washington social workers passing! NASW members enjoy a discount on the fee for this and all other NASW sponsored continuing education workshops.

I hold a social work license from another state. Does Washington recognize this license and offer comity or reciprocity?

No, the Washington State Department of Health does not offer comity or reciprocity with other states. The only thing that counts towards licensure in Washington State is a passing score on the relevant Association of Social Work Boards’ examination. A passing score on the Association of Social Work Boards’ advanced generalist or clinical level examination, wherever taken, can be used to apply for licensure in Washington State. So, the examination need not be retaken.

However, all other licensure requirements must be satisfied by the applicant, including documenting the hours of supervised experience and supervision necessary for licensure in Washington State. This must be provided by the candidate’s previous employer and supervisor. Washington has higher standards for supervised experience and hours of supervision than some other states. Therefore, documentation from the source of those hours is needed in order to become licensed.

What are the continuing education requirements for licensed social workers and licensed associates?

Licensed social workers and licensed associates are required to have continuing education. For associates, a total of 36 contact hours, with 6 in law and ethics, is required at the time they apply for full licensure. For Licensed Advanced Social Workers and Licensed Independent Clinical Social Workers, a total of 36 contact hours, with 6 in law and ethics, is required every two years.

Effective January 1, 2014, licensed social workers and licensed associates will be required to complete six hours of training in suicide assessment, treatment and management for initial licensure and once every six years thereafter. Such training must be listed on the best practices registry of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

What courses are acceptable?

The continuing education (CE) program or course must be relevant to licensed social workers and must contribute to the advancement, extension and enhancement of the professional competence of the licensed social worker. Courses or workshops primarily designed to increase practice income or office efficiency are not eligible for CE credit.

Acceptable CE courses (including distance learning), seminars, workshops and postgraduate institutes are those which are:

• Programs having a featured instructor, speaker(s) or panel approved by an industry-recognized local, state, national, international organization or institution of higher learning; or
• Distance learning programs, approved by an industry-recognized local, state, national or international organization or institution of higher learning. These programs must require tests of comprehension upon completion. Distance learning programs are limited to twenty-six hours per reporting period.

Training programs sponsored by the agency where a counselor is employed are acceptable if:

• The experience can be shown to contribute to the advancement, extension and enhancement of the professional competence of the licensed marriage and family therapist, licensed mental health counselor and/or the licensed social worker; and

• The training programs are limited to twenty-six hours per reporting period.

Other learning experience, such as serving on a panel, board or council, community service, research, peer consultation, or publishing articles for professional publications are acceptable if the experience can be shown to contribute to the advancement, extension and enhancement of the professional competence of the licensed social worker; and the experience is limited to six hours per reporting period.
What are industry-recognized local, state, national, international organizations or institutions of higher learning?
Recognized organizations or institutions include, but are not limited to, the following organizations:

Washington Association for Marriage and Family Therapy;
Washington State Society for Clinical Social Work;
Washington Chapter of the National Association of Social Work;
American Mental Health Counselors Association;
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy;
Clinical Social Work Federation;
National Association of Social Workers;
Washington Mental Health Counselors Association;
National Board for Certified Counselors;
Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care; or
Institutions of higher learning accredited by a national or regional accrediting body that is recognized by the Commission on Recognition of Postsecondary Accreditation.

NASW-Washington State Chapter has a well earned reputation for high quality continuing education workshops offered many times each year. Using a mix of nationally known and well regarded in-state presenters, the Chapter offers a varied menu of professional development opportunities relevant to a variety of social work practice settings. This is one of many ways that NASW-Washington State Chapter advances the careers of social workers. As always, NASW members enjoy a discount on the fee for all NASW sponsored continuing education workshops.

Where can I get more information about licensure in Washington State?

WA Department of Health Social Work Licensing: http://www.doh.wa.gov/LicensesPermitsandCertificates/ProfessionsNewReneworUpdate/SocialWorker

Association of Social Work Boards:  http://www.aswb.org

National Association of Social Workers-Washington State Chapter:  http://www.nasw-wa.org

Disclaimer:
The information provided herein is intended to be a general summary or resource information for dissemination to professional social workers on the licensure of social work in Washington State. It is not intended to take the place of any applicable written law, regulations, or the NASW Code of Ethics.

The author and NASW-Washington State Chapter are not agents of, nor employees of the Washington State Department of Health. Only the Washington State Department of Health can offer official information upon which an candidate for licensure may rely. The author and NASW-Washington State Chapter make reasonable efforts to keep this content accurate, current and to correct errors brought to the attention of the author and NASW-Washington State Chapter. No responsibility is assured or implied for errors or omissions created or caused by technical difficulties or changes in rules and laws. No one shall be entitled to claim detrimental reliance thereon.

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