Why LMSW / LCSW doesn’t matter all that much to me

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about licensure in our social work field, especially in the light of the statistic about how there may be anti-black racial bias apparent in the exams. I’ve never been a big fan of how social workers are to attain their licensure credentials and now I’m more sure than ever that the current way is not a good measure of anything.

For either the LMSW or the LCSW, when I attained those credentials, I did not feel any more skilled or knowledgeable afterwards. All that I did for each was pay around $300 and pass an exam. That was it. I’m glad to be licensed of course as that has broadened my chances for better job opportunities and such, but other than that, I can’t really say it has been all that pertinent to how I do social work.

When I meet other social workers (and now as a supervisor of social workers), I rarely put much stock in whether they’re licensed or not. I’m glad to be able to hire at my site those who are not licensed. It really doesn’t mean anything to me. All it is that, I feel bad for those who are not licensed because it seems like so many great job opportunities seem closed off to them.

Licensure to me in a way seems like a very weird way to gatekeep talented and passionate social workers from the kinds of social work opportunities they are needed to serve in. It also in some ways can allow a level of pride and prejudice to licensed social workers that often times I think is not really warranted.

What really helped me in my social work journey so far has been continuing education courses, and of course, learning by doing the actual work. After I took an all-day course on play therapy and an all-day course on couples counseling, I became a much more confident and skills social worker. I became more eager to tackle situations that had previously made be far too uncomfortable and unprepared, such as kids living with serious developmental delays or a couple of domestic partners who frequently argued with each other. It was not getting the LCSW that made me feel good enough to conduct psychiatric evaluations, but reading a book and attending a webinar session on how to write good psychiatric evaluations. All these things were things I chose to do on my  own, granted some of the coursework fees were reimbursed by my employer.

All that is to say I wonder if there is a way to make the licensure actually mean something. Right now, all it means is that someone passed an exam (at least once for LMSW, and at least twice for LCSW).

One could argue that it’s the studying and prepping to pass the exam that strengthens the core values and skills of a social worker. Sure, I guess. But I passed both exams without studying all that much. For my  LMSW exam, how I  prepared was by reading fiction young adult novels in my spare time about challenging life circumstances, such as a novel about a girl who aged out of foster care, and a story about these high school friends who experienced bullying in school. I went to both exams, kinda expecting to fail, and was surprised to find myself having passed on the first try.

I didn’t really like many of the questions on the exam. When I took a practice test to prep for one of the exams, I remember thinking that I actually disagreed a lot with many of the correct answer choices. But alas, somehow, the way I am pretty good with multiple-choice questions and I guess the way my thought process works in some exam questions about social work meant that I could pass and become licensed.

So I think I’m extremely lucky. But I definitely don’t think it’s fair.

There are so many social workers who study so hard, but end up not passing, often due to experiencing test anxiety on the day of the exam. I’ve had a number of these kinds of workers as my coworkers and colleagues, and because I know how they are so great at doing social work, it’s definitely not a fair situation that I was licensed while they weren’t.

Multiple-choice exam in my opinion is just a weird way to gatekeep this profession.

If a gatekeeping has to be done for liability purposes, I would suggest other options, like requiring having certain amount of continuing education credits completed on certain course topics, an opportunity for interview after some amount of experience as a social worker, essay prompts that can be submitted, I don’t know… something that can actually measure how we are as a social worker.

Maybe this licensing system is too ingrained that perhaps we can not ever change how to permit licensure to social workers in different ways, but as it stands, the current way to me doesn’t make all that much sense to me. If I need to figure out how great you would be as a social worker, whether you’re licensed or not is probably one of the last things I’ll consider, if even.


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