Social work is a profession that helps individuals, families, and groups change behaviors, emotions, attitudes, relationships, and social conditions to restore and enhance their capacity to meet their personal and social needs.
Social workers are trained to provide a variety of services, ranging from psychotherapy to the administration of health and welfare programs. They work with human development and behavior, including the social, economic, and cultural systems in which people function.
In New York State, there are two professional licenses for social workers, with different qualifications. Only licensed social work professionals may legally use the title Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) or Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in New York State. The Licensed Clinical Social Worker may provide all social work services, including clinical services such as the diagnosis of mental, emotional, behavioral, developmental, and addictive disorders, the development of treatment plans, and the provision of psychotherapy. The Licensed Master Social Worker may provide these clinical services only under supervision of an LCSW, licensed psychologist or psychiatrist.
Social work services may also be provided by an unlicensed person with a Bachelor's in Social Work degree, under the supervision of an LMSW or LCSW, although non-licensees cannot diagnose or treat mental illness or hold themselves out as licensed. If you have questions about the qualifications of any licensed social worker, discuss them with the social worker and verify the social worker's license (Please see the "Verifying a New York license" section below for more information).
New York Licensed Master Social Workers have earned a Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) degree from a graduate school of social work accredited by the Council on Social Work Education and passed a national licensing exam. The Licensed Clinical Social Worker has completed an M.S.W. degree that includes clinical courses, has three years of post-degree supervised experience in clinical social work, and has passed a clinical licensing examination.
Social workers deal with a wide variety of long and short-term mental, emotional, behavioral and environmental conditions, including:
Social workers assist people with problems while helping them to identify and use their strengths to deal with situations. They also help their clients negotiate situations in the environment that can contribute to stress. For example, social workers:
Licensed social workers work in many different settings, including (but not limited to) hospitals, businesses, schools, nursing homes, government agencies, community mental health centers, family service agencies, social and recreation centers, and private practice. To locate a licensed social worker, check with the following:
The State Board for Social Work cannot refer you to a social worker.
Your file typically contains an assessment of your situation (including your personal and family history), a treatment plan, reports from other treatment professionals (with your consent), a record of each session, and progress notes. LMSWs and LCSWs must keep client records for six years or until the client turns 22, whichever is longer.
Generally, your records are confidential unless you approve their release. Ask your professional about exceptions to this. If you want a copy of your records, provide your licensed social worker with a written request. You may be charged a reasonable fee to offset the cost of providing copies.
Ask such questions as whether the service location is physically accessible (curb cuts, ramps, restrooms, etc.) as well as whether there is a Telecommunication Device for the Deaf (TDD) and parking for people with disabilities.
New York LMSWs and LCSWs must display a current New York registration certificate; this certificate lists the licensee's name, address, and dates of the registration period. Licensed social workers must reregister every three years to practice in New York.
The LCSW is a qualified provider of psychotherapy services, and the LCSW's registration certificate may start with the letter "R" to designate eligibility for insurance purposes. Some professionals choose to display their original New York license, diploma, licenses from other states, and membership certificates. You may verify a license on this site.