Consumer Information

What You Should Know About Licensed Social Workers and Their Services


What is social work?

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.

What are the titles used by licensed social workers?

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 for more information).

What are the credentials for a New York Licensed Master Social Worker and Licensed Clinical Social Worker?

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.

What conditions can be helped by social workers?

Social workers deal with a wide variety of long and short-term mental, emotional, behavioral and environmental conditions, including:

  • mental illnesses and emotional disturbances
  • marital and family difficulties
  • adjustment problems related to acute and chronic illnesses
  • alcohol and substance abuse
  • behavioral and learning disorders of children and adolescents
  • community problems and social issues

How do social workers help people with such conditions?

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:

  • assess and evaluate clients
  • develop a treatment plan in conjunction with the client
  • identify resources and services, and provide direct services such as counseling, psychotherapy and case management
  • evaluate client progress and modify treatment plans or terminate services when appropriate
  • advocate for the client's rights and access to benefits and services
  • engage in research, analysis and community organization to improve societal conditions

How do I locate an LMSW or LCSW?

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:

  • people you know who have had successful experiences with a particular professional
  • professional social work organizations, which may have a list of member providers and their specialties
  • your local library, for directories published by national social work organizations
  • the yellow pages of your telephone directory under "Social Workers" or "Social Service Agencies or Organizations"

The State Board for Social Work cannot refer you to a social worker.

To help your professional relationship with a LMSW or LCSW:

  • answer questions as completely and accurately as possible
  • ask questions to clarify anything you do not understand
  • authorize other professionals who provided you service to release your records (when appropriate)
  • discuss fees for service, including insurance coverage for your care
  • keep scheduled appointments, or cancel with ample notice

What records does my social worker maintain? Can anyone else get them?

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.

What questions should individuals with disabilities ask about accessing services?

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.

Verifying a New York license:

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.

Last Updated: July 2, 2009