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How to Get Your LCSW

...in a bunch of not-necessarily-easy--but doable--steps.
 
I remember as I was first looking into the profession, nothing spelled out this process in a way that made much sense. Degree--which? Internships--what? Study--how? Hopefully this will help. (Heads-up: Links are mostly for California. Elsewhere, try the ASWB and/or Google (and, if you're feeling generous, post helpful links in comments.)) So, here goes...
 
First, figure out that an LCSW's really what you're looking to get. Check out other options: MFT, PsyD, PhD. Note that MFTs need internship hours with kids, families, and adults--hard to get at one job. Note that a PsyD and PhD take a lot of money and time. Arrive at your decision: social work.
 
Find a school. (CA accredited list is here.) I went to USC. It was nearby, they didn't require a GRE, didn't have a statistics prerequisite, and they let me in.
 
Get your MSW. Maybe try learning something along the way. It's nice to have challenging, inspiring teachers and internship supervisors, but...doesn't always happen.
 
Got your Master's? Congratulations! Celebrate good times. Done? Now, you need hours. 3200 of them in California. If you haven't already, time to find a job. Try careerbuilder, try craigslist, try anything you can think of. Time to be a social worker. And don't forget to register with the BBS (or whoever it is in your state) as an ASW (or whatever it is in your state).
 
Work. Accrue hours. Get supervised. Check with your licensing board and make sure you're getting the right kind of hours supervised by the right kind of supervisor (some % has to be sup'd by an LCSW--at least in CA). Hint: Getting on top of signatures for hours and such early will save you panic later on. Most people wait and panic, though.
 
3200 working hours pass (about two years). Done? Wow, congratulations again. Get your CEs done. Now, time to get your application in. This is potentially nerve wracking. You've put years into this, and if they nix your hours, it's a bummer. So...do it right. Check it with someone else. Don't fuss getting it too, too perfect. But don't fudge things either. Your licensing board wants to okay your app. Don't give them a reason not to.
 
Approved? Celebrate some more. Now, it's test prep time. This takes a while and can get really expensive. Survey what's out there. Try out practice questions. If you can afford it, choose a test-prep company (hopefully, this one!). Probably worth it. 
 
Once you've picked a company, choose components--books, CDs, workshops, etc. Ebay and craigslist sometimes have used materials. Free and helpful audio is available on the web. Most crucial, I think, are the online test banks. Seems like it'd be tough to prep without them.
Study. Run the questions. Read through this blog. Gather in groups. Maybe hire a consultant. Keep in mind: the people putting together the test probably just want to make sure you don't do harm to clients. That means you need to know the law, have a grasp of social work ethics, can do assessments (especially for danger and basic needs), and won't try to work outside the scope of practice. If you've got that stuff down, you're most (maybe all) of the way there.
You've also got to learn the test, which is why the practice questions come in handy. Run complete exams in real time. Four hours! Two hours! Take breaks just like you will for the actual, factual test.
 
And keep tabs on your anxiety. Maybe take advice you've been ignoring--exercise, eat a little better, meditate--at least till you get through the test. Maybe try to enjoy the learning process. The test result is just a result; but studying, you're getting better at what you do every day.
 
Done all that? Feel ready? Great, then you're ready. Book the test (in CA, call PSI). Take the test. Pass the test...
 
You're done. Nice job. Celebrate again.
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