Summary of Licensure Tips
Continuing Education - Continuing education is an area of clinical social work licensure laws where there is significant variation. Only three states do not require continuing education including Colorado, Hawaii, and New York. There are four states that require less than 30 continuing education hours every two years; 22 states that require from 30-36 hours of continuing education every two years; 16 states that require between 37-45 hours of continuing education every two years; and 7 states that require more than 45 hours of continuing education every two In addition, there are 23 states that require 3-6 hours of continuing education in ethics every two years and 4 states that require 1-2 hours of continuing education in ethics every 2 years. Finally there are three states that require 3-6 hours of continuing education in cultural competency, including Alaska, New Mexico, and Rhode Island. There are also continuing education requirements in one or two states on substance abuse, HIV/AIDS training, domestic violence, medical errors, and diagnosis and treatment. The fact that the continuing education requirements in place vary from 24 hours every two years to 50 hours every two years, from no hours to 8 hours in ethics every two years, and have only a handful of requirements for cultural competency and other areas, suggests that there is a need to review the basis for determining what standards would really provide the kind of continuing education that LCSWs need for continued learning.
Record Keeping - Since HIPAA passed in 2003, there has been increasing confusion about how long clinicians should keep records following the termination of treatment. There are usually state laws about record retention as well as Medicare and HIPAA Laws. Currently Medicare requires that records be retained for 5 years; HIPAA for 6 years; and clinical social work state laws and rules require retention anywhere from 3 to 8 years. Be sure to check your state to make sure you are in compliance on record retention for clinical social workers; it is common for mental health disciplines in a given state to vary on record retention requirements as well, so do not use the standards of another discipline. In addition, the prudent clinician will make sure that record disposal is in compliance with HIPAA requirements, meaning that paper records are shredded to microscopic bits and that computer hard drives are totally cleaned.
Disciplinary Processes - Having a complaint filed against you as an LCSW is very disturbing, but it can happen to any of us. State social work boards are required to investigate complaints which rise to the level of potential harm to a client. However, you have rights in the disciplinary process as well. You should be notified of the complaint, be given adequate time to review records, and be given time to develop a legal defense, if needed. Only in cases where imminent flagrant harm to clients is a possibility should you be subjected to psychological evaluation, drug screening, or other extreme procedures. Boards should have clear guidelines in Statute or Rule about the way a complaint is investigated. The oversight agency should be notified if the Board does not adhere to the laws and rules in place for the investigation of a complaint against a licensed clinical social worker.
Practice Laws and Title Laws - These are the two general categories of licensure laws. Practice laws regulate what clinical social workers do, i.e., the scope of practice; title laws regulate the title used, i.e., Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Having a licensure law that protects title and practice is the best way to protect clinical social work, meaning people must meet licensure standards to practice clinical social work and to use the licensed clinical social work title. Check your state licensure law to make sure it includes both practice and title protection.
Experience and Supervision Standards - Experience and Supervision Standards for becoming a licensed clinical social worker vary from 3000-4000 supervised hours over two or three years, with 90-150 hours of individual supervision. A good standard is one that is toward the higher end of these categories. Higher standards serve three purposes: 1) higher standards allow for more reciprocity with other states that have higher standards in place; 2) higher standards reflect well on clinical social workers in a given state; and 3) higher standards give clinical social workers more comparability with the training of psychologists and other mental health clinicians.
Scope of Practice Language – Language is a key factor in all clinical social work laws and rules, but the most important language is in your Scope of Practice. Without the wording “LCSWs/LICSWs have the right to diagnose all emotional disorders”, and “LCSWs/LICSWs have the right to conduct psychotherapy”, your practice could be at risk. Periodic challenges to our ability to diagnose or conduct psychotherapy have occurred every few years in a variety of states. Make sure your law protects your right to diagnose and conduct psychotherapy in independent practice.