With a 37 percent projected growth rate through the year 2020, mental health counselors are in demand, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The mental health field includes an array of different positions, including licensed professional counselors -- or LPCs -- social workers and other types of therapists. If you're already an LPC, but wish to work as a licensed social worker -- or LSW -- you may need to complete a Master's of Social Work program to earn your credential.
Depending on your state's licensing requirements, you'll need to fulfill specific education requirements to become an LPC. It's likely that you'll need a minimum of a master's-level degree in professional counseling, psychology or a related field to apply for your LPC credential. For example, the North Carolina Board of Licensed Professional Counselors requires that all in-state LPCs have a master's degree with coursework in specific areas such as the counseling profession, research methods, human growth and development, social and cultural foundations, appraisal, counseling theories and techniques, internship, group work and career, vocational or lifestyle development.
Social Work Curriculum
Before you jump into an MSW program, understanding what the curriculum includes can help you to make the decision to go from an LPC to an LSW. Most MSW programs include required classes in human development, counseling, assessment and cultural studies, so there will be overlap with subjects you are already familiar with. For example, the New York University's Silver School of Social Work's MSW program includes courses in human behavior, social work practice, special welfare programs, research, diversity and populations at risk, along with field work or internship opportunities.
Head to the Top of the Class
Switching from an LPC to an LSW doesn't necessarily mean completely starting over. Given that you already have a master's degree in a related therapy area, your social work school may give you credit for courses that you have already completed. This may come in the form of advanced standing, allowing you to put credits that you already have toward your MSW. Additionally, if you have an undergraduate degree in social work already, you may also receive advanced standing in some programs. For example, the Boston University School of Social Work gives students with a BSW and a 3.0 grade point average or higher up to 24 credits toward an MSW under their advanced standing policies, which can reduce the amount of time and money needed to complete the MSW program.
Social Work Specifics
Just because you have already taken a research class doesn't mean that your MSW program will automatically give you credit for it. LPCs may have taken courses that aren't specific to social work, making it necessary to take a similar course that has a social work focus. For example, the University of Pennsylvania requires MSW students to take "Introduction to Social Work Research." This class covers general research methodology as well as how social workers can use research to inform their practice or work in an academic environment. Likewise, other social work-specific courses may differ enough from those in your prior degree that you will need to retake them during your MSW studies.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists
- North Carolina Board of Licensed Professional Counselors: Licensed Professional Counselors
- New York University, Silver School of Social Work: MSW Curriculum
- Boston University School of Social Work: Advanced Standing
- University of Pennsylvania: MSW Program, Courses
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