Ethical Standards for Clinical Social Workers

Clinical Social Workers have standards for ethical practice based on the regulations of the social work boards in their licensing jurisdictions. Information on these standards can be found at the following links:

Many clinical social workers also subscribe to the codes of ethics of professional organizations with which they are affiliated.


A Guide to Clinical Social Work Credentials

Clinical social workers provide diagnosis, treatment, and preventive services for all mental health disorders, and are responsible for between 40% and 50% of all psychotherapy in the United States. Standards for training and licensure in clinical social work are similar to, and in some cases stronger than, those of psychologists, mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, and psychiatric nurses.

All members of the Therapist Finder System of the Greater Washington Society for Clinical Social Work are licensed at the highest social work level in the jurisdictions in which they practice. All hold the Master's Degree in Social Work (MSW) or its equivalent.

Academic Credentials

The primary credential for practice in clinical social work is the MSW, which represents two years of classroom study and, in each year, an intensive supervised internship. Master of Social Science (MSS) and Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW) degrees are equivalent to the MSW.

Some of our Therapist Finder System members, in addition to the MSW, hold a doctorate degree. This may be a Doctor of Social Work (DSW), or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in social work, psychology, counseling, education or in an unrelated field.


Requirements for licensure as independent clinical social workers in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia are the MSW (or equivalent) degree, a comprehensive examination, and completion of at least two years of post-graduate fulltime supervised practice, most often in a social service agency or health care facility.

The specific licenses for independent clinical practice in Metropolitan Washington jurisdictions are as follows:

District of Columbia:

LICSW Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker

To check the credentials of a District of Columbia Social Worker go to:


LCSW-C Licensed Certified Social Worker - Clinical

The Maryland license for an experienced MSW social worker whose focus may not be in the clinical or mental health arena is Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW)

To check the credentials of a Maryland Social Worker go to:


LCSW Licensed Clinical Social Worker

To check the credentials of a Virginia Social Worker go to:

In all three jurisdictions, there are lower levels of social work licensing for social workers without graduate degrees and/or sufficient hours of post-degree supervised practice (LGSW, LSW, LSWA, ASW). Social workers licensed at these lower levels are not permitted to practice independently.

For More Information

For more information on licensing in each jurisdiction, contact the following:

District of Columbia:Board of Social Work, Health Professional Licensing Administration: Board of Social Work

Maryland:Board of Social Work Examiners

Virginia:Board of Social Work
PO Box 711 | Garrisonville, VA  22463 | 202-478-7638 |

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