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  • NASW-IL Staff

Ask NASW-IL: Can I see clients as a social work student or graduate but before I get my LSW/LCSW?

Updated: Apr 4


NASW-Illinois Chapter membership dollars help us to devote staff time to provide clarification around many commonly asked questions about social work practice. As the largest membership association in Illinois advocating on behalf of social workers, consider adding your support to our efforts and join/renew your NASW membership today.

 

With many new BSW and MSW social work students graduating and entering the workforce this spring, questions arise around whether they can begin practicing as social workers, i.e., seeing clients. Please read on to understand the scope of practice as a pre-licensed individual as well as the nuances around exemptions.

 

All licensed social workers (LSWs) and licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) are regulated by the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation (IDFPR) which licenses and regulates all licensed professions in the state of Illinois. According to the Clinical Social Work and Social Work Practice Act which sets the standards and rules for the profession:

 

(a) No person shall, without a currently valid license as a social worker issued by the Department: (i) in any manner hold himself or herself out to the public as a social worker under this Act; (ii) use the title "social worker" or "licensed social worker"; or (iii) offer to render social work services if the words "social work" or "licensed social worker" are used to describe the person offering to render or rendering the services or to describe the services rendered or offered to be rendered.

 

(b) No person shall, without a currently valid license as a clinical social worker issued by the Department: (i) in any manner hold himself or herself out to the public as a clinical social worker or licensed clinical social worker under this Act; (ii) use the title "clinical social worker" or "licensed clinical social worker"; or (iii) offer to render clinical social work services if the words "licensed clinical social worker" or "clinical social work" are used to describe the person to render or rendering the services or to describe the services rendered or offered to be rendered.

 

This means that any person without an LSW cannot call themselves a “social worker” or “licensed social worker”; nor can a person without an LCSW call themselves a “clinical social worker” or “licensed clinical social worker.” As such, they also cannot provide social work services or clinical social work services as an LSW or LCSW. Being that graduation is also a pre-requisite for obtaining your LSW or LCSW in Illinois (see our “Licensure Steps” page for steps to getting your LSW or LCSW license), students who are still enrolled in school cannot see clients or provide social work services in Illinois until they have obtained their social work license.

 

That said, there are exemptions to this rule (Section 4). While title protection protects the profession of social work from being practiced by anyone without a social work license, the exemptions allow for students and post-graduates to gain experience in the profession while under supervision of a licensed individual.

 

One exemption allows for students to gain professional work experience while working in an internship program under direct supervision of an individual. This allows for students “pursuing a course of professional education under the terms of the Act” to practice “if these activities and services constitute a part of such student's supervised course of study.” The exemption allows for students to provide social work practice if they are enrolled in school and have a standing agreement with their school and an employer for supervised social work practice. However, this exemption ends once the student has graduated. Until that student receives their LSW, they cannot resume social work practice with clients.

 

Another exemption is for individuals who are practicing to obtain experience with the aim of applying those hours toward licensure. This may be someone who graduated with their BSW but is not yet licensed as an LSW or they may be an MSW graduate obtaining their 3,000 hours in supervised clinical professional experience for clinical licensure (LCSW). For both of these individuals, they may practice social work so long as that work is obtained as experience for licensure as a social worker or clinical social worker “provided the person is designated by a title that clearly indicates training status.” Additionally, as a BSW obtaining supervision for the LSW or an MSW obtaining supervised clinical professional experience for the LCSW, you must also be meeting with an approved supervisor for at least 4 hours per month to discuss client cases and treatment procedures. For more about what qualifies for supervision experience, who is an approved supervisor for either license, and more, visit our Supervision page. But in short, to practice under this exemption, you must be obtaining practice hours toward a license with a clearly designated title that indicates your status as a trainee.

 

Outside of either of the exemptions listed above, unless you are licensed as an LSW or LCSW, you may not practice social work.

 

Have More Questions? If you have more questions about practice, contact the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation (IDFPR) as well as a legal advisor to ensure (in writing) that you and your work are protected.


The NASW-Illinois Chapter website also has a plethora of free information relating to social work, from supervision requirements, the licensing process, testing procedures, and more. Go to the NASW-IL Licensure page to read more.


Membership dollars help provide us the time and staff to research, review, and provide clarification around rules and laws that affect the social work profession and your practice. Help us keep this service going by by JOINING or RENEWING your NASW membership today!

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