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  • aghinshaw

5 Mistakes I Made While Getting My LCSW

Updated: Jun 1

As of this writing, it’s been 2 years and 3 months since my license “anniversary”. (Yay!) A frequent question I get from folks in the field is what steps I took to make sure that I got licensed.

An area that I think gets overlooked is what one shouldn’t do when working towards my license. The BBS has several requirements, and the laws may (and will) change. The field itself may also overwork us to the point where we might not get to organizing our application until years later. And then we might get a BBS rejection letter because we forgot something(s).

In this post, I’ll go over some of the mistakes I made in this process so that (hopefully) you won’t have to learn the hard way. I’ll also offer some recommendations on how to best mitigate these mistakes if you’re at risk of making them. My goal is that this will help people in the field to become licensed more efficiently and with as little stress as possible.

Mistake 1: Not documenting or getting organized from the beginning

I’ll go into more detail in Mistakes 2 and 3 on how procrastination did not serve me well. :) But I would say my initial mistake was not getting organized or developing a plan for getting licensed. After graduating, it takes at least two years to get licensed, so it feels like a far away goal that you don’t have to worry about for a while. Initially, I was just grateful to have a job. I also found myself “too busy” to worry about keeping track of what I needed for my license.

However, not getting organized meant that I was not keeping accurate track of my clinical hours. It also meant that I lost valuable hours that I did not count. I had to re-do some continuing education units because I wasn’t keeping track of ones I had completed (either through my school or through job training).

Recommendation: Keep track of all your required documentation in a binder (either hardcopy, electronic, or both). It’s good to keep it all in one spot for easy reference. Organize your documents by category: hours tracking, continuing education certifications, signed supervision agreements, etc. Gather information regarding BBS licensing requirements. I’d even recommend setting up action steps and deadlines for these requirements to measure progress and keep you on track.

Mistake 2: Not regularly tracking my clinical hours

After I had graduated from my MSW program in 2014, I had to wait for my official transcript to post before I could get my associate number from the BBS. This took five months from the time that I had graduated to actually posting. (Unfortunately I’ve heard from other people that theirs took longer!)

During this time, none of my clinical hours could count towards my license, so I didn’t bother. After getting my BBS number...I still didn’t bother. I had been passively tracking my clinical supervision hours in my calendar and relied on reports from the electronic record system at the clinic I worked at.

Months later when I had finally gotten around to actually tracking my hours, the task was much harder and more daunting because I had procrastinated. It took me about a month to get fully up-to-date. Even then, I’m sure I hadn’t captured everything simply because I couldn’t remember! This habit pushed my licensing date further out than necessary.

Recommendation: Stick to regularly tracking hours daily and/or weekly. I recommend daily if you can, but I know folks get busy. At the very least, aim to review your clinical hours log weekly to capture all of your clinical time and supervision. This will put you in a much better position to catch anything you may have missed more immediately.

Mistake 3: Not regularly tracking supervision hours

During my time as an ACSW, I had only two clinical supervisors: an LMFT and an LCSW. Per BBS guidelines, an ASW can only claim a maximum of 1,200 hours under a non-LCSW supervisor. When I first got hired, my clinic assigned me to an LMFT because she had more availability than the LCSW at the time, so it was agreed that I would switch once I’d maxed out on the 1,200-hour requirement.

Around the time that I’d finally gotten up-to-date with tracking all of my hours, I’d realized that I had over 1,400 hours under my belt. However, I was only able to count 1,200 because these hours were completed under LMFT supervision. So, over 200 hours were lost.

I notified my supervisor and they switched me to the LCSW supervisor so that I could legally get on track towards counting my hours. Still, it was a painful loss and a hard lesson to learn!

Recommendation: Track regularly and keep BBS requirements in mind. In addition to keeping track of progress towards your hours, do yourself a huge favor and make sure that the hours that you’re earning actually count! I’d also recommend regularly getting your hours signed off just in case something happens (such as a supervisor suddenly being unavailable).

Mistake 4: Not staying up-to-date on legal changes

In 2016, a law passed mandating that anyone registered as an ASW must pass the CA Law & Ethics exam in order to renew their registration. When attempting to renew around the time of this change, I received a notice saying that I could not renew because I had not yet taken/passed the exam.

In order for me to not lapse, I ended up spending a few weekends CRAMMING for the exam as I had scheduled it on such short notice. It was incredibly stressful and not an experience I’d recommend to anyone.

Recommendation: Stay informed of new laws. Some services (such as TrackYourHours) are pretty good about informing therapists of legal changes if you have a membership with them. Other therapists may rely on their supervisor, groups, or other organizations to get their information. No matter what, verify that you are working with up-to-date legal information to avoid a licensing lapse.

Mistake 5: Not budgeting for the exam and study materials

The exam process is expensive. The test, the BBS application, study adds up pretty quickly! No joke, you can easily spend hundreds of dollars during this process. At the time of this writing, the exam fee is $260. If you do pass, licensing costs $120 (which you’ll likely submit to BBS right after passing). If you’re springing for study materials (Therapist Development Center is the reason I passed!), that’s another $250-$300.

While it’s easy for me now to say that it was worth every penny (I am licensed, after all), the reality is that unlicensed social workers don’t make that much money. The exam process is stressful enough. Spending lots of money towards it can make it harder.

Recommendation: Start saving early for the exam. In addition to other costs I haven’t mentioned, such as continuing education units, it’s wise to regularly set aside money specifically for the exam. (Saving $20-$30 per month for at least two years will be a huge help!) It sucks, but try to look at it as a career investment. You will be much more marketable as an LCSW.

Questions for readers:

  • If you are licensed, do you care to share any mistakes you’ve made? What advice would you provide to those getting licensed?

  • If you are on your way towards getting licensed, what is helping you on your journey? What advice would you offer to your colleagues?

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