Licensed vs Unlicensed Social Worker – Scope of Practice & Opportunities

Can you work as a social worker without a license?

What can an unlicensed social worker do? What does a licensed social worker do? Here, we make critical comparisons between licensed and unlicensed social workers.

As you read, you’ll be able to identify the key differences, thus understanding the benefits of obtaining a social work license.

Licensed vs. Unlicensed Social Work Practice

Social work offers a valuable service to communities as it helps achieve various objectives while working with families and institutions.

This discipline helps advance and provide Medicaid and Medicare, workers’ compensation, reduced mental health stigma, and child abuse & neglect prevention.

Other objectives of social work include helping to advance disability pay, promoting civil rights, and providing unemployment insurance, among many others.

While that is true, there may be limitations to the degree of practice depending on whether a social worker is licensed.

This is what we seek to find out.

The Purpose of Social Work Licensure

Before comparing licensed V.s and unlicensed social workers, we must first understand the purpose of licensure.

Social work licensing provides a code of ethics and conduct for practitioners to abide by—a violation of these leads to sanctions or disciplinary action.

States place such licensing requirements to protect their residents. Now, social work licensing may vary from one state to the next.

They’re hardly the same; licensing requirements may depend on the level of education, hours of clinical practice, and other conditions.

Social work licensing requirements may become confusing due to variations in conditions. An easier way to get relevant information is to visit The Association of Social Work Boards for details about your state.

All you have to do is select a state or province to get started.

Licensed Vs. Unlicensed Social Worker

This is where we look closely at the differences between licensed and unlicensed social workers.

Here, the significant difference is licensure and what privileges it confers on social workers. Also, what can unlicensed social workers do?

Are they allowed to practice? Let’s find out.

i. Unlicensed Social Worker

Is it possible to practice as an unlicensed social worker? Absolutely! There are vital roles you can perform as an unlicensed social worker.

Social workers without a license can still provide supervised services to clients. There are different scenarios when working as an unlicensed social worker.

In some situations, unlicensed social workers may be working to gain the necessary experience to earn a license. This is one licensing route with specific limited responsibilities requiring performing supervised roles or activities.

Under this type of arrangement, the social work services allowed unlicensed social workers, including helping people access certain services, participating in a support session, and conducting client needs assessments, amongst other minimal roles.

You may find employment as a human services assistant or a case worker as an unlicensed social worker.

However, some states have no licensing requirements for social workers. Unlicensed social workers may be allowed to practice full-time without restrictions in such places.

It’s necessary, though, to state that most employers prefer licensed social workers. Sometimes, you may be allowed to work with an organization as an unlicensed social worker.

However, this will come with a timeframe to obtain a license.

ii. Licensed Social Worker

Unlike unlicensed social workers, licensed social workers are allowed to practice fully.

Here, you’re not limited by licensure requirements as you’re not limited to pursuing a fulfilling career in your chosen area of specialization.

You can practice direct or clinical social work as a full-fledged or licensed social worker.

iii. Direct Social Work

Licensed social workers engaged in direct practice work in various private and public organizations identify persons in need and respond to clients in crises.

Other roles you’re likely to perform under direct practice include advocating for client well-being while developing plans to help attain such objectives.

Also, you get to help people of all age groups solve everyday problems.

You’ll also be involved with individuals, families, and groups while researching and referring clients to community resources.

iv. Clinical Social Work

Under clinical social work, licensed social workers handle all responsibilities, including instructing client families during treatment.

Other roles include observing client behavior and assessing their needs while creating treatment strategies.

You’ll also administer social service programs and diagnose psychological, emotional, and behavioral disorders.

As a licensed social worker involved in clinical social work practice, you must consult with medical professionals like doctors and therapists.

What more? Licensed social workers get to develop and put treatment plans in place. All of these roles are essential and performed by licensed social workers.

Sometimes, you may find unlicensed social workers performing similar roles in states that don’t require licensing.

Should I get licensed as a Social Worker?

We’ve stated earlier that most states have licensure requirements for social workers.

While being unlicensed still allows you to practice, albeit in a limited role, getting licensed gives you an edge. With a license, you have more freedom to practice.

If you aren’t currently licensed as a social worker, you may want to include that as part of your objective while applying for existing opportunities.

While doing that, you can visit The Association of Social Work Boards to find out the licensing requirements for your state.

Possible Career Paths for Licensed & Unlicensed Social Workers

There are several career paths open to licensed social workers. Some of these can be occupied by unlicensed social workers, too.

Examples of these careers include case manager, addiction social worker, child welfare social worker, child social worker, and corrections social worker.

Others include clinical social workers, disability social workers, court liaisons, forensic social workers, and family social workers.

More career opportunities include health social worker, senior social worker, international social worker, hospital social worker, outreach worker, military social worker, etc.

Having discussed the differences between licensed and unlicensed social workers, you should have a clear idea of the pros and cons of each.