Certification Frequently Asked Questions

What is the ABCSW? The American Board of Clinical Social Work (ABCSW), founded in 1987, is a national education, advocacy and credentialing organization created by and for the profession of Clinical Social Work. The ABCSW’s main purposes are to issue advanced credentials to Clinical Social Workers based on uniform national standards of practice, and to educate the public and various audiences about the value of these certifications and the services of those who hold them.

What are the ABCSW's certifications? Board certification at a high level of practice is essential to every healthcare profession - without it, it is impossible to establish the standards by which competent practitioners may be identified. The ABCSW offers certifications for advanced practice, all of which may be achieved by a process relying on clinical experience and evaluations by professional peers. Certifications are offered in the following categories of Clinical Social Work:

What is the BCD certification? The Board Certified Diplomate in Clinical Social Work (BCD) is an advanced practice certification embodying the highest standards of clinical education, training, and experience. Its standards are at the core of the ABCSW’s three other certifications. Clinical social workers must meet the following criteria (summarized) to be eligible for the BCD:

  • Master’s degree in social work with coursework and fieldwork focused on direct practice
  • State licensure at the highest clinical level available in the state(s) where the clinician practices unless exempted by law or terms of government employment
  • Five years/7,500 hours’ post-graduate clinical social work practice, including 3,000 hours under supervision (1,500 hours supervised by a clinical social worker)
  • 40 hours of clinical continuing education in the past three years, with 20 hours in the past 12 months (except in states that do not require CE as a matter of licensure)
  • Since 1997, successful completion of an application process with clinical peer evaluations.

BCD clinicians recertify annually on the basis of currency of direct practice, 20 hours of continuing clinical education, maintenance of state licensure (where applicable) in good standing and adherence to ABCSW’s Code of Ethics.

What does the BCD do for clinical social workers? The BCD permits an advanced practitioner to stand apart from other licensees - to be identified with a national mark of excellence in clinical social work practice. Beyond professional recognition, those who hold the BCD qualify for referrals and other reimbursable opportunities, discount benefits (including HPSO liability insurance), distinction in court and university settings and recognition as meeting national standards for quality-of-care set by the healthcare industry. The ABCSW’s annual recertification of all its certificants gives them preferred status in the marketplace.

Why does a state-licensed clinician need the BCD? The BCD is a national certification issued by the profession as a mark of prestige and competence rather than by the state (as with licenses) as a way to protect the public. The BCD crosses all state lines with a uniform set of advanced criteria - any user-system with a national or regional scope will have a keen interest in the BCD. Licensure criteria are variable and pitched at the entry level of practice; by contrast, the BCD embodies uniform standards and is a means of distinguishing high levels of practice competence. Few state regulatory agencies publish their databases and none markets them. The ABCSW publishes profiles of all BCD clinicians in the online BCD Directory.

What are the ABCSW's online information services? The ABCSW maintains the following internet-based services:

  • Directory of BCD practitioners
  • Application for certifications
  • Recertification for certificants
What is primary-source verification? Primary-source verification (of official transcripts, licensure, etc.) is a process by which board-certified clinical social workers have their qualifications confirmed and their capabilities recognized. The ABCSW provides third parties with formal “real time” verification of the status of certificants, consistent with the criteria of NCQA, URAC, JCAHO and other standard-setting healthcare entities.