Becoming a shrink: Affordable (online?) MSW programs
April 6, 2021 3:10 PM   Subscribe

1. Can you recommend affordable/accredited/respectable MSW programs that are either online or within ~60 miles of Providence? 2. LMHC just as good as MSW if I want to be a clinician? 3. Do online masters suck (MSWs in particular)? I took an online graduate course last year and the discussion board requirements drove me a little bonkers.

I am 41 and considering getting an MSW to practice clinical psychotherapy. This is something I’ve been thinking about for 15+ years and wish in retrospect that I had done it in lieu of my other graduate degree. I have a toddler and my partner and I may attempt to get pregnant again.

I have also considered counseling programs, but the LMHC seems less widely recognized than the MSW and my therapist friends generally push me towards social work for that reason.

I lost my job during the pandemic and am currently collecting unemployment. There’s a program
that would allow me (it seems) to continue to collect unemployment if I am enrolled in a full-time training program, so I’m eager to get started ASAP while I have the time and some income.

I live in Rhode Island where there’s one accredited MSW program that’s relatively affordable for state residents (ballpark of $35K). I missed the deadline to apply for a fall ’21 start so I’m considering Boston-based (I’m an hour from Boston) or online programs instead so that I don’t have to wait until ‘fall 22 to start the RI-based program. Of the Boston-based and online programs I’ve researched so far, they’re all in the range of $70K+; not impossible, but very intimidating price tag.

My questions: 1. Can you recommend affordable/accredited/respectable MSW programs that are either online or within ~60 miles of Providence? 2. There’s a good and affordable Master’s in Counseling program close to home where I could start this summer. LMHC just as good as MSW or would that be shortsighted? 3. Do online masters suck (MSWs in particular)? I took an online graduate course last year and the discussion board requirements drove me a little bonkers.
posted by AlmondEyes to Education (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
What about Bridgewater State University? I don't know a lot about how well-respected it is but it's accredited, it's only ~40 miles from Providence, and it looks like it's a 62 credit program at $475/credit, which would be in your ballpark for price.
posted by mskyle at 3:54 PM on April 6

My wife is an MSW. My personal therapist is an LMHC. I get the sense that it’s six of one half dozen of the other thing. There might be differences in billing rates, but in terms of professional prestige, they’re both fine.

I don’t get the sense that the name on the diploma matters very much, especially once you’re independently licensed. Online is probably fine as long as it’s accredited.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:07 PM on April 6

Oh boy. I just got my MSW in December so you better believe I have Thoughts about this.

-LMHP vs. MSW: as others have noted to you, MSW will be a more flexible and respected degree than a straight counseling degree particularly if you might want to get into public policy or some specialties beyond counseling.

Check your state board of social work examiners' site for the process (or talk to an admissions counselor at a school. Supervision requirements are typically several years (x number of hours) between your master's and being able to practice and bill independently. I'm not sure what the requirements are for counseling but that is something to keep in mind.

I went to a pretty well known private school and while that degree looks nice on paper ("Oh, you got an MSW from _____, oooo pretty") part of me wishes I'd looked more at state schools or the flagship state university. I don't think the value I got justified the double tuition cost, particularly as nope I will not be going into academia, thanks. And I think I'd've had a more diverse cohort which I think would've contributed to learning more than my nice but mostly very much white upper-middle-class fellow students.

Having just graduated in December I got to deal with the whole chaotic transition to online and then sorta back but sorta not et cetera. Partly it's up to your personality and learning style, but I'd consider online very cautiously before going down that route. A lot of social work (and I assume a counseling degree as well) is about inculcating the standards of the profession (and questioning them) within the context of a community, and unlike more academic or "objective" fields of study I think it's a lot harder to do this over Zoom and Canvas or whatever. You just don't get that back-and-forth talk and that quality of discussion online.

Given that you'd have a bit of time before your program would start, you might look into your chosen institution's core reqs. I had to take a Stats class and some other cores that I might have been able to get waived by taking it before at an undergrad or community college. That would've saved some money and stress.

Good luck!
posted by tivalasvegas at 4:18 PM on April 6

Regarding the question of Masters in SW vs Masters in Counseling to be a therapist, I do think this varies a bit state by state. In my state, PA, specifically Philadelphia, an LCSW is slightly preferred to an LPC (licensed professional counselor, what it's called in PA) for therapy jobs as far as I can tell (I am a therapist working towards an LPC). However, I have heard in other states that it's the opposite. As far as the training for each degree, I think it's very similar. I work with therapists with both Master's in SW as well as Counseling and we all seem to have had very similar training. Licensure requirements are pretty much the same too.

One small thing is that the two licenses have a few slightly different regulations/ethical standards- one example is that in social work, "once a client, always a client" (you are never permitted to befriend a former client). For licensed counselors, it is considered ethically okay after a period of time (determined by what state your license is in). That's just one example, but it may be worth looking over what each license entails and how the regulations differ. Generally, they are very similar, however.
posted by bearette at 5:05 PM on April 6

Just to add- most jobs hiring specifically for a therapist don't care whether you are have a master's in clinical social work or counseling (at least in Philly). However, some jobs which are counselors or therapists in schools or other non-agency or non-private-practice settings, seem to sometimes prefer the MSW degree/social work license. And if you are considering a non-therapist job that's in social services, the SW degree would probably be preferred, at least in PA. But a counseling degree is also accepted for various non-therapy jobs.
posted by bearette at 5:07 PM on April 6

I have an MSW from Simmons in Boston. I loved my program because it was super clinically focused and I enjoyed my classes, cohort, and faculty. I did take some more macro-focused courses, but most of my program was specifically geared toward clinical social work, so I took, e.g., a CBT class, a trauma therapy class, an assessment and diagnosis class, among others. One drawback I was warned about before choosing my program was that a cheaper, more macro-social-work-focused program would technically give me an MSW, but I'd be playing catch-up in terms of learning therapy skills after graduation. Overall, I'm really happy with the clinical education I received through Simmons, but I had a spouse who was employed full-time, we had free housing, and we don't have kids, so the private tuition was easier for us to swing. If the MSW program(s) you can afford* aren't clinically focused, definitely consider other degrees. I've worked with LPCs, MFTs, and LMHCs during my internships and since graduating, and I think the emphasis on social work is... misguided. Certainly check for specific concerns regarding your state/region, and think through whether there are specialties within social work (medical social work?) that might be of interest to you. But if you just want to be a therapist? Pick a good clinical program based on how well it prepares therapists first and foremost, rather than prioritizing an MSW over another degree.

*Keep in mind that your first job out of grad school will be where you're accumulating clinical hours and supervision for licensure. These are very often poorly-compensated relative to what you spent on grad school.
posted by theotherdurassister at 6:11 PM on April 6 [1 favorite]

One thing to consider licensing-wise is that clinical social workers have more portability from state-to-state, with many states offering reciprocity for licenses granted in other states. With a master's in counseling, my understanding is that transferring licenses between states is much trickier due to more divergent licensing requirements/lack of reciprocity laws. If you're planning to remain in RI, it'd be a non-factor, but if you think you might move to/practice in a different state, then an MSW offers at least one practical advantage.
posted by obliterati at 6:27 PM on April 6

Here’s something to consider: if you’re highly likely to stay in RI, you can get whatever degree you want. If you’re likely to move to a specific new state, compare the licensure requirements for out of state LCSWs, LMFTs, LPCs, and LMHCs, and choose your degree program based on which license is going to serve you best moving from RI to that state (but keep in mind, if you know you only need X supervision hours in RI, but you need X + 20 in the other state, you can collect extra supervision hours in RI while you’re working toward RI licensure). If you’re likely to move out of state but have flexibility, I’d say choose the degree program you like and can afford. Worst case, you can almost certainly do teletherapy with clients in RI while you sort out licensure in your new state. There are some places (ahem, CA) that make licensure difficult for out of state therapists, but in general if you get a degree through an accredited program, get licensed in RI, and maintain that license for five years or more, there’s going to be a way for you to be licensed in most, if not all states.
posted by theotherdurassister at 9:05 PM on April 6

I did an online MSW and it was the right fit for me. It was asynchronous and fit with my work schedule, which were my’s a big name (expensive) school but I chose it because I needed the scheduling flexibility. If you have a good school at a good price, go there! The name on the paper really doesn’t matter. It was totally doable, not sucky at all except in the way that going back to school after years away sucks. One thing to seriously consider is where you’ll do your internship and if the online program will help you find one. As an online student in a different state from the school, I was totally on my own to find a 2 year field placement.

Grad school was 2 years and getting the LCSW license has been another 2-2.5 years, but when done I’ll be at the highest level of licensure for my field and it’s portable in that any other state with an LCSW has some sort of pathway to licensure for me (but I’m in one of those states where the requirements are more significant to start with). Happy to memail if you’d like to talk more about online grad school.
posted by assenav at 9:49 PM on April 6

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