#108 Exploring Licensed Clinical Social Work Careers with Shara Ruffin Transcript


Lisa Marker Robbins  01:05

In today’s episode, we have a special focus on a profession that profoundly impacts lives the career of a licensed clinical social worker, or LCSW as they are known. Our guest, a seasoned LCSW Shara Ruffin provides an in depth look at this vital field, we’ll explore the varied roles. LCSW is play from directing clinical counseling to working with organizations at a macro level influencing social policies. You’ll learn what it takes to pursue this career as we discussed the different educational paths, the crucial steps for licensure, and how residency impacts this whether you’re a parent guiding your college bound teen or a student curious about social work, this episode offers valuable insights will unravel the daily realities of LCS, W’s, the extensive scope of their work and the personal qualities that contribute to success in the field. It’s more than a career discussion. It’s an opportunity to understand a role that shapes and nurtures our society. I’m Lisa marker Robbins, and I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right in to a great conversation. Sorrow, welcome to the program. Thanks for joining us today for this career close up.


Shara Ruffin  02:30

Thank you for having me.


Lisa Marker Robbins  02:32

It’s a delight, wow, we don’t always do these career close ups. But we like to mythbuster and educate people on fields that there may be thinking of or haven’t even thought of, and they’re trying to figure out college major and career alignment. So when we talk about licensed clinical social worker, which commonly they just say, LCSW, right? Because it’s a mouthful to say, say it. What if you were to describe the job, the tasks, the duties, what somebody gets to do, what their purpose is, in that field, give us kind of an overview about the field, about the career. So


Shara Ruffin  03:20

social work is really a profession that’s really focused on well being and focus on individuals, groups, families, if you are focused on a clinical micro perspective of helping people directly, they call it direct practice. If you are someone that wants to work with weak, say, in a macro level, then you’re working with organizations, you’re working with entities that are dealing with society. Usually, if I had to think about for me, I was an microcrack. So more clinical counseling, doing clinical practice, or I’m working with people directly in some capacity, whether that’s in a medical field, or whether I’m in a political arena. Clinical Practice is more so dealing with people directly. But then there’s also macro when you’re dealing with more organizations and entities that are larger dealing with society in that way, but not directly with people. So social workers. That’s the overall they keep it very brief. Because when people hear social workers, they think of just taught welfare. And we do so much more that you can find us in every facet of society, I think. And it’s a job that I’ve loved since switching over to from psychology. So and I know that’s a story we’ll get into it. Well,


Lisa Marker Robbins  04:45

absolutely. I have a question on this micro macro and your reps. I think people when they think social work, they’re like, Oh, you’re stepping in to help maybe a neglected or abused child or Something like that. And you know, I even know I remember years ago, my dad’s sister, she had a brain tumor, she had brain cancer and suddenly had to get outside of her home. And there were other things to do. And like social workers were involved with that we had to have her in a home. So age wise, that runs the entire gamut from birth to end of life. I do think we all think about the micro and I’ll confess, like, I know, the macro side, but my brain also, even as a career coach defaults to that micro part in the therapy part, even things like that. What type of organizations would somebody who is, you know, on the macro side, like, give me an example of an organization that they might work with?


Shara Ruffin  05:51

So on the macro side, um, a lot of my friends I know, have worked in politics. So if I was thinking more on a macro, they’re usually working with more program planning or development. Organizations, it can vary. I know, Mac macro isn’t my forte, I can give you the overall, they’re either in policy development, advocacy, program planning, community organizing, which is why I think of politics, a grassroots organizations, they’re trying to implement social change through those entities. If that makes any sense. It makes a lot of sense. Yeah. And we meet those people legislative processes, things like that. I actually forgot to mention meds though most people don’t think of mental practice, which is kind of in between, you’re working with smaller communities, not necessarily in groups, rather than individuals as a whole. So you would find those people in neighborhoods, probably in schools, trying to think of other places. They’re usually facilitating a lot of immunity, organizational change, or works with groups of clients at a time. So


Lisa Marker Robbins  07:11

tell me if this would qualify as that I’m thinking like, at the high school level, if they have a social worker at the high school, they might have a group of students who have a grief group, or is a divorce care group for families that are navigating that would that be right? Yes. Okay, so we really have a whole continuum for one to one, which is where a lot of people’s minds go first, to small group to large organizations. Okay, great. What else should we know about the job or the day to day and I know you’re your specialty, you were formerly practice a therapist, working with clients one on one. And so that’s really your expertise. Let’s talk about because I know you can’t speak to really on the, the macros side their day to day, but let’s talk about the day to day of that, you know, the the two other groups are particularly the micro.


Shara Ruffin  08:15

So micro was my concentration, bachelor level as well as my master’s level. So I mostly wanted to become a therapist, which is why I switched from psychology. And I wanted to do it faster than having going through the doctoral route. So, and I didn’t want to do research, which is why I switch to social work from psychology. So, for me, the day to day, most of my work has been 18 years has been mostly indirectly in mental health, working nonprofit or for profit organizations or for hospitals. And my role is buried. I was doing discharge planning, I will be doing individual and group therapy, were there outpatient or inpatient? Working with people as young as 18, the oldest person ever work was 96 years old.


Lisa Marker Robbins  09:04

Oh my gosh. So it


Shara Ruffin  09:07

is a whole gamut. It ranged as well as the geographical location, enter and enter city as well as rural areas I’ve done both. Amazing.


Lisa Marker Robbins  09:17

Let me ask you a question. When I think about that you mentioned, you know, even working in hospitals working, you know, to discharge patients make sure they’re set up for their needs, I would assume is that’s part of it. Yeah, who do what are other fields that social licensed clinical social workers are coming into contact? Like, who are you collaborating with like? Or even elsewise? Yeah, go ahead. Psychiatrists,


Shara Ruffin  09:46

medical professionals, nurses, various types of if you’re in a hospital, you can probably run into a lot of different disciplines for me and my personal experience and working with hospitals. I’m mostly worked with psychiatrists, nurses, recreation therapists, different types of counselors, as well, as a psychologist, we worked as a team, if we were on a treatment plant team seeing the same client at different capacities, though, elixir was very helpful for me to learn how to work with different disciplines also learning a little bit about what they do, and how that may impact my client that I saw. So


Lisa Marker Robbins  10:25

another thing you know, I’m thinking of like your varied work history, which is amazing. So it gives us all sorts of insights. If somebody were just starting out, as an LCSW. Do you like, where should they look for like, is it easier to start out in a hospital setting or in an organization? Or is it better? To do one on one practice? Like, where should you really like start to get the best start? Or does it really depend?


Shara Ruffin  10:59

Well, I also wanted to, to interject here as well, before I get into that, yeah, to say that you don’t start out as a LCSW.


Lisa Marker Robbins  11:08

Right? Well, yeah. Well, maybe that actually, maybe we should go back and talk about because we, we want to talk about the path to get there. Right. Yeah. So So you went to Lock Haven University, which is a Pennsylvania public university, in the middle of the state, right? Yes. And you had three different college majors, because you didn’t necessarily have it figured out before you went, you said, you started out thinking you would be an attorney. And then you tried your hand at psychology, and then switch to social work. So okay, so let’s talk about so undergrad wise. If somebody decides, yes, I want to be an LCSW, do they have to have a social work degree,


Shara Ruffin  11:57

it would be better to have a social worker, you don’t necessarily have to have a bachelor’s in social work, I’ve had a lot of friends have their bachelor’s degree in something totally different. And go for them, you do need a master’s in social work to qualify for the licensure?


Lisa Marker Robbins  12:14

I have a question on that. So Well, that’s good to know that like it’s, so the field is open to a variety of undergraduate majors. Add, you said, you know, it might give you an advantage or a leg up, if you had your, your undergrad in social work, what is that advantage? That


Shara Ruffin  12:37

advantage would be is having direct knowledge of the field, the disconnect, when you get to grad school, that I some of my friends have experiences that they’re having to, especially when they get to the licensure, they’re having to make that connection, at a higher level, where a bachelor’s in social work gives you the foundation and understanding that you would need of the field is introduced, slower paced, it’s, it’s an introduction to the field, which is why I, when I’ve talked to people that are into social work, instead of getting a Bachelor of Social Work degree instead of a bachelor of psychology, or I’ve had people get another social science degree, it could, getting a master’s after that, you’ll still do well. But you may, you may have to lean more on your on the experience of your colleagues are, you know, really getting a lot of experience from your internship or field placement, to really get a grasp of the field it there’s a disconnect sometimes when you have a background in a different major other than social work


Lisa Marker Robbins  13:45

that Oh, I mean, that’s a perfect reason to say like figure it out before you go. So that yeah, that so that you really like you’re designing a course when we design a course with a compass with an end in mind. You know, your leg like you said, it’s going to be easier, it’s not impossible, the doors not close to this field if you have a different undergrad, but, you know, we talk a lot about like, what major Should I have, and there are some fields, like if you want to be a nurse, you got to get a major in nursing. I mean, there’s no other way in right? If you want to be a teacher, you have to have either a master’s or you know, an undergrad in education. So okay, so they get their bachelor’s and then there’s a required master’s degree is that a two year program and what is the master’s program like


Shara Ruffin  14:33

the master’s program, there are three tracks you can take. So there’s a two year full time. There’s three years part time and then there’s advanced standing. advanced standing is usually for people that have a bachelor’s in social work, and instead of them having to do a full two years they can do one year. Some programs are just three semesters. How are university where I went to get my Master’s is only three semesters, 15 credits a semester. And that’s it. So they really only took off one semester of coursework. Some schools like University of Pennsylvania, their advanced standing is one full year. And that’s it. So you can cut corners. I know when I decided I originally wanted to do two years because I was like, Oh, I’m so scared to do that there’s going to be so much work, but actually did pretty well. With advanced standing.


Lisa Marker Robbins  15:24

Excellent. So you go into the master’s program, those so for you the three semesters is it all classroom semesters, are you doing clinical hours as well. So you’re doing


Shara Ruffin  15:38

an hour to your pill placement that qualifies for your program. So depending on if you pick a two year program, the first year is usually your foundation, courses of social work. And then your second year is is more geared towards your concentration. Depending on the school, they may have different concentrations at Howard, from what I remember, this was a decade ago. So for me, I wasn’t going to be in the macro track because I wanted to be a therapist. So I chose the mental health concentration, however, has varied concentrations, I’m sure has changed over time. But you get to pick a concentration based on your career path that you want to take within that program.


Lisa Marker Robbins  16:22

And then that’ll depend on what your field experiences would look


Shara Ruffin  16:27

like, well, your field plays your Yeah, it’ll be really in your personal statement that you write, they kind of get an idea one if you even fit with the ideology or the program or the direction of the program, what their concentrations that you may pick. So for me, what my experience was, was when I chose actually chose three schools, I chose University of Penn temple. And Howard, I got an all three book financially. How was 30 grand? And at the time, Penn was their masters was 60,000 dogs. I was like, Oh, Jesus, all my doctorate. Yeah, so that was 10 years ago. It’s more expensive now than it was 10 years ago.


Lisa Marker Robbins  17:08

Yeah. I mean, that’s something that people really need to think about. I mean, yeah, when we’re working with individuals, trying to chart their path, you know, some of the things I say is, first of all, only, like 35 ish percent of Americans hold a bachelor’s degree. And it’s like less than half of that have a master’s degree. So the reality is, it is hard and is a lot of work. And you really need to begin with the end in mind. Are you wired? Do you have the grit? Do you have the desire to go to school for longer? Yes, you know, that is something to think about like this is you’ve got to know you’re going to school for six years ish,


Shara Ruffin  17:52

just about Yeah. The other piece I want to add is something I would definitely want the listeners to know. I graduated my Master’s at 24 years old. So I went straight back there was no waiting period I had applied my last semester I knew I was going back and because the MSW is the terminal degree in social work, you don’t need a doctor unless you’re going to need to research or you want to be in a on administration or you’re going to academic right up in you know, in academia. Some people go for the Practice degree, which is that’s a whole nother situation, PhD in social work and social welfare or a doctorate in clinical social work, which is a practice degree, and it’s not research focus. I knew that I’ll probably go back for a doctor and eventually one I didn’t want to spend as much money on a master’s but I just want to know if I could get into my dream school, which I did, but it was way too much money and I didn’t want to be that much in debt.


Lisa Marker Robbins  18:47

I talk a lot in here about being what consumer Yeah, you know, if you’re if this is the career path, no, explore what are the cost and obviously they very gray very important than Ivy League. Yeah, yeah. So


Shara Ruffin  19:04

is it you know, what’s your lifetime? Yeah, a lot of my friends went back. They went back years later for me, I’m like, Oh, my God hadn’t children in government. I couldn’t imagine doing that now. You know, my, my kids are older now. 1613 and nine, but I could probably go back now. But Jesus, I can’t imagine doing that with a baby ever had college, even clients that I’ve counseled that went back to school and they you look a child, I was like, Oh, Jesus, I can do it. There’s a level of time management prioritizing tasks at 20 something years old. I was I was still in school mode. And I knew that if I took a break, I may not go back right away. And I knew that the MSW was going to be I needed that degree to go further quickly. So I went ahead and just switch straight through it was done, and I’m glad I did because years later I have a lot of friends that went back later and it was harder. I have


Lisa Marker Robbins  20:01

a question for those friends like, yeah. So if you’re already like a mom and you have a house to take care of, and kids and all the things, but the friends who didn’t get their MSW to become an LCSW. Later, what job were they doing between undergrad and going back years later to get that MSW? Because they weren’t obviously doing therapy as an LCSW. So what were the common jobs that they held between bachelors and masters, it


Shara Ruffin  20:32

varied from what I remember. So it some of if they’re in a bachelor level, you’re limited in terms of what jobs are available to you, what you can do in the field has changed so much now that at least now that you have to have a license, even after that bachelor’s degree to be qualified to call yourself a social worker to even get opportunities now. So now there’s licensure requirements at every, every degree level as well, except for the doctorate. So at the bachelor level, a license in most states are now being required, not just the degree itself. So if you take away that license, then you’re making minimum salary.


Lisa Marker Robbins  21:10

So I Okay, so we’ve got we can’t like we’ve got about five minutes left to go. I can’t licensure, right. So this is your, like, expertise. This is your superstar. This because you actually have a course where you prep people for the LCSW licensure exam, correct?


Shara Ruffin  21:36

For all three, are all in all three different ones. Yep. Okay. So bachelor’s, master’s in clinical? Yes, I


Lisa Marker Robbins  21:43

  1. So let’s start with in this age for college admissions, if you have a 16 year old, so you’re gonna be gone through this very soon. Model B 17.


Shara Ruffin  21:51

On Monday.


Lisa Marker Robbins  21:53

Oh, my gosh. So if you are a horrible testing right now, test optional in college admissions has been somewhat popular. But this is a field where you’re going to have to take some tests to be able to pass some tests to be able to do the job. Yes, that’s true. Absolutely. Let’s talk about so you finish your bachelor’s, you’re not going to go straight into a master’s program. But in most states, you’re going to have to get take a licensure exam after your Bachelor’s to do any kind of social work. Yes. Tell us a little bit like do you take it right. As you graduate? What does it usually take? You should? Well,


Shara Ruffin  22:40

yeah, you should take it right after, the further out you are from your degree program. Life, you know kicks in and it gets harder to stay in that student mindset, especially with the exams are more knowledge based. So it’s important to take it as soon as you can at least give yourself a couple of months. Most students are now thinking about it the semester before they graduate that goes for the bachelors and a Masters.


Lisa Marker Robbins  23:08

And so how much time would you say in individuals, so they should be prepping for about a semester, take it right after graduation? How quickly do they find out if they passed and are now licensed to practice? Right


Shara Ruffin  23:20

at after they take the exam? So right there at the testing site, they find out? Okay,


Lisa Marker Robbins  23:26

and then I know that, particularly for LCSW, you are licensed by the state in which you’re living in practice again, correct?


Shara Ruffin  23:35



Lisa Marker Robbins  23:36

Do you find? So first of all, what’s the is there a professional organization where individuals could go to learn about like licensure requirements by state, that


Shara Ruffin  23:48

would be their state board? Most people is the easy Google search if they Google licensure requirements further from their state. Every state has a board of Social Work board that they can see what those requirements are.


Lisa Marker Robbins  24:03

This is one thing we talked about, I have an entire lesson in module five of my college major and career coaching course, where we talk about like, don’t miss this. Because if you let’s say you went to school in Pennsylvania, and I’m in your neighboring state of Ohio, although we’re in two cities that are about 10 hours apart. You if you go to school in Pennsylvania, but you want to move to Ohio after graduation. You really need to be aware by anything that’s licensed by the state, what those requirements are going to be to make sure that you’ll be able to practice your field, right? Correct. Okay, and is it if people move like let’s say, you know, I lived in Pennsylvania and then I moved to Ohio, then my spouse gets transferred to Texas and I want to be an LCSW still down there. How difficult is it To usually not just those particular states to get licensed in another state, or is that path fairly easy? No,


Shara Ruffin  25:08

I know my profession is working on that. Now they’re working on a compact, similar to what other professions have nurses, I believe, habit, a licensing compact and make it easier to transfer, interstate transfers. But every state has their own requirements. So some states are easier than others.


Lisa Marker Robbins  25:28

Okay. And that’s I want to just say to all our listeners, no matter what the field is, if it is a licensed career, do your homework. So any parting words of advice and we also want to know where people can stay in touch with you, if they’re interested in this field, I


Shara Ruffin  25:45

would say good luck to you and keep an open mind. It’s okay to change your mind. That that was part of my journey, and I think still turned out to be okay, and have fun along the way, college is a time that you will not get back. That’s what I would say. Like, keep it short and sweet. So


Lisa Marker Robbins  26:05

So yeah, keep it short. And sweet is for sure. You want to get in and out.


Shara Ruffin  26:11

You can find me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, I have my own podcast as well for social workers. And yeah, I’m actually an all sudden platform. So if you Google my name, you can find me.


Lisa Marker Robbins  26:25

Yes, H ar ARUSFIN and social work. Just put that all together and they’re gonna be able to find you. Well, thank you. This was an enlightening and helpful episode. And I appreciate you taking the time. Oh,


Shara Ruffin  26:40

thank you for having me.


Lisa Marker Robbins  26:46

Thank you to Shara. It’s clear that those who thrive in this field have a strong motivation for social service, fitting perfectly within the US Department of Labor’s career cluster of community and social service occupations. I’m going to link the show notes to a list of other careers in this job family to get you thinking if you feel like your teen might be a fit for this or similar careers. I also have something special for parents eager to guide their teens in choosing the right college major. I invite you to watch our free on demand webinar, which offers valuable insights on supporting your team in this crucial decision. You can find this resource at Lorsch coaching co.com forward slash video and we’ll put it in the show notes too. Thank you for joining us today on College and Career Clarity a flourish coaching production. Until next time, keep nurturing and guiding your team toward a fulfilling career path. And while you’re at it, help us nurture other families college bound journey by following the podcast and sharing it with a friend. Thank you