The American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work (ABE) is the national standard-setting organization for the profession of Clinical Social Work. ABE sets and promotes national practice standards, publishes position statements, maintains an online directory of certificants, and issues credentials for advanced generalists (BCD), clinical supervisors, children/families practitioners, and psychoanalysts.

ABE is a unit of the Center for Clinical Social Work, as is the American Clinical Social Work Association (ACSWA), the national organization for all clinical social workers in any practice setting and at all levels of professional development. ACSWA is an advocate and educator, upholding a National Bill of Rights for Clinical Social Workers, supporting an online national community, and serving as the voice of the profession and guardian of its values.

ABE maintains the following internet-based services:

  • Directory of BCD practitioners
  • Application for certifications
  • Recertification for certificants

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. ABE 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:

The Board Certified Diplomate in Clinical Social Work (BCD) is an advanced-generalist certification embodying the highest standards of clinical education, training, and experience. Its standards are at the core of ABE’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 ABE’s Code of Ethics.

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. ABE (American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work) 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.

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; recognition as meeting national standards for quality-of-care set by the healthcare industry. ABE’s annual recertification of all its certificants gives them preferred status in the marketplace.

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; ABE publishes profiles of all BCD clinicians in the Online BCD Directory.


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ABE is a unit of the Center for Clinical Social Work as is ACSWA, the American Clinical Social Work Association.

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