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Social Work CEs: Tools and Tips

Updated: Jul 11, 2022

If you’re a licensed social worker, you probably think occasionally about one perpetual responsibility. At the very least, it’s on your mind every two to three years. That’s rightit’s continuing education, also known as CEs, or CEUs.

CEs are required in all U.S. states for licensed and provisionally licensed social workers. Specific requirements vary by state. As we know, school doesn’t end once you graduate.

Ethically, clinicians must keep up with new theories, research, and evidence-based interventions. The NASW Code of Ethics also encourages us to maintain a level of competence in our areas of practice. This helps further our profession, offering benefits to both social workers and those we treat.

Many of us don’t entirely mind this, perhaps because it’s a chance to network with others, stay informed, and learn new techniques. It also offers a break from our regular routines. Whether you love or hate it, we’re all in the same boat when it comes to keeping updated in our field. Here are some pointers about planning, tracking, and finding your educational credits.

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Understand Your Requirements

If you’re confused about the proper term for an educational credit, such as the difference between the units, you’re not alone. And, it can be just as confusing to figure out what is required when it comes to these credits. Even experienced clinicians can feel a bit perplexed at times. Here’s a quick review of the basics.

CE versus CEU versus Contact Hours

What’s the difference? Why is it so complicated? Because continuing education requirements have evolved differently in each state and region, the nuances can get a bit confusing. Not to worry, here’s a quick overview of the terms used and exchanged between states and industries.

  • CEs: CE is a broader term that refers to all types of training and events that can count as your credits. Some states or fields may use this as a formal measurement as well. For example, you may be required to complete 35 CEs every two or three years.

  • Contact Hours: Some states use the term contact hours. This is fairly self-explanatorya one-hour training would generally be worth one contact hour.

  • CEUs: CEU stands for continuing education unit. It’s a fancy measurement some licensing boards use to simplify their accounting systems. Depending on the industry, a CEU may have to meet extra standards, or may simply refer to the time of the actual training. CEUs generally have an exchange rate for credits. For example, in New York, one CEU is worth 10 CE credits.

If you get confused about the exchange between these (you’d not be the first), consider the time involved. If you spend all weekend at a training event, it’s likely this will count towards a good chunk of your hours, even if the number of credits listed seems minimal.

If you have more questions about CEs, let us know. Contact us here and ask anything you like. We enjoy helping!

Self-Study Credits

The credits included in self-study courses, such as those that require a reading followed by a test or activity, can vary. These would typically be approved by a state or national board, which has determined how many credits or contact hours the activity is worth.

Yearly State Requirements

Each state has its own licensure requirements, which can become a bit nuanced and unique. For example, some states require you to update your hours every two years, while some check every three years. Some states have formal reporting systems, while some are on the honor system (but may audit you at some point).

State Exchanges

Many states offer reciprocity of training. In this case, if you took an approved training in one state, it may be accepted by the other. However, not all states allow this. Each set of rules is unique, so make sure to review yours closely.

Professional Industry Exchanges

Likewise, some states will accept credits from related professions, such as those approved by the American Psychology Association (APA), or the American Association for Marriage and Family (AAMF). Again, it can vary, so always make sure to check your recent state requirements.

Topic Requirements

Many boards also require that you complete hours on certain topics. The most common of these include ethics, suicide prevention, and diversity training. Contact hour requirements might include one hour, three hours, or more in multiple specialty areas.

Make a Plan

If you’ve ever put off most of your hours until the “last minute,” such as a few months before your licensure renewal, you know what a panic that can lead to. Don’t worry—it’s happened to the best of us. By looking ahead, you can avoid this stress. Here are some ways you can prevent this from happening.

1. Set Goals for Each Quarter

One way to circumvent this last-minute stress is to set your own mini-goals throughout each year. Split your final goal into four or eight smaller targets, and require yourself to complete a certain portion of hours within that time frame. For example, if you must have 30 hours every two years, you would complete three to four credits each quarter. That goal may seem a lot less intimidating than the total of 30.

2. Find Accountability Partners

If you tend to put things off, or you simply work too much, make it a bit of a game. Let your supervisor know your goal, or get help from another licensed friend who wants to play. Complete some of your hours together, or set a race for who can meet each goal the fastest. (Maybe the winner has to buy dinner for the other?)

3. Mix Long and Short Events

One surefire way to get in a good chunk of your hours is to attend a long event to supplement your shorter events. Perhaps there’s a full-day training worth five to 10 CEs. This can ease your mind and shorten your quarterly goals. You can supplement this with shorter CEs that are targeted towards areas you want to learn more about, or where you may be in need of a refresher.

4. Make it Easier on Your Employees

If you’re a supervisor or manager, you can provide a great service to your employees by helping them with organizing. New social workers in particular may be a bit lost about tracking CEs. Or, more experienced clinicians may have let this go a bit. Here are some ideas:

  • Provide training on best practices for development, or include it in licensure supervision meetings

  • Include an objective for your employees to develop a way to track their credits

  • Offer a shared folder on your network for employees to store their digital items related to training

  • Check-in on progress during yearly or quarterly meetings

  • Schedule your own professional development eventscontact us at CHI Pro Development to see how we can help you tailor a workshop for your agency

  • Share our CE Pro Tracking tool with your employees

Making it easier for your supervisees to find and track development credits will not only help them but may increase treatment effectiveness and possibly even lower turnover at your agency.

Learn New Topics

If you specialize in one area, such as treating kids with trauma, mix things up a bit. For example, perhaps you’d want to attend a couples counseling training or learn about hospice social work. Just because you have a specialty doesn’t mean you won’t learn things that are valuable to your area from other fields.

By taking a course outside your focus, you might better understand a situation where a child’s parents argue a lot, or have more empathy for someone who has recently lost a family member to a terminal disease.

Keep Track of Hours

It might be a cognitive distortion to say there are only two types of people in the world. But if we did have to categorize social workers, we might say there are those who are always ahead on their notes, and those who are always behind.

Joking aside, you probably fall somewhere in the middle. Perhaps you vacillate between staying ahead, or being swamped and feeling like you’ll never catch up. When it comes to continuing ed, that’s okay! Whether you’re a great planner and organizer or not, you can still make your CE tracking easier. Here are some ideas.

Go Old School

If you’re sick of electronic records or avoid them like the plague, then it’s perfectly okay to keep it simple. Keep a folder with all of your printed certificates, and store it in a secure place. If you want to, you might snap a picture of each for backup proof, or make backup copies once or twice per year.

Move to Electronic

If you tend to lose papers, are a bit disorganized, or just don’t want to mess with physical copies, that’s okay too. Make sure your state board doesn’t require an original document and let the papers go. Keep scans in one electronic folder, and consider storing them both locally and on a cloud. This way, if something happens to your digital device, you’ll have peace of mind.

These days, many of your certificates will likely come electronically, so this will make it easy. If you do end up only with paper copies, use a scanning app, or simply take a clear picture of your certificate and keep it in an organized folder online. For once, you won’t have to worry about HIPPA or encryption, so keep it simple.

You can use CHI Development’s tool to track your hours. Check it out here!

Vary Course Providers

If you have a favorite go-to for credits, such as an annual conference you attend every year, that’s great. This will give you some consistency and familiarity. It can be nice to see the same people once a year, especially if you tend to work in a more isolated setting.

Don’t be afraid to mix in some variety as well. If you tend to always hear similar points of view, it may be helpful to learn from other perspectives. This could be someone from a different clinical field, a different region, a different cultural background, or even someone whose framework you don’t agree with.

If you are a CBT therapist, for example, check out a somatic training, and vice versa. You may find some techniques that are helpful to add to your repertoire, open your mind to new ideas, or at least learn what your clients experience in other types of therapy.

Mix in Virtual Live Events

Prior to the pandemic, many people were mixing a bit of online training with in-person events. These days “in-person” has been largely replaced by Zoom and live video. Fortunately, we have this substitute for getting together face-to-face.

If you’re going entirely electronically for your CEs, mix it up with some live events and some that are self-study or pre-recorded. Many educational providers, like CHI Development, are offering multiple formats these days.

In the past, many state boards required a certain number of in-person events. In numerous cases, these requirements have changed for the time being. Check with your own state for updates.

Still unsure how to access “online classes.” You are only one click away from help!

Focus on Your Development

Now that you know what you need by the book, what do you need for your own development? We have lots of regulations and rules to keep us honest when it comes to growing in our own practice. However, to continue a meaningful career, you want to keep your own needs in mind as well.

Think about your career goals, satisfaction, and burnout levels during the last couple of years. Where have you been, and where are you going now? If you’ve been a marriage therapist for ten years, and you’re starting to burn out, look ahead. You might want to expand or switch into a new treatment area over the next few years. Maybe you want to explore some other specialties to diversify.

Also, consider your strengths and weaknesses. If you’re particularly good at one area, you may be able to contribute by providing training yourself through an approved provider. (And by the way, in some states preparing a CE class can count towards your own credits.)

If you are struggling with good outcomes with certain populations, then focusing on that topic may be worth your time. For example, use of evidence-based practices can decrease burnout and turnover rates. If you’re feeling mental fatigue, try ways to either change outcomes or vary your caseload with other types of populations. Your educational plan can help facilitate these changes.

Find Upcoming Courses

CHI Professional Development offers quality courses for social workers and other mental health professionals. Courses include live in person, live interactive online as well as self-study courses, currently approved by the ACE Association of Social Work Boards and the New York State credentialing board. CHI courses are provided for individuals as well as community and human services agencies. Visit here to learn about upcoming workshops, or to arrange a training event for your agency.

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