What is Clinical Social Work?

Clinical social work is a very specialized area of social work that involves the diagnosing, treating and prevention of mental illnesses. Clinical social workers also help people to address their emotional, behavioral and psychological issues that affect their life quality.

Some of the most common challenges that clinical social workers help their clients deal with include:

  • Trauma
  • Family conflicts
  • Alcoholism and drug abuse
  • Serious physical illness
  • Unemployment
  • Mental illness

Clinical social workers utilize individual and group therapy to help their clients get through their problems.

Where Clinical Social Workers Work

Clinical social workers can work in many places where medicine is practiced:

  • Hospitals
  • ER departments
  • Pediatric departments
  • Cardiac departments
  • Community health centers
  • Child welfare facilities
  • Schools
  • Primary health care centers
  • Substance abuse centers

Clinical Social Worker Techniques and Practices

These social work professionals use many different methods to provide essential services to their clients:

  • Risk assessments: This is intended to measure what the chances are that the client will experience a negative outcome. This is an important part of providing mental health care because it will help to determine the level of treatment that is required.
  • Diagnosis: To provide the best treatment for a mental or behavioral disorder, the clinical social worker has to be able to completely understand the mental illness or condition.
  • Cognitive behavior therapy: This teaches clients to look closely at and understand how their feelings, thoughts and behaviors underlie negative thought patterns and behaviors. You can learn to modify negative thought patterns that cause many problems.
  • Problem solving therapy: Focusing on empowering the patient to change their views on the meaning of problems.
  • Supportive psychotherapy: The clinical social worker takes on a role of emotional support, with the idea being to maintain the self esteem of the client and aid in solving problems.
  • Psychosocial assessments: This is a written report that provides essential information about the client across many areas. The idea is to come up with a treatment plan that addresses the problems of the client.
  • Case management services: This brings together the many practices of assessment, diagnosis and therapy, and also brings in other items, including care coordination, advocacy and connecting the patient with resources.

How to Become a Clinical Social Worker

To become a clinical social worker who practices independent of other clinical social workers, you must earn your Master’s in Social Work, or MSW. However, there are three basic paths to becoming a licensed clinical social worker:

  • A student who did not earn a bachelor’s degree in social work from a program accredited by the CSWE (Council on Social Work Education) must complete the traditional MSW program. This degree program takes at least two years to complete.
  • A student who has a bachelor’s degree in social work from an accredited university may take an ‘advanced standing’ MSW program that will allow you to transfer a certain number of your credit hours, depending upon the university. This program will take from 1.5 to two years to complete. Usually, a higher GPA may be required of 3.0 or higher.
  • Most states also will accept a doctoral degree in social work in lieu of a MSW, to become a clinical social worker. The doctoral degrees in social work are a Ph.D. and a Doctorate of Social Work (DSW).

Licensure to Become a Clinical Social Worker

After you graduate from your MSW program, you need to complete any post-graduate work requirements, including clinical rotations and internships, which can take another year to complete. The exact standards vary by state, but let’s use Florida as an example:

  • Finish your MSW program.
  • Complete required coursework that includes 24 credit hours in human behavior theory and practice, and at least one course in psychotherapy. If you did not do this in your MSW program, it must be completed afterwards.
  • Supervised field education in MSW program has to have provided clinical services directly to clients.
  • Pass your national examination.

To learn more about the requirements for your state, you should visit the Association of Social Work Boards.

About the Master of Social Work Degree

As mentioned earlier, you must earn your MSW to become a clinical social worker. A good online MSW program to consider to earn your advanced degree in just two years is the program at the University of Southern California. The coursework in this program explores the needs of the social work field to prepare a new kind of clinical social worker for the 21st century.

The USC MSW program begins with a strong foundation in the principles of social work and practice. You then build on that core knowledge as you study early intervention, prevention and wellness; leadership and collaboration; implications of new findings in social work science; and core competencies that include evidence based practice and evidence informed interventions.

The USC program allows you to focus on one of three areas:

  • Adults and healthy aging
  • Children, youth and families
  • Communities, organization and business innovation

Your curriculum may include:

  • Research and Evaluation for Social Work with Adults and Older Adults
  • Policy in Integrated Care
  • Wellness, Recovery and Integrated Care
  • Explanatory Theories of Health and Mental Health
  • Clinical Interventions
  • Clinical Supervision
  • Leadership in the Social Work Profession

Accreditation of Social Work Programs

As you are thinking about a social work career, you will be reviewing possible universities to earn your undergraduate or graduate degrees in social work. One of the most important factors to consider is that the program has been properly accredited by the Council on Social Work Education or CSWE.

The CSWE is a national social work association that represents more than 2500 organizations. It is the only nationally recognized organization that accredits undergraduate and graduate education programs of social work, as deemed by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

For any social work degree program you are considering, be sure to look for CSWE accreditation so you are sure that your education is worth your time and money.

The field of clinical social work is a strongly growing field where you can make a very good salary and make a major difference in the lives of many people.