A career in social work offers many different opportunities, from helping society’s most vulnerable to working with large, multinational corporations. One career pathway, which made the top 100 jobs in the 2018 U.S. News and World Report, is clinical social work.
Where Do Clinical Social Workers Work?
Clinical social workers typically work in:
- private practice
- community health centers
- homeless shelters
- rehabilitation facilities
While an average day in the life of a clinical social worker depends on where you work — there are some things that will be consistent across the board. For example — in between face-to-face appointments, phone calls and emails with clients, they might be rushing between client meetings in different neighborhoods, collaborating with other social workers, updating case notes and referring clients to other specialists. They might also be setting aside time for their own ongoing education and self-care, an important part of any social worker’s day.
What Does a Clinical Social Worker Do?
Clinical social workers specialize in supporting people with mental illness and other emotional and behavioral problems. They offer clinical assistance to clients suffering from addiction, medical conditions, mental health disorders, abuse and disability. Due to these advanced responsibilities and billing requirements, clinical social workers are required in all 50 states to hold a CSWE-accredited Master’s in Social Work and any necessary licenses as required by their state.
With a new client, the clinical social worker first assesses their situation, their strengths and challenges, and their mental health. Together, they then develop goals and a plan of action that suit the client’s needs.
Clinical social workers often provide psychotherapy and counseling, and refer clients to community services and resources that can help them achieve their goals.
In diagnosing and treating problems, clinical social work takes a biopsychosocial approach. This means considering the complex interactions between a person’s biological characteristics and their psychosocial factors – such as their personality, mood, relationships, family and cultural background.
What Skills and Training Do You Need?
The role of an advanced clinical social worker is more exclusive than many other roles in social work due to its licensing, and the invaluable postgraduate education and training needed.
Clinical social workers have earned at least a CSWE-accredited master’s degree in social work, while many choose to invest time and effort in further specializations and/or certifications. It’s a good idea to take classes that focus on the area you think you’d like to specialize in, such as mental health or substance abuse.
What Makes a Good Advanced Clinical Social Worker?
According to the American Clinical Social Work Association, advanced clinical social workers are expected to show:
- Professional use of self.
- Use of the “person in environment” perspective.
- Continuing clinical education.
- A disciplined approach to the practice environment.
- Use of best practices in creating change and treating problems.
Advanced clinical social workers are also expected to stay up-to-date with research in the field, help further that research and to make sure they’re using evidence-based practices.
Danna Bodenheimer, a Philadelphia clinical social worker and author, says in a podcast that when entering the field you need humility and confidence in your abilities. She also says it’s important to clarify your own guiding beliefs about what creates wellness, and to draw on the wisdom of experienced social workers through the supervision process.
The Importance of Self-Care As a Social Worker
SaraKay Smullens, author of Burnout and Self-Care in Social Work, emphasizes the need for ongoing self-development and self-care long after graduation: “Whereas clinical responsibilities can totally deplete us, we can also use our hard won skills in various ways that replenish us. Many find balance, camaraderie and stimulation through ongoing discussion groups with colleagues. Others find it by shifting client focus. For instance, those of us concentrating primarily in group therapy can also turn to individual, conjoint, and family therapy for a small part of our practice. I have found it invigorating to combine marital work and group therapy in an unusual way.”
What Are the Rewards of Clinical Social Work?
Although harder to achieve compared to some other social work careers, becoming a clinical social worker has particular benefits.
As well as the chance to specialize in clinical cases, it potentially gives you a greater scope of practice, a higher standing among other health professionals, more job opportunities and better pay.
To find out more about this rewarding career path, explore our careers section.