A wide variety of career opportunities are available to social workers who are interested in working in the mental health field.

Social workers who have already completed a master’s program and are interested in working in the field should seek licensure in order to practice clinically. Requirements vary by state, but usually graduates begin as a Licensed Master Social Worker, allowing them to practice in the mental health field, while working toward the Licensed Clinical Social Worker designation.

In addition to the range of career opportunities that will ultimately serve the goal of helping clients improve their quality of life, there are a number of different settings available to those looking to pursue a career in mental health social work:

  • Hospital
  • Clinic
  • Community health center
  • School
  • Government agency
  • Private practice
  • Detention facilities
  • Nursing homes
  • Social service organizations

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the job growth in the field of mental health social workers is predicted to rise 23 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is 14 percent higher than the national average. With the addition of more than 60,000 jobs in the next decade, there is a growing need for qualified social workers.

Here is a list of some of the roles available to those working in the mental health social work arena:

Clinical Social Work

The National Association of Social Workers cites clinical social work as a specialty practice area of social work which focuses on the assessment, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illness, emotional and other behavioral disturbances.

Operating from a “person-in-environment” perspective, clinical social workers take into account that a person is a direct reflection of the communities in which they come from, their family and home life, their jobs and everything in between. Utilizing this perspective, clinical social workers are able to look at the whole picture and help treat the individual in a way that will be most beneficial.

Clinical social work offers a diverse opportunity to work with individuals in both the private and community setting, working one-on-one with clients, leading groups or even working within organizations.

There are many sectors within mental health counseling available to those that want to work in more specialized fields such as:

  • Marriage and Family

  • Addiction


  • Adolescent

  • Gerontology

  • Veterans


  • Grief

  • Terminally ill

  • Crisis intervention in a hospital setting

Psychiatric Social Worker

Psychiatric social work is a very specialized career that requires additional licensure and/or certifications depending on the state in which you reside. This job requires supporting, providing therapy to, and coordinating the care of individuals who are severely mentally ill. The following is a general list of roles that a psychiatric social worker would perform in their day-to-day:

  • Biopsychosocial perspective

  • Risk assessments

  • Individualized and group psychotherapy

  • Crisis intervention and support

  • Care coordination

  • Discharge planning services

Behavioral Intervention Specialist or Applied Behavioral Analyst

Working as a Behavioral Intervention Specialist (BIS) also known as an Applied Behavior Analyst (ABA) can offer a diversity of environments where every case is different with unique challenges and circumstances.

The main focus of a BIS and an ABA is observing a person’s behavior within an environment with the ultimate goal of creating a modification plan to help that person succeed. The theory behind ABA is that behavior is a direct product of its circumstances, particularly the events that immediately follow the behavior. Using that knowledge one can utilize techniques and treatments that can alter the outcome.

An ABA or BIS working with young people will often travel from school to school, meeting with several students a day and be a part of different teams comprised of teachers, administrators and parents all working together to help the individual student.

Currently there is a growing need for qualified ABAs to help individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as the CDC has recently released data that estimates that one in 59 children are diagnosed with ASD.