A career in mental health social work focuses on advocating for and helping individuals that are experiencing mental illness or emotional difficulties so that they can maintain and perform the activities of daily living while utilizing the resources available to them. Many social workers find working with clients in this capacity to be a challenging, yet rewarding career.

Career Settings

Depending on their specific role, a mental health social worker may have a variety of job functions, in a diverse range of work settings including:

● Hospitals

● Community clinics

● Schools

● Government agencies

● Private practice

● Correctional facilities

People Who Benefit from Mental Health Social Workers

Whether working in private practice or a community setting, there is a wide range of reasons that people may seek out services from a mental health social worker including:

● Dealing with PTSD or trauma from physical, emotional or sexual abuse

● Coping with grief

● Mental illness

● Substance abuse

● Behavioral issues or disabilities in children

Specific Roles to Advocate for Clients

According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), examples of the more specific roles that a mental health social worker may encounter on any given day include:

● Determining the client’s eligibility for services within the hospital, clinic or community

● Conducting biopsychosocial assessments

● Determining if the client has any substance use issues

● Identifying the client’s support systems

● Exploring how they function physically and emotionally

● Establishing if they are experiencing financial hardship

● Evaluating for suicidal/homicidal ideation

● Developing and implementing treatment plans and discharge plans that are aligned with the client’s goals

● Providing direct therapeutic services

● Providing crisis management

● Providing case management services

Additional Career Opportunities

Outside of the typical roles of a mental health social worker, here are a few examples of career opportunities available for those with a Master of Social Work:

● Nursing home directors

Hospice workers

● Psychiatric crisis screeners

● Professors at universities

● Prison social workers


Mental health social workers often provide therapy to their clients. This practice requires both graduate level education and a specific licensure that is governed by the area of residency. Additionally, certifications or credentials may be needed to work with specific clients such as those with substance abuse. There are also opportunities for scholarships available. There are options to choose from in terms of how you receive this education, such as traditional on campus classes or flexible online options.

Career Growth

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that social work careers will experience a 19 percent career growth between 2016 and 2026. According to the BLS, “Employment will grow as more people seek treatment for mental illness and substance abuse. In addition, drug offenders are increasingly being sent to treatment programs, which are staffed by these social workers, rather than being sent to jail.”


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