Two different kinds of social workers help people: those who counsel people and those who work directly with folks facing difficult challenges in their lives. It’s the clinical social worker who diagnoses and treats clients with emotional, behavioral or mental issues. A career as a clinical social worker can be both challenging and rewarding and you’ll find plenty of opportunities in the workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 25 percent increase in the need for social workers, at least through 2020.
After earning a bachelor’s degree, preferably one that focused on social work, you’ll need to spend another two years getting a master’s in social work, or MSW. During that time, you’ll do an internship or supervised on-the-job training. You’ll develop a specialty and learn the special skills needed to assess clients, manage a caseload and supervise others in a facility or private practice. To begin counseling clients, you’ll need a license from your state that requires you to spend about 3,000 hours under the supervision of a clinical supervisor, and then you must pass your state’s licensing exam.
Once you’re licensed, you have an array of options to choose from depending on your specialty. If you specialize in family counseling, you may decide to go out on your own and open a private practice. You can get referrals from a host of sources as well as advertise your services privately. Schools, hospitals and government agencies are among the biggest employers of clinical social workers. Substance abuse counseling is another arena that hires clinical social workers who work in treatment centers and private practice. As a geriatric social worker, you’ll find a growing population needing your services in nursing homes and other retirement facilities.
You need to have effective observational skills to assess and evaluate clients because your clients won’t always be able to tell you exactly what’s wrong. By encouraging them to talk about their feelings and past experiences, you help them arrive at solutions for their emotional and relationship challenges. The therapy you provide takes place in individual, family and group settings. You’ll develop agendas and treatment plans for your various therapy sessions and rely on a thorough referral listing when clients need additional support, such as housing, legal or medical assistance. Regularly, you evaluate clients and keep detailed documentation about their progress.
You’ll have to follow federal guidelines about confidentiality with your clients, and if you want to adhere to the highest level of professional ethics, you can use the National Association of Social Workers’ code of ethics to guide your work. Under the code, you must learn everything you can about the groups of people you choose to treat, including their sexuality and cultural backgrounds. Respecting your clients and your peers is another big piece of the social workers’ creed and includes maintaining a positive attitude toward others. To truly embrace the NASW code of ethics, you agree not to discriminate against anyone and advocate for the elimination and prevention of discrimination on all fronts.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."