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Have you reached a point where you’re making decisions about your college education and future career? Or maybe you’re a professional who’s considering a career change? 

If types of social work intrigue you, there are various avenues you can pursue. 

One option is to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). So what is a clinical social worker, and how do they operate within their field? To answer this question, we’ll dive into the nuances of the social service profession, the education and experience necessitated by the practice, and the steps you can take to begin your journey.

Clinical social work focuses on the provision of therapeutic interventions and mental health counseling services. As a mental health professional, they play a pivotal role in addressing the psychological and emotional well-being of individuals, families, and communities. While non-clinical social work spans in various sectors, clinical social work careers often involve roles such as a family therapist, a medical social worker, or a licensed independent social worker where they engage in direct counseling and psychotherapy. Whether operating within private practice or in public institutions, they undergo supervised clinical experience and rigorous training to attain the social work licensure.

If this profession calls to you, know that social workers provide a wonderful service to our communities, and the reward of this endeavor far outweighs the work it takes to fulfill. 

What Are the Services a Clinical Social Worker Provides?

So, what does a social worker do? A clinically licensed social worker offers expertise in prevention and treatment within healthcare—specifically adjacent to mental health—with a particular emphasis on psychosocial conditions and disorders. Clinical social workers focus on several facets of their social work practice, including but not limited to:1

  • Assessing clients
  • Diagnosing psychological conditions
  • Treating mental, emotional, and behavioral health problems
  • Preventing further mental health episodes
  • Working as a substance abuse counselor

Clinical social workers can treat individuals, families, and small groups. They provide mental health counseling and interventions tailored to address mental illness issues and behavioral science concerns. Typically, they use evidence-based methods of treatment and therapies to help those who suffer from psychological conditions heal and move forward with their lives.

Where Do Clinical Social Workers Work?

Clinical social workers are needed in a wide variety of environments. You can often find these incredible individuals within the following settings:

  • Mental health clinics
  • Children and family services offices
  • Nursing homes
  • Hospice
  • Hospitals
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Veteran care facilities
  • Social services
  • Schools
  • Private practices

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Each of these facilities will present unique opportunities and challenges for a clinical social worker. However, the application of their practice is ubiquitous across the settings above. 

What Path Does a Clinical Social Worker Follow?

If you want to become a clinical social worker, you’ll need to complete additional social work education, training, and licensure. The path to earning your social work license involves:2

  • Completing an undergraduate degree – The first step on how to become a social worker is obtaining a bachelor’s degree. You can earn a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field. This coursework will prepare you for the rigors of a graduate-level program. Even if you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree in a different discipline, you might just need to complete some background coursework before you begin your master’s program.
  • Earning a Master’s degree in Social Work (MSW) – A master’s level social work degree is a requirement for clinical social workers. What can you do with a master’s in social work? Typically, MSW programs cover a wide range of information necessary for passing the licensing exam in your state. You might also decide to specialize in an area of study within the social work practice. Additionally, during your time in graduate school, you’ll be required to complete a certain number of fieldwork hours.
  • Passing your licensure exams – After you complete your MSW program, you’ll need to register to take your state board’s licensing exams. Every state has different rules regarding licensure, so you’ll have to check with your local board to ensure you have the most up-to-date information about exams and licensure.
  • Completing supervised clinical work – Once you’ve passed your licensure exam, you’ll need to complete supervised clinical work. The number of hours required varies by state, but, typically, it should take you approximately two years to accumulate the necessary supervised experience.
  • Passing a clinical-level licensure exam – After you finish your supervised clinical work, you’ll need to take another clinical exam. Clinical-level exams assess your ability to successfully perform the difficult tasks required of a clinical social worker.

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As aforementioned, it’s important to keep in mind that every state has different requirements for fieldwork, licensure, and clinical hours. Depending on where you decide to study, your journey will be dependent on your specific state’s regulations. 

What Traits Do Clinical Social Workers Need?

While completing the continuing education requirements and passing exams are certainly important, you also need to have the right temperament and certain soft skills to be an effective clinical social worker. To that end, a few attributes possessed by social workers typically include:

  • The ability to listen carefully to clients
  • A significant amount of patience
  • High levels of empathy and compassion
  • Strong organizational and record-keeping skills
  • Flexibility and openness to changing situations
  • A sense of humor 
  • The ability to handle stress 

While the emotional impact of social work is higher than many other professions, the positive impact the practice has on communities (of all shapes and sizes) is invaluable.

By utilizing the traits above coupled with the tools and methodologies developed during their education, clinical social workers can help change the lives of individuals for the better.  

Earn Your MSW with Alliant International University 

Becoming a clinically licensed social worker is no easy feat. Yet, it shouldn’t be. Tasked with caring for the well-being of our communities, social work education, training, and experience necessitated to perform at this caliber takes time and steadfastness. 

But if you’re someone that wants to serve the collective and improve the mental health and well-being of people in need, every bit you pour into the journey can be worth it. 

If that’s your dream, here at Alliant, we can help you realize it. 

We know that everyone takes a different path to achieve their desired career. That’s why we offer an online master in social work program designed to help you work toward your social work degree while balancing your other responsibilities. 

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  1.  “Clinical Social Work.” National Association of Social Workers. ND. Accessed May 26, 2022.
  2.  “Clinical vs. Direct Practice Social Work.” Social Work Licensure. ND.…. Accessed May 26, 2022.

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