Most social workers specialize. Although some conduct research or are involved in planning or policy development, most social workers prefer an area
of practice in which they interact with clients.
Typically the main tasks of social workers are casework (linking clients with agencies and programs
that will meet their psychosocial needs), counseling (psychotherapy), human services management, social welfare policy analysis, community organizing, advocacy, teaching, and social science research.
Social workers work in a variety of settings, including non profit or public social service agencies, grassroots advocacy organizations, community health agencies, schools, faith-based
organizations, and even the military. Other social workers work as psychotherapists, counselors, or mental health practitioners, normally working in coordination
with psychiatrists, psychologists, or other medical professionals.
Some states restrict the use of the title social worker to licensed practitioners, who must hold a degree in the field. Various states in the United States "protect" the use of the title social worker by statute. Use of the
title requires licensure or certification in most states. A number of states have different levels of licensure. Although standards for licensing vary by State, most States require two years (3,000 hours) of supervised clinical experience for licensure
of clinical social workers. In addition, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) offers voluntary credentials. Social workers with an MSW may be eligible for the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW), the Qualified Clinical Social Worker
(QCSW), or the Diplomate in Clinical Social Work (DCSW) credential, based on their professional experience. Credentials are particularly important for those in private practice; some health insurance providers require social workers to have them in order
to be reimbursed for services.
A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) degree is the most common minimum requirement to qualify for a job as a social worker. Although a bachelor’s degree is sufficient for entry into the field, an advanced degree has
become the standard for many positions. A master’s degree in social work (MSW) is typically required for positions in health settings and is required for clinical work as well.
A person with a BSW is considered a "generalist"
and the MSW is considered "a specialist or advanced generalist"; a Ph.D. or D. S.W. (Doctor of Social Work) generally conducts research, teaches, or analyzes policy, often in higher education settings.
Within the mental health field, social workers may work in private practice, much like clinical psychologists and members of other counseling professions.
Services include individual and group therapy, outreach, crisis intervention, social rehabilitation, and training in skills of everyday living. These social workers may be known as clinical social workers.
Clinical social workers encourage clients to grow personally and professionally and to develop and sustain fulfilling relationships. Equally important are the efforts of clinical social workers to secure public and private resources
and services that materially improve our clients' lives, allowing them to feel safe and secure.
All clinical social workers must have a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree and be licensed or certified in the state in which we practice. Operating in a variety of settings such as large and small nonprofit service agencies, schools,
hospitals, and corporations, social work clinicians frequently work as part of a team-connecting clients with resources, managing complex service needs, or providing mental health counseling. Whether in a public agency or a private office, they may work
one-on-one with individuals, with support groups, with couples, or with families. Some assist clients in responding to an immediate crisis; others provide longer-term support as clients grapple with chronic problems and try to build a stronger emotional
and social life. In all settings, the clinician is typically working to encourage insight in clients; to help them understand the roots of emotional distress, self-destructive behavior, and impaired relationships; and to encourage effective use of public
and personal support networks in times of crisis.
The NASW Register of Clinical Social Workers, 13th Edition, (Copyright © 2005, National Association of Social Workers, Inc.) is available free for
online searchers to find qualified clinical social workers. The NASW Register lists clinical social workers at two levels of experience and expertise: the Qualified Clinical Social Worker and the Diplomate in Clinical Social Work.