How Do I Become a Clinical Social Worker?

Clinical social workers help people with their problems through the process of psychotherapy. Read on to learn more about what it takes to become a clinical social worker, including degree and licensure requirements. Schools offering Clinical Social Work degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Clinical Social Worker?

As a social worker, you help people improve their lives by helping them solve everyday issues and cope with problems. This process could include helping someone deal with a life-threatening illness or assisting an individual with conflict resolution in family relationships. A clinical social worker is any type of social worker who has achieved the required level of education and licensing to work in a clinical setting. A licensed clinical social worker is also the only type of social worker who can provide psychotherapy services to clients.

Many clinical social workers focus on mental and behavioral health issues, which is why the terms 'clinical social worker' and 'mental health and substance abuse social worker' are sometimes used interchangeably. As of 2005, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) defined clinical social workers as the nation's largest group of behavioral health practitioners (www.socialworkers.org). Thus, your job may include diagnosing and treating people with a wide range of problems, like behavioral disorders or emotional issues. You could also specialize in another area of social work, such as child and family social work or medical and public health social work.

As a clinical social worker, you might be employed at a hospital, community mental health center, school, child welfare agency, substance abuse treatment center, private practice or another other client-centered setting. You may treat individuals, families, couples and groups. In some respects, your job will be similar to that of a psychotherapist, but clinical social work is likely to involve a more holistic approach and may focus more on the clients' relationships with their environments than on internal struggles.

What Level of Degree Do I Need?

According to the NASW, you typically need a master's degree at minimum to become a clinical social worker. Although specific requirements vary by state, you generally need a master's degree from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). As of October 2011, the CSWE accredited 213 master's degree programs in social work (www.cswe.org). It is the only accrediting body for this field in the nation recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

A bachelor's degree is typically required for entrance into a MSW program. You don't usually need an undergraduate major in social work; however, courses in psychology, sociology, social work, economics, biology and political science may be helpful. If you have a Bachelor of Social Work, you may qualify for an advanced-standing MSW program, which may take less time to complete than a typical MSW program.

What Will the MSW Program Involve?

A master's degree program in social work typically takes about two years of full-time study to complete and often includes an internship or supervised field instruction requirement. Many Master of Social Work (MSW) programs allow you to concentrate specifically on clinical social work practice. Some colleges and universities even allow you to earn your MSW in Clinical Social Work primarily online. Courses in a clinical social work MSW program include social welfare policy, organizations and communities, clinical practice with individuals and groups, cognitive-behavioral treatment, social work research and social work ethics.

What Are the Licensure Requirements?

You also need a license to practice as a clinical social worker. In addition to completing an accredited master's degree program, you typically need two years or 3,000 hours of work experience in a supervised clinical setting. The Association of Social Work Boards administers a clinical exam that states may use to qualify applicants for licensure (www.aswb.org). However, because specific licensure requirements can vary by state, you may want to research your state's requirements before pursuing this career.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:

Popular Schools

  • University of Southern California

    University of Southern California responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at University of Southern California:

    • Master

    Online Programs Available

  • Ashford University

    Ashford University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Ashford University:

    Online Programs Available

  • Grand Canyon University

    Grand Canyon University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Grand Canyon University:

    Online Programs Available

  • Strayer University

    Strayer University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Strayer University:

    Online and Campus-Based Programs Available:

    View All Locations
    • Anywhere: Online Campus
    • Alabama: Birmingham, Huntsville
    • Arkansas: Little Rock
    • Columbia (D.C.): Washington
    • Delaware: Newark
    • Florida: Coral Springs, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Maitland, Miami, Miramar, Orlando, Palm Beach Gardens, Tampa
    • Georgia: Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Douglasville, Lithonia, Morrow, Roswell, Savannah
    • Louisiana: Metairie
    • Maryland: Baltimore, Millersville, Owings Mills, Rockville, Suitland
    • Mississippi: Jackson
    • North Carolina: Charlotte, Greensboro, Huntersville, Morrisville, Raleigh
    • Pennsylvania: Center Valley, King of Prussia, Philadelphia, Springfield, Trevose, Warrendale
    • South Carolina: Columbia, Greenville, North Charleston
    • Tennessee: Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville
    • Texas: Austin, Cedar Hill, Dallas, Houston, Irving, Plano, San Antonio, Stafford
    • Virginia: Alexandria, Arlington, Ashburn, Chesapeake, Fredericksburg, Glen Allen, Manassas, Midlothian, Newport News, Virginia Beach, Woodbridge
    • West Virginia: Scott Depot
  • Capella University

    Capella University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Capella University:

    • Doctoral
    • Master
    • Bachelor Degrees

    Online Programs Available

  • Brandman University

    Brandman University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Brandman University:

    • Master
    • Bachelor Degrees
    • Certificates

    Online and Campus-Based Programs Available:

    View All Locations
    • Anywhere: Online Campus
    • California: Culver City, Fairfield, Folsom, Hanford, Irvine, Menifee, Monterey, Ontario, Palm Desert, Palmdale, Riverside, Roseville, Salida, San Diego, Santa Clarita, Santa Maria, Victorville, Visalia, Yuba City
    • Washington: Lacey
  • Southern New Hampshire University

    Southern New Hampshire University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Southern New Hampshire University:

    Online Programs Available

  • Herzing University

    Herzing University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Herzing University:

    Online Programs Available

  • Florida Tech University Online

    Florida Tech University Online responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Florida Tech University Online:

    • Bachelor Degrees
    • Associate Programs

    Online Programs Available

  • Medaille College

    Medaille College responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Medaille College:

    • Master
    • Certificates

    Online Programs Available

  • Robert Morris University

    Robert Morris University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Robert Morris University:

    • Bachelor Degrees

    Online Programs Available

  • University of Phoenix

    University of Phoenix responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at University of Phoenix:

    Online and Campus-Based Programs Available:

    View All Locations
    • Anywhere: Online Campus
    • Arizona: Mesa, Phoenix, Tempe, Tucson, Yuma
    • California: Bakersfield, Beale AFB, Chula Vista, Costa Mesa, Diamond Bar, El Centro, Fairfield, Fresno, Gardena, La Palma, Lancaster, Lathrop, Livermore, Murrieta, Oakland, Ontario, Palm Desert, Pasadena, Sacramento, Salida, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Jose, San Marcos, Visalia, Woodland Hills
    • Colorado: Colorado Springs, Lone Tree, Westminster
    • Florida: Ft Lauderdale, Miami, Miramar
    • Hawaii: Honolulu, Kapolei
    • Illinois: Chicago, Schaumburg
    • Michigan: Detroit, Southfield
    • New Mexico: Albuquerque, Santa Teresa
    • Nevada: Henderson, Las Vegas
    • Puerto Rico: Guaynabo
    • Texas: Arlington, Dallas, Houston, Spring
    • Utah: Clearfield, Salt Lake City, South Jordan
  • DeVry University

    DeVry University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at DeVry University:

    Online and Campus-Based Programs Available:

    View All Locations
    • Anywhere: Online Campus
    • Arizona: Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix
    • California: Alhambra, Anaheim, Bakersfield, Colton, Daly City, Elk Grove, Fremont, Fresno, Long Beach, Oakland, Oxnard, Palmdale, Pomona, San Diego, San Jose, Sherman Oaks
    • Colorado: Colorado Springs, Greenwood Village, Westminster
    • Florida: Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami, Miramar, Orlando, Tampa
    • Georgia: Alpharetta, Atlanta, Decatur, Duluth, Stockbridge
    • Illinois: Addison, Chicago, Downers Grove, Elgin, Gurnee, Naperville, Schaumburg, Tinley Park
    • Indiana: Indianapolis, Merrillville
    • Kentucky: Louisville
    • Maryland: Bethesda
    • Michigan: Southfield
    • Minnesota: Edina
    • Missouri: Kansas City, Saint Louis
    • North Carolina: Charlotte, Morrisville
    • New Jersey: Cherry Hill, North Brunswick, Paramus
    • Nevada: Henderson
    • New York: New York, Rego Park
    • Ohio: Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, Seven Hills
    • Oklahoma: Oklahoma City
    • Oregon: Portland
    • Pennsylvania: Cranberry Township, Fort Washington, King of Prussia, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh
    • Tennessee: Memphis, Nashville
    • Texas: Austin, Fort Worth, Houston, Irving, Richardson, San Antonio, Sugar Land
    • Utah: Sandy
    • Virginia: Arlington, Chesapeake, Manassas
    • Washington: Bellevue, Federal Way, Lynnwood
    • Wisconsin: Milwaukee, Waukesha
  • Azusa Pacific Online University

    Azusa Pacific Online University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Azusa Pacific Online University:

    Online Programs Available

  • University of the Southwest

    University of the Southwest responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at University of the Southwest:

    • Master

    Online Programs Available