A career as a mental health social worker requires education, training and a license to help clients with emotional and mental disorders. A social worker who practices independently, diagnoses disorders and develops treatment plans is a licensed clinical social worker. The median annual salary for mental health and substance abuse social workers was $39,980 in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Social Worker Job Description
Licensed clinical social workers specializing in mental health and substance abuse provide therapy to individuals and groups. The social worker is trained to diagnose emotional and mental disorders in patients after making an assessment. Once a diagnosis is made, the mental health social worker consults with the client and health care professionals to form a treatment plan. Treatment may involve providing information on mental health resources such as support groups.
Degree Requirements for Clinical Social Workers
According to the BLS, all clinical social workers must have a master of social work degree. Students may enter a master's degree program in social work with a bachelor's degree in a different major. Those with a bachelor's degree in social work may complete a master’s degree in a shorter period than those with an undergraduate education in another area. Master's degree programs include courses in social work practice, human behavior, social welfare policies, research methods and fieldwork. The fieldwork requirement allows students to work in a mental health setting such as a hospital or social worker’s practice. Graduate programs in social work may allow students to select a concentration area that will train them to work in the mental health field.
Supervised Work Experience
States require applicants for a clinical social worker's license to complete supervised experience in the field after completing a degree program. Supervised experience allows aspiring mental health social workers to train under the direction of an experienced social worker. To work in the field with patients, some states require the applicant to have a lower level social worker's license. For example, New York requires applicants for a clinical social worker's license to have a master social worker’s license to complete the experience requirements.
Additional State Training Requirements
Clinical social workers also must complete additional training to earn or maintain their license to practice. For example, New York requires applicants for a license to complete a course in identifying and reporting child abuse. Michigan requires licensed social workers to complete continuing education hours to maintain their license to practice. Continuing education ensures the social worker remains current in the mental health field.
- New York State Education Department Office of the Professions: LCSW License Requirements
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Social Workers Do
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Social Worker
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012 21-1023 Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
- Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs: Social Work Relicensure Instructions
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