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Social Worker Jobs in the Mental Health Profession

by Anthony Oster

Clinical social workers in the mental health field have a variety of options in the field, including careers in health care, schools and counseling. According to the National Association of Social Workers, clinical social workers comprise over half of the counseling and therapist positions in the U.S. The job outlook is promising for social workers overall, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with a predicted 25 percent growth in employment between 2010 and 2020. While some careers in social work allow you to operate with a bachelor's degree, many clinical social work jobs require a master's or doctoral degree.

Community Mental Health

Paramount to the social work profession is community mental health and clinical social work. Social workers in a community mental health system may work with patients in need of personal and family counseling, group therapy or those seeking alcohol and drug abuse treatment. Graduates of undergraduate and graduate programs can find employment in community mental health systems, however, the National Association of Social Workers states that graduates with master's or doctoral degrees have a higher earning potential than those with bachelor's degrees. Some states and companies may also restrict the duties that can be performed with a bachelor's degree in social work, limiting supervision, management and clinical decision making roles to those with advanced degrees.

Gerontological Social Workers

Gerontology is one of the driving factors in health care today. This field studies the mental, physical, behavioral and social effects of aging. As a gerontological social worker, you are responsible for providing behavioral and social support to senior citizens and their families. In addition to mental health services, you may also assist seniors in getting meals through home health care services, provide information on assisted living facilities, and give them access to resources in the community to promote their social and behavioral health. While your professional training can prepare you to work in this field, social workers without prior experience in this area are encouraged to seek professional supervision from an experienced Licensed Clinical Social Work Supervisor with a background in gerontology.

Hospice Care Social Workers

Social workers employed in hospice care spend the majority of their days assisting patients with serious chronic and terminal illnesses. As a hospice care social worker, you help patients and their families cope with their illnesses and end of life issues. This might include finding services to assist with the cost of funeral arrangements, or locating support groups and grief counselors for patients and their families. While a bachelor's degree in social work is sufficient to work in some hospice settings, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization recommends that facilities require social workers to have graduate degrees or clinical supervision from a Licensed Clinical Social Worker to practice in this setting because of the sensitive nature of the work.

Clinical Supervision

Behind every good social worker is a supportive and nurturing supervisor. Social work supervisors provide guidance, instruction and moral support for social workers who have recently graduated. Meeting with a social work supervisor is an integral component to earning the Licensed Clinical Social Worker credential, a cornerstone of the social work profession. Social work supervisors are typically experienced Licensed Clinical Social Workers who have undergone a rigorous supervision training program and are approved by their state to provide supervision to unlicensed social work candidates.

About the Author

Anthony Oster is a licensed professional counselor who earned his Master of Science in counseling psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi. He has served as a writer and lead video editor for a small, South Louisiana-based video production company since 2007. Oster is the co-owner of a professional photography business and advises the owner on hardware and software acquisitions for the company.

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