Curious About Clinical Social Work? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

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J.P. Pressley104
Writer, Entrepreneur, Jocky-Nerd/Nerdy-Jock
April 14, 2024 at 7:52AM UTC

If you love to serve others, there are a whole host of careers that may fit you well. Arguably first and foremost among these, however, is that of a social worker. And if you both love serving others and have an interest in or special skillset as it pertains to the medical field, clinical social work may be a prime career for you to explore.

Not sure what all that entails? No worries! This article will explain everything you need to know about clinical social work.

What is the role of a clinical social worker?

According to the National Association of Clinical Social Workers (NACSW), “Clinical social work is a specialty practice area of social work which focuses on the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness, emotional, and other behavioral disturbances.” Clinical social workers then, provide social services within a number of industries including hospitals, community mental health, primary care, agencies and private practice. These social services include, but are not limited to, working on-on-one with clients to disclose issues they’re struggling with, advocating on their client’s behalf and researching and developing remedies for social issues.

What is a non-clinical social worker?

A non-clinical social worker is simply a social worker who doesn't work in a clinical setting. The NACSW lists numerous types of social workers, including school social workers, justice social workers and political social workers. These other social workers provide the same aforementioned social services that clinical social workers provide, just outside of the clinical realm.

Is a clinical social worker a therapist?

Yes...kind of. A clinical social worker has therapist certification, but that does not mean that they all put this to use part-time, let alone full-time. The American Psychological Association states that “Professionals who provide psychotherapy include psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, licensed professional clinical counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists, pastoral counselors and psychiatric nurse practitioners. Of that group, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers are the most common.” The primary difference lies within the education and training for each. Clinical social workers require the least amount of schooling — an MSW (master of social work) and LCSW (licensed clinical social worker) degree as opposed to a doctorate. In addition, clinical social workers cannot prescribe any medication (only MDs are able to).

What you can do with your clinical social worker license?

Counseling is by far the most common career path amongst LCSWs. Within counseling, however, clinical social workers are able to work in multiple different areas, including but not limited to the following.

• Mental health counseling.

This is a difficult but much-needed job. Through this role, they may help high schoolers dealing with depression, military veterans dealing with mental issues upon their return and others.

• Marriage and family counseling.

In this role, you'll help couples strengthen marriages and family dynamics is a rare occurrence. LCSWs can do this every day. 

• School counseling.

Be it at a high school, college or otherwise, providing help to students who need it and likely have no other access to counseling services is a worthy cause if there ever was one.

Just because you have a license doesn’t mean you have to stick with counseling, however. You can also pursue the career paths for which your MSW qualifies you for. Some of these paths are listed below. Take note, however, that if you want to pursue one of these careers, you don’t need to take the time to earn you LCSW license.

  • Adoption placement specialist

  • Child welfare case manager

  • Geriatric social worker

  • Human services administrator

  • Human services case manager

  • School social worker

Educational requirements for becoming a clinical social worker.

If you want to become a clinical social worker, the educational requirements are pretty straightforward. First, you will need to earn your Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. After you’ve achieved this, you’ll need to go on to acquire your state license to be an LCSW. It’s as simple as that. And no, there aren’t any workarounds. 

How much you can expect to make as a clinical social worker?

As of August 8, 2019, lists the average hourly pay of a clinical social worker at $40.72. If you take this rate for 40 hours a week over 50 weeks in a year (the other two weeks being vacation), that’s a yearly salary of $81,440.

Of course, as with any career, you can expect to make less than this at the start of your career and a bit more than this amount as you near retirement.

While the salary of a social worker is respectable, this is one career you should definitely not dive into solely for the money. Even beyond the lengthy educational training required to become a clinical social worker, being a social worker is extremely stressful. Clinical social workers are constantly serving others, helping them work through legitimate and often extremely difficult problems. In general, 75% of social workers experience burnout, according to Prevention, landing them high on the list of industries that experience burnout the fastest. And clinical social work is among the more stressful within the broader social work category.

But if you both love serving others and have an interest in or special skillset as it pertains to the medical field, clinical social work may be a prime career for you to pursue. It’s difficult for sure, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a career that is more impactful and rewarding.

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J.P. Pressley is a writer, entrepreneur, filmmaker, and an asthmatic former two-sport college athlete (basketball and track). Is he a jockey-nerd or a nerdy-jock? The world may never know. You can learn more about him at his personal website.

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