Clinical Social Worker: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for clinical social workers. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Clinical Social Work degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Clinical Social Worker?

Clinical social workers diagnose and treat individuals with behavioral problems or mental illnesses. They are licensed to provide psychotherapy and other mental health services, such as counseling to individuals who need help coping with major life changes. Clinical social workers also evaluate clients' progress and refer them doctors, support groups or any other type of service they deem necessary. They can work in a variety of environments such as hospitals and family service agencies. The following chart gives you an overview about a career as a clinical social worker.

Degree Required Master of Social Work degree
Training Required Two years supervised clinical experience
Education Field of Study Social work
Licensure and/or Certification All states require licensure
Job Growth (2014-2024) 12% for all social workers*
Median Salary (2016) $51,306**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

What Degree Do I Need to Become a Clinical Social Worker?

In order to become a clinical social worker, you typically need a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. MSW programs are available with concentrations in clinical practice, but any accredited MSW program should meet the requirements for licensure. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the only recognized accrediting body for this field of study and accredited 249 master's degree programs in social work as recently as October 2016 (

You can generally complete a MSW program in two years of full-time study and online programs are available. Some colleges and universities offer advanced standing MSW programs, which require a bachelor's degree in social work, that can be completed in as little as one year. Unless you're applying for an advanced standing program, your undergraduate major doesn't need to be in social work, but undergraduate courses in social work, psychology, sociology and related areas are recommended.

What Are the Licensure Requirements?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you also need a license to work as a clinical social worker ( Although licensure requirements vary by state, most states require you to complete an accredited MSW program, at least two years (or 3,000 hours) of post-MSW supervised clinical work and a national licensing exam. Because requirements can vary by state, it's a good idea to research your state's specific licensure requirements.

What Might My Job Duties Be?

A clinical social worker can be any type of social worker that has met the licensure requirements to work in a clinical setting, regardless of the population they serve. You may work in hospitals, drug treatment centers, private practice, schools, family services agencies, mental health facilities or other clinical settings.

You might work with individuals or groups, including couples and families. Your job duties may also include helping clients with other life problems, such as navigating unemployment, finding adequate housing, solving domestic conflicts, coping with disease or dealing with adoption issues. The issues you deal with will depend upon your place of employment and the types of clients you work with.

How Much Might I Earn?

The BLS predicted that employment for all social workers would increase 12% between 2014 and 2024. Job opportunities are expected to be especially good in mental health and substance abuse social work with a projected growth of 19%. reported in 2016 that most clinical social workers earned between $38,960 and $73,714, not including bonuses. The median salary for social workers in mental health and substance abuse was $42,170 in 2015, while the median salary for social workers in healthcare was $52,380, according to the BLS.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

You may want to consider becoming a mental health counselor or marriage and family therapist, which also requires a master's degree and would involve you helping people cope with emotional disorders or work through relationship issues. Another similar occupation is rehabilitation counselor, where you would provide assistance to patients with disabilities who are learning to live independently. Becoming a school counselor may also be of interest to you, as you would work to ensure students are succeeding in their studies and developing socially. As a career counselor, you would assist people with career choices by referring them to the training or education programs needed to develop their job skills.

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