What Do Mental Health Social Workers Do?

Social workers who specialize in mental health issues work with clients battling mental illness, substance abuse, unemployment, and/or poverty, among other challenges. They provide clients with individual or group therapy, as well as referral opportunities for social rehabilitation and crisis intervention. If you're interested in working as a mental health social worker, read on to learn more about these professionals and their job duties. Schools offering Clinical Social Work degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

As a mental health social worker (MHSW) you'll teach basic life skills, develop support networks, and otherwise help your clients become involved in their communities. You may also assist in the development of government policies and legislation. You'll likely be able to find job opportunities with rehabilitation centers, hospitals, family service agencies, prisons, nonprofit groups, and government agencies.

Important Facts About This Occupation

Median Salary (2018) $44,840 (for all mental health and substance abuse social workers)
Key Skills Problem-solving, interpersonal, listening, time-management, and organizational skills
Licensure Required; varies by state
Required Education Minimum of a bachelor's degree; some positions require a master's degree

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Duties

As a mental health social worker, you'll help patients to recover from a variety of mental illnesses and addictions. You'll help them to secure employment and housing, and otherwise establish and maintain control over their lives. You'll observe and monitor the interaction of a variety of life factors in patients, including how heredity and genetics interact with environment, lifestyle, and social circumstances. Your duties may also require you to interview clients, perform mental and physical evaluations, and collaborate with professionals in related fields. You'll plan, coordinate, and modify treatment plans for patients, supervise other social workers, and perform administrative duties.

Required Education

A bachelor's degree in psychology, social work, or a related field is the base requirement for some entry-level jobs in this field. Be aware, however, that many positions will require you to have a master's degree in social work. Additionally, all states require varying forms of licensure of social workers and related professionals. According to the Council on Social Work Education (www.cswe.org) there are currently over 500 accredited bachelor's degree programs and over 230 accredited master's degree programs available in the United States.

As part of your training and education, you should expect to complete coursework in psychology, sociology, political science, and public policy. In addition, you may also be required to complete at least 400 hours of supervised field experience as part of your degree program.

Employment Outlook and Other Career Options

As a mental health social worker, you'll have many career options. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), overall employment of social workers is expected to increase by 19% between the years of 2016 and 2026. In addition to a career as a social worker, you might be able to find work as a psychologist, mental health counselor, health educator, probation officer, rehabilitation counselor, community health worker, or counselor. Some of these positions may require additional training, education, and licensure beyond what is required to work as a mental health social worker.

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