Mental Health Social Worker

What is mental health social work?

Approximately one in four Americans suffer from a mental disorder every year, with many suffering from more than one mental disorder at any one time. Mental health social workers play a critical role in improving our overall wellbeing and mental health as a nation.

Mental health social workers spend much of their time providing face-to-face support to clients who have mental health disorders such as bi-polar disorder, depression, or anxiety. Mental health social workers also support individuals with substance abuse issues. Common interventions used by mental health social workers include pharmacological treatments, psychosocial therapy, family therapy, and education group therapy, or a combination of these treatments.

In addition to working with clients directly, mental health social workers also provide triage intervention and refer clients to other professionals or in-patient clinics. Some mental health social workers also hold specialized roles: for example, there are military social workers who provide support to members of the armed forces and their families. Military social workers help military members reintegrate into civilian life, offer care coordination, and support with PTSD. They are also heavily involved in macro social work, which includes policy development and program evaluation.

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School Program Description
University of Denver
  • Research-driven faculty dedicated to making an impact on social problems
  • Prepares you to apply social work skills across practice settings
Fordham University
  • Four areas of focus: Individuals and Families, Organizations and Community, Evaluation, and Policy Practice and Advocacy
Simmons University
  • Four Clinical Specializations: Child and Family, Trauma and Interpersonal Violence, Mental Health and Addictions, and Health and Aging
  • Three program tracks: Traditional, Accelerated, and Extended
Case Western Reserve University
  • From Case Western Reserve University’s top-10 ranked School of social work
  • Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks available
University of Southern California (USC)
  • Offered by USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, a top-ranked graduate School by U.S. News and World Report
  • Features virtual and in-person field education in or near student's own communities
Baylor University
  • Ethically integrates faith and social work practice
  • Specialize in clinical practice or community practice

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How to Become a Mental Health Social Worker

The first step toward becoming a mental health social worker is applying to graduate schools that offer a master of social work (MSW). Thirty percent of mental health and substance abuse social workers require a minimum of a master’s degree to find employment. Sixty-one percent require some form of pre-employment training, such as a license.

In order to obtain a license to perform social work in the United States, you must attend a graduate school that is approved by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). MSWs usually require two years of schooling, coupled with two years of field practicum (or internship). Many MSW programs will also accept candidates who have a liberal arts bachelor’s degree and offer students different tracks they can pursue in the social work field.

There are sub-concentrations within the mental health social work field that allow students to tailor their studies to their preferences, giving them the option to focus on highly specific fields of mental health social work, including military work and veteran services.

Where to Do Mental Health Social Worker Work?

Many mental health social workers find employment in a clinical setting. Some common places of employment for mental health social workers include:

  • Community clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Schools
  • HR departments of companies
  • Private practices
  • Primary care physicians
  • Community-based mental health centers
  • Addiction recovery centers
  • Government agencies

Employment Outlook for Mental Health Social Workers

According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the employment outlook for mental health social workers is bright. Between 2018 and 2028, there is a projected 18% growth in mental health and substance abuse positions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS also reports that the average salary of mental health and substance abuse social workers is $44,840. Individuals working in specialized positions, or individuals with substantial experience can expect higher remuneration.

Further Reading