Psychiatric Social Worker

Psychiatric social work is a rewarding profession that offers a range of employment opportunities. If you are thinking about specializing in this area of social work, here are some critical details that you need to know.

What is psychiatric social work?

Psychiatric social workers serve as members of a psychiatric treatment team and work with people facing mental health challenges. Psychiatric social workers assist and support patients who suffer from conditions such as depression, severe anxiety, and psychotic or substance-related disorders.

What are the responsibilities of a psychiatric social worker?

The complexities of interpersonal relationships, seeking and maintaining employment, and other aspects of daily life are exacerbated by the challenges posed by mental illness.

Psychiatric social workers help their clients find strength to create a path to a better quality of life while they receive treatment for their illnesses, and when needed, psychiatric social workers provide support and guidance to their families.

A psychiatric social worker’s job description can include offering individual counseling, group and family therapy, and providing communication and links to hospitals and community resources. A psychiatric social worker would not normally take on advocacy or policy work but maintains a particular focus on the direct care of an individual.

A psychiatric social worker requires the following skills:

  • The ability to conduct assessments regarding a person’s social, emotional, interpersonal and socioeconomic needs;
  • The expertise to employ a variety of techniques or interventions to enhance client and family communications with the medical team;
  • The capability to enable a person to participate in their care and advocate for themselves;
  • The ability to provide targeted education and counseling about specific illnesses and treatments (e.g. eating disorders, alcohol and substance abuse counseling);
  • The knowledge and insight to integrate cognitive and behavior modification techniques;
  • The ability to provide discharge planning and transitional care from one facility to another and to help the person integrate back with family and community; and
  • The expertise to function as a member of a multidisciplinary team.

How to Become a Psychiatric Social Worker

Psychiatric social workers must earn a master of social work (MSW) and be licensed to operate in their state. In some cases, psychiatric social workers require years of clinical experience as a prerequisite to receive a license or certification.

Sponsored online social work programs

University of Denver


Master of Social Work (MSW)

The University of Denver’s Online MSW Program is delivered by its top-ranked school of social work and offers two programs. Students can earn their degree in as few as 12 months for the Online Advanced-Standing MSW or 27 months for the Online MSW.

  • Complete the Online Advanced-Standing MSW in as few as 12 months if you have a BSW; if you do not have a BSW, the Online MSW Program may be completed in as few as 27 months.
  • No GRE Required
  • Customizable pathway options include Mental Health and Trauma or Health, Equity and Wellness concentrations

Fordham University


Master of Social Work (MSW)

Fordham’s skills-based, online MSW program integrates advanced relevant social work competencies, preparing students to serve individuals and communities while moving the profession forward. This program includes advanced standing and traditional MSW options.

  •  Traditional and advanced standing online MSW options are available.
  • There are four areas of focus: Individuals and Families, Organizations and Community, Evaluation, and Policy Practice and Advocacy.
  • Pursue the degree on a full-time or part-time track.

Hawaii Pacific University


Master of Social Work

The online Master of Social Work prepares aspiring social work leaders to develop a multicultural social work practice, advocate for social and economic justice, and empower diverse communities affected by systemic inequities within civilian and military-focused areas. 

  • Learn how to develop a multicultural social work practice.  
  • Pending accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
  • Complete in 18 months full time, or in 36 months part time on the traditional track.
  • Complete in 12 months full time or 24 months part time on the Advanced Standing Track. 

Simmons University


Master of Social Work (MSW)

Aspiring direct practitioners can earn their MSW online from Simmons University in as few as 9 months. GRE scores are not required, and the program offers full-time, part-time, accelerated, and advanced standing tracks.

  • Prepares students to pursue licensure, including LCSW 
  • Full-time, part-time, and accelerated tracks 
  • Minimum completion time: 9 months

Howard University


Master of Social Work (MSW)

The online Master of Social Work program from Howard University School of Social Work prepares students for advanced direct or macro practice in culturally diverse communities. Two concentrations available: Direct Practice and Community, Administration, and Policy Practice. No GRE. Complete in as few as 12 months.

  • Concentrations: Direct Practice and Community, Administration, and Policy Practice
  • Complete at least 777-1,000 hours of agency-based field education
  • Earn your degree in as few as 12 months

Syracuse University


Master of Social Work (MSW)

Syracuse University’s online Master of Social Work program does not require GRE scores to apply and is focused on preparing social workers who embrace technology as an important part of the future of the profession. Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks are available.

  • Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks
  • No GRE required
  • Concentrate your degree in integrated practice or clinical practice

Case Western Reserve University


Master of Social Work (MSW)

In as few as a year and a half, you can prepare for social work leadership by earning your Master of Social Work online from Case Western Reserve University’s school of social work.

  • CSWE-accredited
  • No GRE requirement
  • Complete in as few as one and a half years


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Where do psychiatric social workers work?

Psychiatric social workers are commonly employed in hospitals that specialize in the treatment of mental illnesses, including acute care and residential care hospitals. Some of these facilities commit patients involuntarily when a person may pose a danger to him/herself and others.

Other facilities admit people on a voluntary basis. Psychiatric social workers can also provide mental health services in partial residential facilities or outpatient community settings.

Psychiatric Social Worker Career Outlook

Psychiatric social workers fall within the broader category of mental health and substance abuse social workers. This is a rapidly growing social work sector, that is projected to grow 17% between 2019 and 2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Continued healthcare spending and treatment provides opportunities for clinical social workers, such as psychiatric social workers, compared to social workers who do not offer treatment services.

The average annual mean salary for a mental health and substance abuse social worker is $54,540, although licensed clinical social workers are likely to earn more.

Why might you enjoy this type of work?

Psychiatric social workers often report that they find this profession fulfilling. There is an increasing demand for trained MSW-level psychiatric social workers, which means greater opportunities for both career growth and job mobility.

Working as a psychiatric social worker can sometimes be stressful. It’s vital to know your limits, protect your own health and wellbeing, and learn how to achieve personal balance when working with people who suffer from mental illnesses. Self-care and a network of social support is an important component for effective and successful practice of psychiatric social work.