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Clinical Social Worker

Learn how to become a Clinical Social Worker and why you might want to

clinical social worker

Have you always felt yourself drawn toward helping others in need?

Maybe you often visit the soup kitchen or women's shelter, extending an empathetic hand to those struggling to survive every day. Perhaps instead you find yourself talking through difficult experiences with your friends, helping to alleviate pain caused by problems in life. While this help allows victims to cope with their challenges, providing services that actually solve those challenges gives them chances to not just cope, but thrive.

Professionals in clinical social work recognize that victim outreach must not only come in the form of physical resources, but mental ones as well. By recognizing that many societal problems are actually rooted in mental health concerns, clinical social workers (CSWs) dedicate their lives to enhancing the well-being of all individuals that make up a community.

Who are clinical social workers?

Social work is broken into two distinct groups of professionals: clinical social workers and direct service social workers. Though each helps to protect disadvantaged groups, CSWs have extensive training in diagnosing and treating mental health disorders, while still providing the community resources and services that traditional social workers offer.

The over 650,000 social workers in the United States make up the largest group of mental healthcare providers in the country, offering their services to a variety of individuals. According to the American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work (ABECSW), they help people reach solutions to a range of problems, including:

  • Destructive behavioral patterns
  • Substance addiction
  • Emotional problems of living
  • Troubled interpersonal relationships
  • Ineffective stress management
  • Negative impacts of economic, social, and cultural factors
  • Prejudice, racism, and human diversity
  • Gender and sexual orientation issues
  • Issues of deprivation, abuse, or victimization
  • Life consequences of illnesses or disabilities

These concerns call for numerous techniques and strategies to tackle effectively, requiring the social worker to take a holistic view of a client's life through assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.

Who do clinical social workers reach out to?

When it rains, it pours.

As someone experiences a large amount of stress in their everyday life and then encounters a chaotic event, it often leaves them feeling completely overwhelmed and hopeless.

Consider someone already struggling to pay bills and support their family who is fired from their job. Now, this person must emotionally (and financially) cope with the stress and difficulty of finding a job while still attending to family responsibilities. Someone in this situation might bottle up emerging feelings of failure related to job loss, escaping their difficulties through drinking or drug use.

Meeting with a CSW would not only allow this person to work through those emotions tied to job loss, but would also introduce them to organizations in the community to ease the burdens of existing stressors, like career assistance services.

Clinical social workers frequently meet with clients undergoing crises - events that lead them to believe their lives are spiraling out of control. Clients in crisis mode do not believe they have the strength to cope, and react in negative ways to the anxiety, panic, or despair they feel.

According to Techniques and Guidelines for Social Work Practice, by authors Bradford Sheafor and Charles Horejsi, common causes of crises CSWs assist with include:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Loss of a job
  • Divorce
  • Serious illness or accident
  • House fires or other life-altering situations
  • Rape, mugging, or other traumatic events

Clients themselves might not understand the underlying problem that led them to become overwhelmed, requiring the social worker to seek out the crisis area.

Because clients experiencing a crisis often feel too overwhelmed to see a solution themselves, the social worker uses partialization strategies to break the large problem into smaller more manageable ones. This allows the client to regain their sense of control and explore possible treatments or interventions that allow them to more directly address their needs.

How do clinical social workers help?

According to "Clinical Social Work Standards for Delivery of Care and Guidelines for the Three-Party Model of Clinical Social Work Services," published by the ABECSW, all CSW treatments must be assessment-based.

Assessments allow CSWs to gather information based on their client's biological, psychological, social, economic, environmental, and cultural circumstances and conditions.

Beginning sessions with a client often involve simple question and answer exercises, allowing the client to express emotions and air their concerns. Hoping to gain a fuller understanding of the problem, they ask clients what their goals are, and what they believe needs to happen for them to accomplish those goals.

Using this information, the CSW then constructs a treatment plan with goals, objectives, timeframes, and intervention methods based on four aspects:

  • The presenting problem
  • Its underlying causes
  • Sustaining causes
  • Prognosis for responding to treatment

For example, consider a client who reports feelings of unhappiness bordering on depression because the relationship with his significant other has suffered over several months.

The CSW meets with this client, initially asking what has changed about the relationship and why those changes have occurred. The client might divulge that nearly all aspects of his life have been particularly taxing over the past several months, ever since his mother passed away.

Asked about the death, the client then reveals not having time to properly place the loss in perspective. Because the event happened so suddenly, the client never properly grieved for his mother, pushing away those feelings due to stress in other areas of life.

The CSW proposes that maybe the clients initial relationship concerns are actually a result of these bottled up emotions surfacing in other areas of life. The client might blame himself for not paying more attention to the death, and the CSW must reframe these thoughts in the mind of the client.

Reframing emotions surrounding the death allows the client to gain a sense of comfort and acceptance with his relationship to the loved one. Hoping to facilitate the grieving process, the CSW engages in a mixture of cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy, giving the client time to reimagine and revisit the death.

Only after treating the underlying cause of a client's issue can a CSW then help them with their initial problem - like relationship concerns with a significant other. Potential solutions might involve locating community groups and relationship counseling organizations for the client to explore.

Becoming a clinical social worker

Clinical social workers require advanced training in mental health care and therapeutic techniques to create a holistic view of a client's mental, emotional, and behavioral state.

To ensure you have the skills and experience necessary to provide for those in need, states require clinical social workers to earn master's degrees in social work or psychology before practicing. If you'd like to learn more about a career in social work, request information from schools offering Psychology degree programs. Also, learn more about the counseling licensing process and requirements for licensure are.

Empowering Clients from Within

While clinical social work often involves psychotherapeutic techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy, one push in the field turns away from traditional views of therapy to show clients that they possess the inner strength needed to overcome many problems.

According to "Strengths-Based Social Work Assessment: Transforming the Dominant Paradigm," by Clay Graybeal, many traditional clinical assessments focus on deficits in a person's life, sometimes creating negative self-fulfilling prophesies. The strengths perspective rejects these deficits, reframing them as personal strengths in a client.

Rather than diagnose clients and place them into "boxes" of "depressed, abused, anxious, or addicts," CSWs guide clients to believe in their own resilience and survivability, even in the face of their challenges. This often involves reconsidering how a client thinks about their problem, for example, stating, "My drinking creates problems in my life," rather than "I am an alcoholic."

Unlike traditional assessments and treatments, the client mainly leads strengths-based clinical social work, while the CSW pushes them in the right direction. To accomplish this, many CSWs introduce the ROPES model.

  • Resources - Personal, family, social environment, organizational, community
  • Options - What can be accessed now? What is available that I have accessed?
  • Possibilities - Future focus, imagination, creativity, vision of the future
  • Exceptions - When does my problem not happen? When is the problem different?
  • Solutions - Construct solutions. How would my situation change if a "miracle" happened?

The major differences between a strengths perspective and traditional psychotherapy model lie in how the client experiences it. Rather then requiring hours of therapy with "problem-focused" questions, strengths-based therapy strictly focuses on solutions. The ROPES model forces clients to truly examine the resources surrounding them, and what natural safety nets exist in their community.

Their self-guided solution exploration allows clients to feel empowered where previously they felt overwhelmed. By then constructing a step-by-step solution guide with the CSW based on their answers to ROPES (where do my resources lie, what can I access today, how can I prepare for the future), the client recognizes their strengths and approaches problems more positively.

Social Work Schools & Colleges
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1 Programs in
Online
  • A public institution founded in 1766, it has a main campus in New Brunswick, New Jersey and offers many programs online.
  • Its student-faculty ratio is 14:1, and 38% of its classes have fewer than 20 students.
  • The average freshman retention rate  is 91.8%.
  • Famous alumni include chef and restauranteur Mario Batali, author Junot Diaz, actor James Gandolfini, and former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky.
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  • A public institution founded in 1766, it has a main campus in New Brunswick, New Jersey and offers many programs online.
  • Its student-faculty ratio is 14:1, and 38% of its classes have fewer than 20 students.
  • The average freshman retention rate  is 91.8%.
  • Famous alumni include chef and restauranteur Mario Batali, author Junot Diaz, actor James Gandolfini, and former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky.
Show more [+]
  • Good for Working Adults
  • Online Programs
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Accelerated Programs
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
1 Programs in
Campus
  • There are 100 campuses in the Everest Career Education Network, many of which are on or near public transportation routes.
  • Trained Student Finance Planners are available to assist students searching for financial aid.
  • Classes are built around small teams, so students get personal, one-on-one skills training.
  • Day, evening, and weekend  classes are available, depending on location.
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  • There are 100 campuses in the Everest Career Education Network, many of which are on or near public transportation routes.
  • Trained Student Finance Planners are available to assist students searching for financial aid.
  • Classes are built around small teams, so students get personal, one-on-one skills training.
  • Day, evening, and weekend  classes are available, depending on location.
Show more [+]
  • Financial Aid
5 Programs in
Online
  • Ranked among the Best Online Graduate Business Programs and Education Programs in 2015 by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Financial aid is available for students who quality, with more than $1,000,000 through 10 scholarships.
  • Offers 24/7 student services, including financial aid help, course registration, and career counseling.
  • Students may opt in for a two week, risk-free trial period.
  • Active-duty military, veterans, and Veteran’s Administration employees can save 15% on tuition.
Show more [+]
  • Ranked among the Best Online Graduate Business Programs and Education Programs in 2015 by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Financial aid is available for students who quality, with more than $1,000,000 through 10 scholarships.
  • Offers 24/7 student services, including financial aid help, course registration, and career counseling.
  • Students may opt in for a two week, risk-free trial period.
  • Active-duty military, veterans, and Veteran’s Administration employees can save 15% on tuition.
Show more [+]
  • Online Programs
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
1 Programs in
Online
  • Ranked #11 in the 2014 Best Graduate Schools in Social Work by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Offers more specialization opportunities than any other social work program, with 10 concentrations and sub-concentrations and 8 dual-degree programs.
  • The first elite researching university to offer a Master of Social Work degree online.
  • Has 1,600 field internship opportunities that give students real-world experience.
  • Through its 47 endowed scholarships, it has awared $200,000 to Ph.D students over the course of four years.
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  • Ranked #11 in the 2014 Best Graduate Schools in Social Work by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Offers more specialization opportunities than any other social work program, with 10 concentrations and sub-concentrations and 8 dual-degree programs.
  • The first elite researching university to offer a Master of Social Work degree online.
  • Has 1,600 field internship opportunities that give students real-world experience.
  • Through its 47 endowed scholarships, it has awared $200,000 to Ph.D students over the course of four years.
Show more [+]
  • Online Programs
  • Accelerated Programs
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
5 Programs in
Online
  • 95% alumni satisfaction rate.
  • Currently holds more than 500 professional alliances, including 19 of the top Fortune 100 companies.
  • Potential students may preview a free, one-week mini course to get an accurate impression of the student experience.
  • Courses are taught by expert faculty, with 86% of professors possessing a doctoral degree.
  • Offers credit for prior experience and learning, as well as scholarships, accelerated programs, and several other ways to help reduce tuition costs.
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  • 95% alumni satisfaction rate.
  • Currently holds more than 500 professional alliances, including 19 of the top Fortune 100 companies.
  • Potential students may preview a free, one-week mini course to get an accurate impression of the student experience.
  • Courses are taught by expert faculty, with 86% of professors possessing a doctoral degree.
  • Offers credit for prior experience and learning, as well as scholarships, accelerated programs, and several other ways to help reduce tuition costs.
Show more [+]
  • Online Programs
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
5 Programs in
Campus
  • Formed in 2001, it has 28 locations across the United States.
  • Offers customized blend format of online and campus classes.
  • Extensive activity in the local campus communities.
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  • Formed in 2001, it has 28 locations across the United States.
  • Offers customized blend format of online and campus classes.
  • Extensive activity in the local campus communities.
Show more [+]
  • Good for Working Adults
  • Online Programs
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
5 Programs in
Campus
  • Listed on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll in 2013, for the sixth consecutive year.
  • Designated a 2015 Military Friendly School by Victory Media for the 4th consecutive year.
  • Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
  • Main campus located in Chicago, Illinois with additional campuses in Southern California, Washington D.C., and online.
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  • Listed on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll in 2013, for the sixth consecutive year.
  • Designated a 2015 Military Friendly School by Victory Media for the 4th consecutive year.
  • Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
  • Main campus located in Chicago, Illinois with additional campuses in Southern California, Washington D.C., and online.
Show more [+]
  • Good for Working Adults
  • Online Programs
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Financial Aid
4 Programs in
Online
  • Students can enroll at any time and begin studies in the fall, spring, or summer.
  • 9 out of 10 Florida Tech Students who apply, qualify for some type of aid, based on a Fall 2012 internal survey.
  • The average freshman retention rate is 77.3 percent.
  • Ranked #39 in Best Colleges for Veterans by U.S. News and World Reports
  • Among the more than 50,000 alumni include several astronauts, CEOs, and 32 generals.
  • Special tuition rate available for active duty, selected reserves, National Guard service members and their spouses.
Show more [+]
  • Students can enroll at any time and begin studies in the fall, spring, or summer.
  • 9 out of 10 Florida Tech Students who apply, qualify for some type of aid, based on a Fall 2012 internal survey.
  • The average freshman retention rate is 77.3 percent.
  • Ranked #39 in Best Colleges for Veterans by U.S. News and World Reports
  • Among the more than 50,000 alumni include several astronauts, CEOs, and 32 generals.
  • Special tuition rate available for active duty, selected reserves, National Guard service members and their spouses.
Show more [+]
  • Online Programs
1 Programs in
Online
  • Provides students the opportunity to train at home in their spare time to get their high school diploma, train for a new career, or enhance current skills.
  • Member of the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA), the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education (CNIE), and the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE).
  • Features a fully flexible schedule with no classes to attend, leaving the study pace up to the student.
Show more [+]
  • Provides students the opportunity to train at home in their spare time to get their high school diploma, train for a new career, or enhance current skills.
  • Member of the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA), the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education (CNIE), and the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE).
  • Features a fully flexible schedule with no classes to attend, leaving the study pace up to the student.
Show more [+]
  • Online Programs
2 Programs in
Online

Indiana Wesleyan University is an evangelical Christian comprehensive university that is committed to liberal arts and professional education. U.S. News & World Report ranks Indiana Wesleyan University as "one of the best Master's universities in the Midwest."

Indiana Wesleyan University is an evangelical Christian comprehensive university that is committed to liberal arts and professional education. U.S. News & World Report ranks Indiana Wesleyan University as "one of the best Master's universities in the Midwest."

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