Explore a career as a clinical social worker

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clinical social worker speaks with a client


Social work is widely recognized as a helping profession. The work gives individuals an opportunity to empower people to deal with the challenges facing them, providing a blend of counseling, access to support services, and similar forms of guidance applicable in a wide range of settings. As such, a social worker can expect opportunities to work in diverse locations, ranging from schools and hospitals to correctional facilities and mental health clinics.

The opportunities to work in diverse settings and provide counselling and support are even greater in clinical social work roles. Clinical social workers focus on assessing, diagnosing and treating various mental, behavioral or emotional conditions. To become a clinical social worker, obtaining a Master in Social Work degree is usually a requirement.

Each state has its own licensure requirements for a clinical social worker, and it’s important to consider the specific standards for the location where you hope to work before you pursue an MSW degree. However, most of these requirements include an MSW. The Regis College online MSW can be a natural fit for many students, as our program focuses on clinical practice. But what does clinical practice look like? Here’s an overview of what to expect from a career in clinical social work.

Job growth and salaries in social work

The social work industry is experiencing a significant increase in job demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the number of positions available in the social work sector to grow by 16 percent from 2016 to 2026. This is much faster than the 7 percent national average. Median pay in the sector, as of 2017, was $47,980 per year, but it’s worth noting that the figure accounts for a wide range of job roles, as entry-level social work positions may only require an associate degree, while clinical social work usually demands an MSW. Salary.com found that a clinical social worker salary will typically fall between $62,000 and just less than $74,000 per year.

Work expectations for social workers

The focus on helping others means the job demands for social workers can change fairly often. Professionals will often travel to a variety of locations as they complete their duties. In general, clinical social workers will face these same challenges, but they’ll also need to deal with a few specific difficulties that may not be as prevalent in other segments of the industry.

The challenges for a clinical social worker can include:

Emotional burn out: Counseling is an emotionally demanding work field. Clinical social workers are tasked with interacting with those with behavioral or mental disorders on a day-to-day basis. This requires a strong emotional commitment to those you are supporting and the work you’re doing, something that can lead to fatigue and burnout over time.

Heavy workloads: Clinical social workers often end up carrying large patient lists as they work in nonprofit settings where funding for staff is limited but demand for services is high.

While clinical social workers face their fair share of challenges in their typical work, facing those issues comes with rewards. These can include:

  • Highly fulfilling work in helping clients overcome clinical challenges
  • Opportunities to make a difference in the lives of individuals and their loved ones
  • Filling a care gap in mental and behavioral health

Because counseling is in demand in diverse settings, clinical social workers can expect to have opportunities in a variety of areas and to take on different tasks depending on their clients’ needs. For example, the American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work lists possible work settings including varied locations as clinics, courts, private practice offices, rural health care settings, rehabilitation facilities, religious organizations, and residential environments.

Job responsibilities in clinical social work

In many cases, clinical social workers will function as counselors. The American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work pointed out that the profession is focused on providing services to individuals with behavioral and bio-psychosocial disorders, though the work isn’t exclusive to such demographics. Clinical social workers aim to offer both preventive support and treatment of conditions. As such, they are expected to understand:

  • Issues pertaining to addictions
  • The implications of illnesses, trauma, and injuries
  • Matters pertaining to diversity and cultural competency

These are just a few of the key health-related areas of concern clinical social workers must be aware of. The job often requires a significant degree of flexibility, as counselors frequently work on multi-disciplinary teams and are involved in a variety of services, including counseling, diagnosis, and treatment plan development.

Preparing for a career in clinical social work

While an MSW can be applicable to operations in a variety of settings, a clinically focused program is critical in helping students engage with the specific topics and practical skills needed to advance in the profession. For the most part, students pursuing an MSW with a focus on clinical practice can expect to blend their general social work courses with specialized materials focusing on counseling, treatment plan development, and medical-related matters. Students are also typically expected to complete a period of practical work under the supervision of a licensed professional as part of the degree program.

The online MSW at Regis College provides for these needs. Our curriculum is specifically designed with clinical social work in mind, and includes courses on such topics as:

  • Community practice
  • Human behavior
  • Social welfare policy
  • Ethics
  • Clinical policies and administration
  • Clinical assessment and diagnosis
  • Advanced clinical practice with individuals

Regis College’s online MSW program is organized into a foundational year that focuses on generalist courses that are applicable to just about any social work setting. From there, students embark on their specialized clinical year, which emphasizes nuanced clinical coursework and incorporates experiential learning. Regis helps students in the program find a field placement, which requires a total of 1,100 hours of work spread over two field experiences.

Want to learn more about how Regis College’s online MSW program can prepare for your clinical social worker jobs? We’d love to chat. Contact us today.

Recommended Readings:

How Employers Perceive Online Degrees

What You Need to Know About Social Work Licensing



Occupational Outlook Handbook: Social Workers by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Licensed Clinical Social Worker Salary by Salary.com

Career Outlook: Social Workers by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Clinical Social Work Described by the American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work