How do I Become a Clinical Social Worker?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 February 2018
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A clinical social worker provides a range of important services for people who struggle with addictions, behavioral problems, and mental health issues. Professionals counsel individuals and their families, help them find appropriate housing and jobs, and inform people of other available social service resources. In most states and countries, a person who wants to become a clinical social worker must first obtain an advanced degree in social work from an accredited college or university. In addition, new social workers are typically required to participate in a supervised internship for up to two years and pass extensive written licensing exams. A person who completes the requisite education and training is qualified to work at substance abuse clinics, psychiatric wards, general hospitals, and many other clinical settings.

An individual who wishes to become a clinical social worker can pursue a four-year bachelor's degree in social work, general psychology, or sociology. Undergraduates usually take a number of courses related to cognitive and developmental psychology, statistics, and clinical practice. Some students pursue internships or entry-level positions at mental health facilities to gain practical experience. While enrolled in a bachelor's degree program, a prospective social worker can begin investigating schools that offer master's and doctoral degrees in the field. Guidance counselors at a student's present school can usually provide a great deal of assistance in identifying the best graduate programs.


Once a student has identified several accredited schools, he or she can begin submitting applications. Most schools select a relatively small number of applicants, and those who have the strongest grades, reference letters, personal essays, and admissions test scores tend to be accepted. At the beginning of a graduate school program, a student typically meets with advisers in the social sciences department to create a custom degree plan.

The first half of a degree program usually involves detailed classroom work, while the second half includes a practical internship. Full-time students can usually complete a master's degree program in about two years, which is sufficient to become a clinical social worker in most settings. Some students choose to pursue three- or four-year doctoral degrees to further improve their knowledge and their chances of finding work. Near the end of a degree program, an individual is typically required to compose a thesis or dissertation based on literary research and personal experience in an internship.

Following graduation, most new workers enter paid internships or assistant positions to gain additional practical training. They generally work under the supervision of established professionals for a period of up to two years. A person who shows competence for the job can then take a licensing exam to officially become a clinical social worker. The written exam usually features multiple choice and essay questions to test an individual's knowledge of ethics, legal procedures, and counseling techniques.



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