How do I Become a Psychiatric Social Worker?

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  • Written By: Carol Francois
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 25 December 2018
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There are a range of different health care careers that can help to develop the skills necessary to become a psychiatric social worker. In this position, responsibilities include management of a specific client list, helping people in need to access health services, and setting up a support structure during recovery. Some of the best psychiatric social workers have overcome personal tragedy or illness, and can provide a combination of compassion and support.

As a social worker, employment opportunities exist in the government agencies, hospitals, jails, and long-term care facilities. Specialization in psychiatry provides access to positions that are focused on clients dealing with mental illness or addiction. A criminal record and background check is essential in this role in order to properly protect the clients and minimize the liability for the service provider.

Everyone who wants to become a psychiatric social worker must complete a degree in social work from an accredited institution. A university degree in social work typically is a master's-level program, requiring a total of seven to eight years of full-time school to complete. Some schools offer psychiatric training as part of the standard program, while others offer a post-graduate certificate in psychiatry.


Many schools offer bridging programs for people who have graduated from a college or university health sciences program. These programs allow candidates to modify the program to provide credit for prior learning and work experience. Professional letters of recommendation from supervisors or managers may be required. Talk to the admissions counselor to learn what the process entails.

Related work experience includes nurse, social worker, nurse's assistant, or personal-support worker. All these positions provide front-line care to people with a range of mental and physical aliments. He or she becomes familiar with the social service support network, as well as managing several clients. The ability to work with a range of different personalities and coordinate administrative activities is essential to become a psychiatric social worker. People who prefer to work independently and do not like working under pressure will find this position frustrating.

The rate of job burnout is very high once you become a psychiatric social worker. Usually, the best way to manage the pressure and stress of this position is to cultivate and maintain a good work and life balance. Keep in mind that career advancement opportunities are the best way to transition your career to the next level. Take classes in management and other skills to help with this change.



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