Mental Health Social Worker Career Information, Jobs, Degrees & Training Programs

Mental health social workers evaluate and treat individuals with mental illness or substance abuse problems. Services they provide include individual and group therapy, crisis intervention, outreach, social rehabilitation, and teaching life skills needed to survive in society and everyday life. They are often required to help plan and organize supportive services to ease clients' return to the community when leaving in-patient treatment facilities. They may also provide services to assist the family members of those who suffer from mental health issues. Mental health social workers may work in outpatient treatment facilities, where clients come in for treatment and then leave, or in inpatient treatment/care programs, where patients are required to reside at the facility. Some mental health social workers may work in employee-assistance programs. When working in employee-assistance programs, they often are responsible for helping people cope with personal problems or job-related pressuress that affect the quality of their work and family life. Some mental health social workers work in private practice, where they are employed directly by their client. Mental health social workers who work directly for an employer may be known as occupational social workers, clinical social workers, or substance abuse social workers.

Social work can be difficult, but most social workers enjoy this profession since they help people change their lives. Because of budget cuts, many agencies are understaffed with social workers. This often means full time social workers must work nights and weekends. Some social workers are on call 24 hours a day to handle emergencies. Many non-profit groups offer part time social worker positions.

Social workers are encouraged to take care of their health since their jobs can be very stressful. Each state requires mental health social workers to become licensed. To obtain a license, state licensing boards typically require completion of 3,000 hours of clinical work under the supervision of a licensed professional.

Job Outlook and Career Opportunities
During 2006, 122,000 mental health social workers were employed throughout the United States. By 2016, job growth for these specialists is projected to increase by 30 percent. Job opportunities are best at these organizations:
  • Family services agencies
  • Municipal governments
  • Outpatient care facilities
  • Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals
  • Residential mental retardation and substance abuse facilities
Education and Training
Entry-level mental health social worker jobs can be obtained with a bachelor's degree, but many organizations prefer hiring people with master's degrees. Those interested in clinical work must hold at least a master's degree. Researchers and professors are typically required to hold PhDs in social work. During 2006, more than 400 bachelor's degree programs were recognized by national accrediting organizations. Likewise, these same organizations recognized more than 180 master's degree and 70 PhD programs nationwide.

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