Careers in Social Work Part III: Clinical/Mental Health

Over the last couple of months we have discussed social work careers in school systems and family and community agencies. This month, let’s discuss social work careers in mental health and counseling. As society pushes for better mental health care, helping professions have been forced to expand and adapt to the growing demand for mental health care. Social work, though not traditionally associated with mental health, is a natural fit for this area of health and wellness.

Social workers have always been concerned with the well-being of society and have taken action to create stable communities and home environments. Today, however, social workers are well aware that the stability of a community is impossible without the stability of the individual; after all, a community does not exist without the people who fill it. Many universities offer undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees, and certificates in mental health or clinical concentrations of social work. Often, graduates are required to take additional exams and receive additional hours of supervision before becoming certified to practice clinical or mental health social work.
As a mental health practitioner, social worker can combine their skills in assessment, strengths based problem solving, and counseling. Social workers are ideal for the mental health profession because of their ability to address a person’s internal issues while also finding ways to help people adapt to their environment. An example of how social workers combine their traditional roles with mental health can be seen in social workers who work with the mentally ill homeless population. Social workers who work with this particular possibility are tasked with providing counseling and mental health care while also assisting clients with securing permanent housing, income sources, and educating them about hygiene and health.

Another area in which social workers in mental health thrive is with the military. Military families are faced with different challenges than non-military families. Often one or both parents are away for prolonged periods of time. Additionally, some military personnel are exposed to conditions and actions that make it difficult for them to transition back to civilian or family life. Because social workers are trained to work with children, adults, families, and communities, they are well equipped for working with military families. Though social workers may be contracted by the military, many positions require enlistment and the completion of basic training. Once employed or enlisted by the military social workers may provide individual counseling, group therapy, or family reunification. Social workers may also be vital to helping soldier and their families balance the stresses of military life with the stresses of everyday family life.

Though we have only discussed a couple, specific, examples of how mental health fits into the social work profession, there are countless other organizations that may employ social workers to provide individual or group therapy or counseling. When considering a clinical or mental health concentration in social work keep in mind that the academic curriculum may differ greatly from that of family or school social work. Students in this area of study are expected to have a base knowledge of medical, biological, and diagnostic terminology and subject matter. Clinical concentrations may require additional classes in psychology, psychopathology, or biology. In addition to academic classes, students on the clinical tract are often expected to complete internships in mental health or behavioral health settings such as hospitals, counseling centers, or juvenile residential facilities.

No matter what path you choose in social work, you can always be sure that you are making a positive difference in your community. As we have discussed, social workers are of vital importance to schools, communities, and families. What path are you thinking of taking? School social work? Family social work? Clinical social work? What challenges and rewards have you experienced thus far?

About the Author

Amanda Body

Meet our blogger, . She grew up in Harlan, Kentucky and currently resides in Louisville KY. Amanda graduated from Valparaiso University in 2009 with a B.A. in Political Science and English. Most recently, she attended the University of Kentucky where she earned her Master's of Social Work degree. Amanda is currently pursuing her passion as a hospital social worker in Louisville Kentucky.