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Clinical social work is often referred to as micro social work, a concentration on the mounting social problems affecting individuals or small groups (macro social work focuses on psychosocial issues facing larger groups like communities and organizations). Clinical social workers play a supportive role, providing mental health services to help diagnose, treat, and prevent mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders at the micro level (individuals, families, and groups). Child abuse, homelessness, substance abuse, and urban decay are just a few of the issues social workers tackle.

Graduate students in social work who plan to become clinical practitioners will take additional clinical course work, do fieldwork in a clinical setting under the supervision of an experienced clinical social work and will, upon graduation, complete a minimum amount (two years) of supervised clinical social work employment.

When you’re considering which schools to apply to for your master’s degree and subsequent license to practice social work, location can be important. Schools in certain regions may emphasize social work needs specific to that region. For example, schools in urban areas may offer classes and field study that differ from those offered by schools in rural areas. Some schools may want to recruit students who plan to stay and work in the area so that they can help improve the surrounding community.

Degree Information

Students typically complete their master’s coursework in clinical social work in two years of full-time study. Part-time programs typically take three to four years to complete. Unlike other master’s programs, some clinical social work programs do not require their students to complete a master’s thesis, which can be good news to those who dread grueling research projects. However, graduate students are required to complete hours of demanding field study (at least 900 hours) before graduation. Students find that it makes them more prepared for what they’ll face once they enter the profession.

Those wishing to pursue careers in teaching and research go on to obtain their Ph.D.s in the field. Many schools offer dual master’s and Ph.D. programs; so if this is your goal, look out for programs that offer you a full course of study.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program

  • What is the school’s attrition rate? How many first-year students make it to graduation?
  • Is the school accredited by the Council on Social Work Education? (If it isn’t, you won’t be able to apply for a professional license after graduation.)
  • Is the school’s geographic location conducive to your area of interest?
  • Does the school have a job placement program?
  • How does the school rank among other schools offering the same program?

Career Overview

If you think completing a master’s degree program in clinical social work is tough, consider the challenges you’ll face as a practicing social worker. As a clinical social worker, you’re more likely to address individual and family problems such as serious illness, substance abuse, and domestic conflict. Clinical social workers are employed by government agencies, non-profit, and advocacy agencies and are charged with the alleviation of some of society’s most challenging problems. Other clinical social workers work in private practice. Working in this vital field takes a lot of effort, a lot of patience, and most of all, a lot of passion.

Career/Licensing Requirements

Though a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for some social work positions, a master’s degree in social work or a related field in necessary if you want to provide clinical services. State licensing requirements vary, but some amount of supervised work experience is necessary for private practice.

Salary Information

Like teachers, social workers are often overworked and underpaid. Social workers can earn from $24,000 to $40,000. Uncle Sam—the federal government—is the highest paying employer of social workers, paying an average of $45,000. Needless to say, social workers aren’t in it for the money. Many cite progress made in their cases as compensation for all their hard work. Clinical social workers in private practice have a wider range of salaries based on their area of practice, geographic area, and demand.

Related Links

The American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work
Features job postings, newsletters, and resources for students of social work.

National Association of Social Workers
This is the largest member organization of professional social workers and offers networking, advocacy, books, and journals.

Council on Social Work Education
This site serves the social work community, providing information on current events, seminars, and education programs.


  • Micro Social Work Systems: Individual, Family

  • Crisis Intervention

  • Developmental Disabilities

  • Discrimination & Inequality

  • History Of Social Work

  • Macro Social Work Systems: Community

  • Mental Health Policy

  • Social Statistics