Clinical Social Worker Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

About this article
A clinical social worker's median annual salary is around $59,000. Is it worth the education and licensure requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a clinical social worker is right for you.
View available schools

Pros and Cons of a Clinical Social Worker Career

Clinical social workers diagnose and treat people who have emotional, mental and/or behavioral problems. While becoming a clinical social worker might be a solid option, consider all the pros and cons before making a career decision.

Pros of a Clinical Social Worker Career
Can be personally satisfying*
Pays well ($59,000 median annual salary as of May 2014)*
High job-growth field (19% increase forecast from 2012-2022)*
Can work in many settings (hospitals, hospices, schools)*

Cons of a Clinical Social Worker Career
Must have a master's degree*
Must obtain a state license*
Can be stressful*
May have to work evenings and weekends*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Job Description

Clinical social workers diagnose and treat people who have emotional, mental and/or behavioral problems. In this position, you would work with clients, physicians and other healthcare professionals to determine the best course of action. You might provide therapy to groups, individuals or couples and encourage clients to talk about their situation and emotions. Oftentimes, you'll refer clients to mental health professionals or social services agencies.

Clinical social workers sometimes focus on a specific population, such as families, the elderly or clients who need end-of-life care. You might find work in a number of settings, including schools, hospices, hospitals and military bases, or you might work in private practice, either alone or as part of a group. In private practice, your work likely will include insurance issues and administrative tasks. Promoting your practice and networking with other professionals are also part of the job.

Career Prospects

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that employment of all types of social workers could grow by 19% from 2012-2022, which was faster than the average for all occupations. School, child and family social workers could see employment rise by about 15% during that period, while healthcare social workers might see job growth of 27%. Jobs for mental health and substance abuse social workers could increase by 23%, the BLS projected.

Salary Information

The median annual salary for a social worker was about $59,000 as of May 2014, the BLS reported, with half of all social workers making between roughly $42,000 and $74,000. The top-paid ten percent made a salary of almost $85,000 or more annually, and the lowest-paid ten percent made around $33,000 or less.

Education Requirements and Skills

To become a clinical social worker, you first need a bachelor's degree in social work or a related subject, such as sociology or psychology. You then must earn a Master of Social Work (MSW) to become a clinical social worker. As of February 2012, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) had accredited 215 MSW programs across the U.S. It usually takes two years to earn an MSW, but some colleges allow students with a Bachelor of Social Work to earn their master's in one year. Master's programs consist of several classroom courses, along with multiple community projects and field experience.

Clinical social workers need to be compassionate problem-solvers. As a social worker, you'll need to be able to identify with your clients' issues as well as understand the obstacles they face. You must have strong people skills in order to build solid relationships with your clients. Because you'll be dealing with personal matters, you must be discrete and trustworthy.

Licensure

Every state requires licensing for clinical social workers, although regulations differ by state; additionally, some states will waive licensure requirements if you work for a government agency. To earn a license, you typically must hold a master's degree and have two years or 3,000 hours of clinical experience after graduation. You also may be required to pass the Association of Social Work Boards' examination for clinical social workers, a 170-question test.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Job postings for clinical social workers show the diversity of work environments, ranging from military bases to hospitals. These postings often call for licensed clinical social workers with master's degrees and several years of experience. Here's a sampling of what employers were seeking in April 2012:

  • An acute care facility in California was looking for a clinical social worker with three or more years of supervisory experience. The ideal candidate would be familiar with state regulations involving community care facilities.
  • A behavioral health service provider was looking for a part-time clinical social worker for a facility in Florida. This person would conduct individual and family psychotherapy and work with the staff to plan and carry out treatment. The person hired needed a computer with Windows 2003 or higher and Internet access.
  • In Massachusetts, a military base needed someone to help service members with problems, including mental health issues and family difficulties. The person needed to be a U.S. citizen with a master's degree and a license.
  • In Pennsylvania, a program for developmentally delayed infants and young children needed a clinical social worker with at least a year of experience working with children, preferably from low-income urban families. The job involved leading group, family and individual therapy sessions.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Earn Professional Credentials

You can show your dedication to your career by earning recognition from a professional organization. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) offers two professional credentials to social workers who hold master's degrees. The Diplomate of Clinical Social Work is offered to clinical social workers who have pursued continuing education or professional development after earning their degrees. Members of the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW) have met education and experience requirements. NASW reported that social workers who earn these credentials exemplify the highest level of commitment and achievement.

Get Specialized

Demonstrating specialized knowledge in a certain area of clinical social work may catch the eye of potential clients and employers. The NASW offers Advanced Practice Specialty Credentials to clinical social workers who meet experience and education requirements in several specialty areas. Credentials in gerontology and drug and alcohol addiction are available. The Qualified Clinical Social Worker (QCSW) designation goes to individuals who have at least 30 hours of post-degree education and at least three years of employment with an agency that provides mental health assessment and treatment.

Other Career Paths

Probation Officer

If the educational and experience requirements to become a clinical social worker are discouraging, you might consider a career as a probation officer. Probation officers supervise the behavior of convicted criminals who are released on probation rather than being incarcerated. The job can be dangerous, and many probation officers are required to carry firearms. You'll need a bachelor's degree in social work, psychology, criminal justice or a similar field.

The BLS predicted that employment for probation officers could grow by 18% from 2010-2020 and that this figure could be even greater as mandatory sentencing laws are examined and possibly relaxed, leading to more people being placed on probation. The BLS said the median annual salary for a probation officer was about $48,000 as of May 2011.

Community or Social Service Manager

Another helping job is the growing occupation of community or social service manager. These managers work for all types of social or human service organizations. They discuss various needs with the targeted population and with staff, then devise and implement programs to improve conditions. In this position, you might supervise staff members, though duties will vary depending on the size of the agency. You'll need at least a bachelor's degree in social work, urban studies or a related field, and many employers prefer someone with a master's degree in social work, public health or public administration.

The BLS forecast that employment for social or community service managers could grow by 27% from 2010-2020, which was faster than the average for all occupations. The median annual salary for this occupation was around $59,000 as of May 2011.

School Counselor

School counselors help students overcome behavior problems, academic issues and sometimes problems at home or in the community. The duties of a counselor vary depending on the age of the students. Younger children may need help with developmental problems, while a counselor to high school students likely will focus on college and career advice. A school counselor must have a master's degree in school counseling or a related field and hold state credentials.

The BLS predicted that employment of school counselors could increase by 19% from 2010-2020, which was as fast as average for all occupations. The median annual salary for this occupation was about $54,000 as of May 2011.

Popular Schools

  • Campus and Online Programs
    1. Full Sail University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science - Film Production
      • M.S. - Entertainment Business
      • M.S. - New Media Journalism
      • Master of Fine Arts - Creative Writing
      • M.S. - Public Relations
      • M.S. - Internet Marketing
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Sportscasting (Campus)
      • Bachelor of Science - Software Development
      • BS - Cloud Technologies (Campus)
      • BS - Creative Writing for Entertainment (Campus)
      • BS - Film (Campus)
      • BS - Media Communications (Campus)
    Certificate
      • Cert - English As A Second Language (Campus)
      • Cert - Instructional Design and Technology
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Georgetown University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Finance
      • Masters of Professional Studies in Technology Management
      • Master of Professional Studies in Real Estate
  • Online Programs Available
    3. George Mason University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Education in Special Education, specializing in Applied Behavior Analysis
      • Master of Health Administration in Health Systems Management
      • Master of Science in Health Informatics
      • Master of Business Administration
      • Master of Education in Special Education, specializing in Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Online Programs Available
    4. American University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
      • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication - Advocacy and Social Impact Concentration
      • Master of Arts in Economics
      • Master of Public Administration and Policy
      • Master of Science in Agile Project Management
      • Master of Science in Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Communication
      • Master of Liberal Arts
      • Master of Arts in Science Writing
      • Master of Science in Applied Economics
      • Master of Science in Geographic Information Systems
      • Master of Science in Bioinformatics
  • Online Programs Available
    6. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
      • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
      • MSHS in Molecular Diagnostic Sciences
      • MSHS in Translational Microbiology
      • Masters in Interdisciplinary Secondary Transition Services
      • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Special Education for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners
    Bachelor's
      • BSHS in Clinical Operations and Healthcare Management
      • BSHS in Medical Laboratory Sciences
      • BSHS in Biomedical Informatics
  • Campus and Online Programs
    7. Cortiva Institute

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Massage Therapy
      • Esthetics (Skin Care)
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
      • Master of Science - DNP Path (Doctor of Nursing Practice)
    Master's
      • Master: Legal Studies
      • MS in Psychology
      • Master : Business Admin
      • Master: Psychology/General Psychology
      • MSPY - Industrial/Organizational Psychology Specialization
      • Master of Public Health
    Bachelor's
      • Undergraduate in Legal Studies
      • Bachelor: Liberal Studies
      • Bachelor of Business Admin
      • BSBA - Investment
      • BS in Liberal Studies Leadership
      • Bachelor: Nutrition Science
    Associate's
      • AASBA in Business
      • AAS in Legal Support and Services
      • Associate: Business Admin.
      • Associate: Business Admin. - Office Mgmt
      • Associate: Criminal Justice
      • Associate: Accounting
    Certificate
      • Psychology
      • Certificate in Human Services
      • Medical Office Administration Certificate
      • Human Services Certificates in Child and Family Services
      • Postbaccalaureate Certificate - Pathway to Paralegal
      • Medical Billing and Coding Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    9. University of Delaware

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Concentration
      • Master of Public Administration
      • Master of Business Administration
      • Master of Business Administration - Finance
      • Master of Business Administration - International Business
      • Master of Education in Teacher Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Applied Computer Science
      • PhD in Business Admin - Applied Computer Science
      • Doctor of Business Admin - General Business
      • PhD-TIM - Computer Science
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Management
      • Ed.D. - Sports Management
    Master's
      • M.A. in Psychology - General Psychology
      • MBA - Applied Computer Science
      • Master of Business Admin - General Business
      • M.Ed. - General Education
      • Master of Business Admin - Accelerated General MBA
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice
    Certificate
      • Education Specialist - Organizational Leadership
      • Education Specialist - Special Education
      • Education Specialist - International Education
      • Education Specialist - Early Childhood Education
      • Education Specialist - Curriculum and Teaching
      • Education Specialist - Instructional Leadership

Featured Schools

Full Sail University

  • Master of Science - Film Production
  • BS - Sportscasting (Campus)
  • Cert - English As A Second Language (Campus)

What is your highest level of education?

Georgetown University

  • Master of Science in Finance
  • Masters of Professional Studies in Technology Management
  • Master of Professional Studies in Real Estate

What is your highest level of education completed?

George Mason University

  • Master of Education in Special Education, specializing in Applied Behavior Analysis
  • Master of Health Administration in Health Systems Management
  • Master of Science in Health Informatics

What is your highest level of education?

American University

  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication - Advocacy and Social Impact Concentration
  • Master of Arts in Economics

What is your highest level of education?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Arts in Communication
  • Master of Liberal Arts
  • Master of Arts in Science Writing

What is your highest level of education?

The George Washington University

  • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
  • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
  • BSHS in Clinical Operations and Healthcare Management
  • BSHS in Medical Laboratory Sciences

What is your highest level of education?

Cortiva Institute

  • Massage Therapy
  • Esthetics (Skin Care)

What is your highest earned degree?

Kaplan University

  • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
  • Master: Legal Studies
  • Undergraduate in Legal Studies
  • AASBA in Business
  • Psychology

Which subject are you interested in?