A Step–by–Step Guide to 12 Skills to Amplify Clinical Social Workers‘.
Clinical social workers are highly trained professionals who develop a specific and technical skill set to practice in their field. Using these competencies, they enable their clients to foster well-being in terms of their mental health, home environment, personal relationships and career. If you’re a current clinical social worker or a professional aspiring to work in such a capacity, it may be useful to familiarize yourself with the skills needed to work in this role.
In this article, we explain why clinical social work skills are important and outline 12 essential skills for cultivating success as a clinical social worker.
Why are clinical social work skills important?
Clinical social workers play an important role in helping their clients cultivate wellbeing, success and progress in their lives through counseling and resource coordination.
Unlike licensed master social workers (LMSWs), licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) can perform independent assessments of clients’ mental health and design treatment plans accordingly to address any existing obstacles to wellness.
With the ability to provide emotional and mental health counseling, facilitate social welfare programming and coordinate client care alongside other healthcare providers, clinical social workers must have a highly specialized technical skill set.
Even further, these professionals also typically need to develop a firm base of soft skills to navigate the occupational challenges associated with working in a clinical position. Therefore, clinical social workers must undergo lengthy educational and training processes to prepare for their roles.
These processes include an accredited master’s degree program, 1,500 to 6,000 hours of supervised clinical rotations in which they gain hands-on experience working with clients and state-regulated licensure processes. With all of this in mind, developing professional skills are an integral part of cultivating success as a clinical social worker.
12 clinical social work skills needed for success
Here are 12 distinct competencies current and prospective clinical social workers should focus on developing to foster success in their careers:
1. Technical knowledge
Clinical social workers must have a certain level of technical knowledge in order to perform their roles as mental health and social service professionals. Typically, clinical social workers hone their technical skills throughout various training processes.
They may focus on developing a base of knowledge in psychology, human development and sociology to be able to assess their clients’ emotional health status and develop treatment plans according to best practices in the field.
Clinical social workers spend most of their day conversing with clients and listening to them speak about life events, emotional obstacles and other challenges they’re experiencing.
Because of this, it’s important for these professionals to serve in their roles empathetically—they should be able to connect with their clients and act compassionately. This can help clinical social workers better understand their clients’ needs and form more effective treatment regimens.
3. Interpersonal communication
Communicating with clients is one of the central duties performed by clinical social workers. They must be able to speak clearly and concisely about clients’ emotions, life events and the resources they can use to overcome any of the challenges they may face.
In addition, social workers serve their roles on an interpersonal level and must interface with a diverse set of clients on a day-to-day basis, making communication skills doubly as important for these professionals.
Note-taking, documentation and record-keeping are all an essential part of working as a clinical social worker. As they listen to their clients, these professionals must write effective notes to keep track of the conversation and important details that may inform the treatment plans they propose. Having a thorough set of notes that outline a patients’ treatment over time can be especially useful in monitoring their progress and evaluating the treatment’s success.
While clinical social workers often work in an independent capacity when treating their clients, they must be able to collaborate with other healthcare providers and practitioners when necessary.
This often occurs when they encounter clients who need medical or psychiatric interventions that clinical social workers aren’t qualified to offer. Being able to work efficiently alongside others can streamline care processes and improve patient outcomes in the long term.
6. Boundary setting
Even though clinical social workers need to serve their clients empathetically and compassionately, it’s also important for these professionals to be able to set boundaries in their careers. These boundaries may be of a professional or ethical nature.
Clinical social workers must abide by a high code of ethics to protect their clients and maintain confidentiality over their treatment period. In addition, these professionals may need to protect their own emotional health and personal time to avoid burnout.
Working with clients on a long-term basis requires clinical social workers to develop a capacity for patience. As they spend more time with clients, they must be able to trust the treatment process, even when clients don’t necessarily progress linearly.
While this can be a challenging task, maintaining composure and allowing clients to achieve self-awareness and wellbeing through internal processes can prove more valuable for clinical social workers over time.
8. Knowledge of interventions
Clinical social workers must have knowledge of the various intervention strategies available to them when treating clients. These interventions may include resources related to coping mechanisms, community services, informational materials and social welfare programs. Having these interventions on hand can help clinical social workers serve their clients more efficiently and effect change more easily.
9. Active listening
It’s important for clinical social workers to be able to listen to their clients, understand what they’re saying, validate their feelings and help their clients feel heard through the process of active listening.
When these professionals are able to reflect meaningfully on client emotions and challenges, they can gain a deeper understanding of their client’s experiences. This can give them greater insight when assessing clients’ needs and inform the treatment options they implement.
Clinical social workers must be able to evaluate their treatment plans and success in helping clients achieve well-being through their practice. This reflective process can allow clinical social workers to identify areas of improvement, understand what’s working within their treatment offerings and make shifts to enhance client care in the long term.
With the ability to evaluate the practical outcomes of their treatment, clinical social workers can foster higher rates of wellness among clients.
Self-awareness can enable clinical social workers to be mindful of how their actions, perceptions and potential biases may affect client outcomes. With greater self-awareness, these professionals can better navigate client treatment and offset any effect their tone of voice or reactions may have on a client’s progress.
This skill can also help clinical social workers become more open to receiving feedback, which may allow them to grow professionally and enrich their practice.
While it can be challenging to practice self-compassion, clinical social workers must develop the ability to act with kindness toward themselves. The social work profession can be emotionally demanding and implementing self-compassion purposefully can allow clinical social workers to build resilience and understanding in their personal lives. This may help them serve their clients more compassionately as well.
12 Pros and Cons of Being a Social Worker (Plus Tips)
Social workers help individuals and families overcome challenges through advocacy, resources and counseling. There are many benefits of becoming a social worker, such as job satisfaction and salary potential, though there are also some potential drawbacks to this career. If you’re interested in becoming a social worker, you may want to know some advantages and disadvantages of the profession to help you decide whether to pursue this role. In this article, we explain what a social worker does, describe the pros and cons of being a social worker and offer tips to help you pursue this career.
What does a social worker do?
A social worker is a mental health professional who helps individuals, families and communities improve their quality of life. They help others gain access to basic needs, such as food or shelter. Some licensed social workers may provide counseling to individuals, groups or families, while other social workers advocate for services and resources on behalf of their clients. Social workers communicate with clients to understand their challenges and help them develop strategies to manage problems effectively. While their job responsibilities can vary based on their employer or area of specialty, these professionals typically have the following duties:
Meet with clients to assess their needs and determine their goals
Work with clients to develop strategies to help them overcome challenges, such as illness
Research and advocate for resources to benefit their clients, such as child care or government assistance
Schedule follow-up appoints with clients to measure their progress and adjust plans as necessary
Develop programs or services to meet their clients’ basic needs, such as shelter
Refer clients to other services or resources that can improve their well-being, such as support groups
Maintain case files to keep updated records of their clients’ progress
6 pros of being a social worker
There are many advantages to being a social worker, such as the opportunity to help others through challenges in their lives. Knowing these benefits can help you determine whether you want to work in this field. Here are six pros of being a social worker:
1. Variety of employment options
Social workers have a variety of employment options in their field. They can find jobs with many employers, such as hospitals, nursing homes, government agencies, community centers, schools, nonprofit organizations or private practices. These professionals can pursue different specialties within the field of social work. For example, they may become a geriatric social worker to assist elderly patients in assisted living facilities. Other areas of specialty include pediatrics, mental health and addiction. This variety can help social workers pursue their passions and find employment throughout their careers.
2. Job satisfaction
Many social workers have high levels of job satisfaction. They help people in difficult situations by working with them to develop strategies to manage challenges. Their skills and expertise can help people in a variety of situations, such as poverty, illness, addiction or unemployment. Social workers can help individuals and families gain access to critical services and resources, such as health care or government assistance, to help them be successful. Their ability to help others in a positive way can help social workers feel accomplished and fulfilled in their careers.
3. Diverse tasks
Social workers have many diverse tasks, which means their schedules and priorities may vary each day. Some days, social workers may spend time with a family to measure their progress and have a consultation with a new client. Other days, they may supervise a parental visit to reunite a family and help a patient begin the transition to hospice care. They may visit their clients in a variety of settings, such as schools, hospitals or homes. They also perform administrative work to maintain client records. The diversity of their tasks can help many social workers find enjoyment in their work.
4. Advancement opportunities
Many social workers have opportunities to advance in their careers. Some choose to earn their Master of Social Work (MSW) degree to meet licensure requirements to diagnose and treat patients with mental or behavioral health issues. Those who receive their license, also known as clinical social workers or licensed clinical social workers, can provide counseling services to individuals, groups and families. They may even choose to open their own practice to provide these services. Other social workers may advance in their careers to become managers, administrators or directors within a government agency.
Many social workers make average annual salaries of $50,000 or higher. The national average salary for these professionals is $55,356 per year. Their average salary can vary based on their geographic location, employer and education. As they gain experience in the field, social workers may earn higher salaries. Most social workers work in full-time positions and receive benefits through their employer. For example, they commonly receive benefits packages with health insurance, retirement savings plan options and paid time off. These benefits can contribute to their overall compensation.
6. Job outlook
There’s a strong outlook for social workers in the future. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts employment growth for social workers to grow by 12% between 2020 and 2030. This rate is faster than the rate of average occupations in the general workforce. The BLS expects employers to have an average of 78,300 job openings for social workers each year over the next decade. Some areas of social work may have additional openings, such as mental health social workers. The BLS says employment for these social workers may grow as more people seek treatment for mental illnesses.
6 cons of being a social worker
While there are many benefits to being a social worker, the profession also has some drawbacks, such as high caseloads. Understanding these aspects of the job can help you decide whether the advantages of being a social worker outweigh the challenges. Here are six cons of being a social worker:
1. Challenging situations
While social workers may be present with their clients during many positive interactions, such as helping a child finish the legal process for adoption, they may also experience challenging situations in their work. They may speak with people who have been victims of abuse. They may help patients in the hospital who are transitioning to hospice for end-of-life care, or they may work with families who have been unable to adopt a child. It’s important for social workers to find ways to maintain their own mental health, such as exercising and enjoying hobbies, so they can continue to help others.
Social workers help individuals and families who are experiencing challenges in their lives. Social workers often care deeply about their clients and may become frustrated if there are limited resources available to help them. These professionals may work with clients who feel angry or upset about their situations. At times, these emotions may cause stressful situations, which require social workers to use techniques to defuse tension so they can help their clients effectively. It’s helpful for social workers to manage the stress they may experience at work. For example, they may use deep-breathing techniques, practice meditation or go for walks.
3. High caseloads
Social workers may be responsible for overseeing high caseloads. Once fully trained, they may have 15 to 20 caseloads to manage at one time. If agencies and social work divisions are understaffed, social workers may have even more responsibilities, with caseloads of 20 or higher. Each new case they receive requires their time and attention so they can help clients. It’s helpful for social workers to have organizational skills so they can determine their priorities, schedule their various tasks and manage their caseloads effectively.
4. Safety risks
There may be times when social workers experience safety risks in their jobs. They may work in prisons with violent offenders, or they may visit a home where families are resistant to their presence, such as in child welfare cases. When social workers feel concerned about their safety, they may ask for additional help from law enforcement. For example, a social worker may ask a police officer to go with them to a home if they feel the family may be unwelcoming or argumentative. Law enforcement can help keep social workers safe in those situations.
5. Work schedule
While most social workers have full-time positions, they often work outside of standard business hours. These professionals often meet with clients during a time that’s convenient for them, which may be in the evenings or on weekends. Many social workers also have on-call availability to respond to emergency situations involving their clients, which may occur at any time. To maintain a work-life balance, it’s helpful for social workers to manage their tasks and schedule time for personal activities, such as pursuing hobbies and spending time with family.
6. Educational requirements
Most entry-level jobs in social work require candidates to have a bachelor’s degree at minimum, which typically takes four years to complete. Some jobs may prefer candidates who have their Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, which typically takes two years to earn. A graduate degree is also a requirement to become licensed as a social worker to diagnose and treat clients with mental or behavioral health issues. While this education is an investment, many social workers consider the time and money to be worth the opportunity to pursue their passions and help others.
Tips for becoming a social worker
Here are some tips to help you pursue a career as a social worker:
Develop transferrable skills. If you want to become a social worker, it’s important to develop some transferrable skills to help you interact with your clients and identify services or resources to help them succeed. Focus on building soft skills, such as communication, problem-solving, empathy and time management, to be successful in this career.
Earn a bachelor’s degree. Getting a bachelor’s degree can prepare you for many entry-level roles in this field. Choose a college or university that offers a social work degree, which typically includes courses such as human behavior, case management, program organization and social work practice.
Continue learning. Once you decide to become a social worker, it’s helpful to continue learning new strategies and practices so you can help people with different backgrounds and challenges. You may choose to learn more about an area of social work so you can specialize, or you may educate yourself about resources in your community to find new ways to help others.