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Mental Health Social Worker

Published on December 7, 2009.


Job Duties

Mental health social workers provide a variety of services to individuals with mental health disorders, including those with substance abuse issues. These services include therapy, which can be in either individual or group format, crisis intervention, participating in outreach programs, assisting in social rehabilitation, and helping to master skills used in everyday life. A mental health social worker may also help clients who are returning to the larger community by forming useful support services. Mental health social workers can be found working in government positions, hospitals, individual and family services agencies, managed care organizations, and substance abuse centers, and even positions involving developing policy, planning and research.

The basic job of a mental health social worker is to assist people who have experienced personal difficulties involving mental health become able to live and function as well as possible. There are a variety of specialties within the mental health social work field.

Job Skills

Working in the field of mental health care social work requires a special individual, who displays emotional maturity and stability and great accountability. Mental health social workers must also be able to work both individually, without supervision, and in a groups setting where teamwork is crucial. The work requires an ability to communicate with people and establish a bond of trust and rapport.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median yearly salary for a mental health social worker was $37,210. The top ten percent earned over $61,000 in 2008.

Training and Education

Working as a mental health social worker requires a proper educational degree, which in most states is at least a bachelor's degree in social world (BSW), although other majors such as psychology or sociology may be able to qualify for positions in some cases. Working in more advanced positions can often required a more advanced degree, usually a master's degree in social work (MSW). Education in social work is available in a large number of institutions and programs, which usually must be accredited by the Counsel on Social Work Education (CSWE).

A degree in social work requires both classroom education and field work. A student earning a BSW can expect to put in at least 400 hours in supervised field work, while those working toward an MSW degree may need at least 900 hours. In addition, every state has laws requiring social workers to be properly licensed. Within the field of mental health social work, there is a range of positions available for advancement, including directing, program management, and other administrative and supervisory positions in social service organizations.


As of 2008, statistics show that there were approximately 131,010 mental health social workers employed in the United States, including substance abuse social workers, with a large number working for state and local government agencies.

Job Outlook

The job field of mental health social work is expected to grow signifianctly between 2006 and 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. New laws have created a greater demand for mental health social workers by requiring mandatory substance abuse treatment programs for certain criminal convictions in lieu of prison time.


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