What is the difference between a clinical social worker and a typical social worker?

The services of a social worker are essential to the lives of many people who need assistance. A social worker will help people manage many challenges they might experience in their lives.

One professional a person could also work with is a clinical social worker. This is slightly different from a typical social worker, as a clinical social worker can help diagnose and treat clients who have substance abuse or mental health concerns. A clinical social worker also has more experience than a typical one and will undergo a more specific education program.

Both workers will require thorough fieldwork experience before they can start serving their clients. However, each of these professionals can provide comprehensive help for patients who need support the most.

The general difference

First, a traditional social worker can provide many services for patients who require help. A social worker is a professional who can help people manage various everyday problems. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that social workers often work in and for healthcare centers, child welfare agencies, and schools.

A social worker’s support includes helping people manage various crisis situations, including educating them on how to avoid future crises. Individual and group counseling sessions are also available through social workers. The work is about helping people who may be more vulnerable to abuse or harm, plus it also assists people by helping them to learn how to live independently.

A clinical social worker will work differently from a traditional one. Generally, a clinical social worker will provide a more intensive approach to handling various care needs. A clinical social worker will help assess patients and provide a diagnosis of a particular mental or substance-related disorder. The worker’s effort is about identifying possible disturbances that may keep a person from leading a healthy and positive life.

The worker can also provide a treatment solution for a person who has been diagnosed with a condition. The treatment can be chosen based on the patient’s various needs, plus the worker can help a patient find a proper treatment solution for future needs.

Clinical social workers often work in various inpatient and outpatient facilities. These people are often found in rehab facilities, social service offices, elder care facilities, courtrooms, and hospitals. Some workers may also operate their own private practice offices.

Both professionals will work directly with their clients and provide firsthand support to help them understand what they need to do to stay healthy and positive in their lives. These workers are necessary for supporting the emotional and mental health of people with many conditions or concerns.

Which people will social workers support?

Traditional and clinical social workers will support various people who require mental and social support. These include:

  • Children
  • The elderly
  • Veterans
  • People dealing with drug and substance addictions
  • Victims of traumatic events, including physical and emotional abuse
  • Immigrants, refugees, and others who have recently entered the country

The places where these social workers can operate will vary, but clinical social workers are often more likely to operate their own independent facilities. Clinical workers are typically eligible to provide services in more environments, although regular social workers can still find employment in various traditional venues.

How much work goes into the practice?

Clinical and traditional social workers can work in one of three levels of work, although certain workers are more likely to participate in certain levels:

  1. Micro

A micro-level social worker is someone who provides one-on-one support for patients. All types of social workers can participate in micro-level services at schools, hospitals, and other facilities. This measure is often the most effective because it provides direct support for people who need help the most. Each client will have unique needs for their situation, so a micro-level social worker will be necessary to support those unique needs.

  1. Mezzo

A mezzo-level social worker will work as a program manager who can help people deliver services. Such workers often serve hospitals, schools, and non-profit organizations.

A clinical social worker is more likely to operate as a mezzo-level worker. The person will have more experience in understanding how to diagnose patients and analyze their concerns. The worker can relay knowledge and research to healthcare providers, faculty members, and others in the environment.

  1. Macro

The third level is a macro-level social worker. This professional doesn’t directly interact with patients but will instead prepare thorough programs to support the unique needs patients have. A macro-level worker can be a grant writer, data analyst, or work representative for a group. The efforts of the macro-level provider focus on high-level impacts on the needs of the patients.

What education standards are necessary?

Another critical difference between these two workers is that a clinical social worker will require more training to become licensed to work in their field. First, a traditional social worker will require a bachelor’s degree in social work or another related field. The student will then need a Master’s in Social Work or MSW. The person will then complete the necessary fieldwork hour requirements and the proper exam for licensure, with the rules varying by state.

A clinical social worker will require a more thorough education program to attain their license. In addition to a bachelor’s degree in social work, the clinical social worker will have to complete an MSW degree with a focus on clinical social work.

The clinical social work focus will emphasize various considerations, including social and psychological development and relationship considerations. Addictions, trauma, and the effects of these issues are critical topics to explore in a clinical-based study program.

The clinical social worker will continue to complete the required fieldwork hours and then complete the necessary state board examination to become a licensed worker. Continuing education courses may also be needed in some areas, although workers would have to complete those courses every few years to maintain their certification.

A student can complete an online MSW degree from Florida State University today. FSU provides an online MSW degree program with an option for people looking to become clinical social workers. Remote learning is a great option for people looking to enhance their skills and balance study alongside a busy home life. 

Proper skills are necessary for all

Regardless of whether one will be a traditional or clinical social worker, the professional will require various everyday skills to support a patient’s needs. The social worker must be capable of communicating well with a patient while listening to their needs. The worker should also know how to evaluate the needs the person has.

Self-awareness is also critical for the success of a social worker. A social worker must be ready to help patients while avoiding possible personal biases. The work provided by the professional should be neutral and supportive of the client’s unique needs.

What about continuing education?

Continuing education requirements will apply for both of these social workers. The rules will vary by state, but people can expect to undergo recertification every few years. The recertification process can include the following:

  • Completing more studies at a university; schools can provide specific programs for ongoing education needs
  • Attaining enough fieldwork hours in certain environments
  • Completing and passing an exam; the types of exams one will complete can vary

These continuing education rules are necessary for helping social workers understand the latest developments in their fields. The social work industry is always changing, and these changes may be more dramatic for clinical social workers in most situations.

Will the demand for social workers be there?

The need for social workers will always be there regardless of whether one is a traditional or clinical worker. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that there will be about 64,000 new social worker positions available to fill from 2021 to 2031. The Bureau also reports there were about 700,000 social worker positions as of 2021, so the demand for social work help will be prevalent. The increasing population and the ongoing evolution in how people identify and diagnose mental conditions are vital factors to spot in why this field is growing so much.

A valuable work position

Regardless of whether one is a clinical or traditional social worker, the services one can provide will be valuable and essential to the well-being of one’s clients. A social worker will help people understand how they can handle their issues and help them become more independent. The work someone can offer here will be highly rewarding, as a professional can improve the lives of many.