A Reference Guide to Social Work and Mental Health Degrees and Careers Options
At some point, everyone needs a social worker.
That’s because social workers can be found just about everywhere. They work at hospitals, schools, senior citizen homes, addiction clinics, nonprofits, and community centers.On this page
- What do social workers do?
- Social work degree programs
- MSW and dual degrees
- Social work career paths
Social workers are seemingly everywhere because of a pronounced need for their services.
At a fundamental level, social workers support individuals, families, and communities to improve lives and outcomes.
Sometimes social work might be as simple as acting like a resource and connecting people with other services (such as government support or support programs run by nonprofit agencies). Other times, social workers might be specifically qualified to provide direct help through therapy, counseling, or other mental health support and guidance.
What Do Social Workers Do?
Well, it’s hard to answer that question in a straightforward sentence. Or a paragraph, or even a few paragraphs.
That’s part of the reason why we built this website. MastersInSocialWorkOnline.org began as a simple project to provide prospective MSW students with the resources they need to find online MSW programs.
However, we realized that by only covering online master’s in social work programs, we were missing out on a large part of the education and experience necessary for social workers to be successful.
Then, we branched out to cover social work career guides, dual-degree programs, and professions and degrees related to social work, such as a master’s in counseling degree guide.
Social workers’ role (and importance) in our communities is enormous. And so we wanted to build an exhaustive resource to help tomorrow’s social workers prepare for this meaningful career. And to help social workers currently in the field figure out how to take the following steps to progress in their careers.
Social work, also called social welfare, is a growing and in-demand field. The growth comes in terms of the scope of work (like what professions and services fall under the umbrella of social work) and the overall demand for social workers and their services.
Mental health and mental health services like counseling will be critical to the future of social work, which is why we added career guides related to mental health. We have also created degree guides about mental health counseling, such as:
- Master’s in Counseling Degree
- Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy Degree
- Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Degree
Between the projected growth (the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts double-digit growth in job opportunities over the next decade) and the increased opportunity in social work degree programs and online social work programs, there is no better time to enter the field.
Social Work Degree Programs
Regardless of the practice area, whether working with children or at a senior citizen residence, almost all social workers have formal training and have obtained some degree.
Social Work Degrees Including BSW, MSW, DSW, and PhD
Social work degrees are somewhat unique in that they often correlate to a level of allowable professional practice. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- Bachelor’s in social work (BSW) is often the entry-level degree for social workers. Obtaining a bachelor’s in social work allows people to perform a wide variety of social work. BSW degree programs exist in two formats:
- Campus-based bachelor’s in social work degree (BSW) – These are often traditional degree programs at four-year colleges and universities. These programs require being physically present for lectures and classes. The coursework prepares social workers to fulfill basic job requirements and includes mental health, policy, and case management courses. Online social work bachelor’s degree (online BSW) – Although newer than the campus counterparts, these degrees cover the same career preparation fundamentals. The most significant distinction is that online social work degree programs offer greater flexibility, allowing students to obtain a degree while handling other commitments or without having to relocate to attend classes physically.
- Master’s in social work (MSW) is a significant degree in the social work profession as it is often obtained by many social workers looking to perform direct social work or work one-on-one with clients. Some social work jobs require an MSW degree and additional hours of training for licensure.
- Campus-based social work master’s programs MSW – These programs generally follow the traditional professional school roadmap. They are usually two-year programs and offer all the services to get students up to speed in the field and build the network required to take the next career steps. Upon graduation, most MSWs will collect hours and field experience to qualify as licensed clinical social workers. Increasingly, variations on traditional MSW programs are becoming available. These include part-time programs to accommodate working professionals and degrees that can be combined with other fields.
- Online social work master’s programs (online MSW) – To meet the increasing demand for well-trained and well-qualified social workers, colleges and universities are increasingly offering online MSW degree programs. These programs take advantage of new learning tools, methods, and platforms to deliver world-class education that is both flexible and customized. As a bonus, it means that online MSW students can earn a degree from some of the best schools in the country while still living in and serving their communities.
- PhD and DSW in social work. A doctorate in any field comes with its challenges and benefits — and the same is true with a PhD or DSW degree in social work. But what do social work PhDs and DSWs do? One succinct answer is provided in a post from the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work at USC,“ Ph.D. candidates seek to pursue careers in higher education or research-oriented organizations, where they will have opportunities to conduct research and scholarship and help to train others. While some social work PhDs go on to pursue policy, community organizing, or nonprofit work, potential PhD applicants need to have a clear picture of their desired career path. Social work PhD programs generally aim to admit individuals committed to pursuing full-time scholarship and training the next generation of social workers.”
- Campus-based social work PhD and DSW programs – Like social work bachelor and master degree programs, interested students can find campus-based PhD programs designed to lead students through a research-oriented curriculum. Depending on the program, campus-based PhD programs usually take four or five years.
- Online social work PhD and DSW programs — Online education is becoming more common across all domains and disciplines, and PhD programs in social work are no different. These programs blend synchronous and asynchronous learning, including lectures and research projects, to help students prepare for the required PhD exams. These programs can range in time commitment, program length, and cost.
MSW Dual-Degree Options
This website is designed as a resource hub for prospective social workers and social workers already working in the field.
One crucial development in social work over the past several years is the availability of new dual-degree programs. These programs, which combine the traditional MSW curriculum with other graduate and professional studies programs, provide students with unique opportunities for training and career preparation. Popular MSW dual-degrees include:
- MSW and MBA Dual Degree
- MSW and MPH (Public Health) Dual Degree
- MSW and MPA (Public Administration) Dual Degree
- MSW and JD (Law) Dual Degree
- MSW and Education Dual Degree
- MSW and Theology Dual Degree
Besides critical degree overviews, you will also find other resources designed to help students make informed decisions about what careers are available to people with a social work degree.
Social Work Career Paths
Check out our career hub and career profiles to gain insight into what skills and training are required to land a social work job. In addition to the background requirements, we’ve included important information such as job demand, project growth, and salary outlook.
These are just a few social work career profiles (we are always adding more).
- School social worker
- Medical social worker
- Military social worker
- Behavioral therapist
- Child social worker
- Community social worker
- Behavioral therapist
- Hospice social worker
- Pediatric social worker
- Forensic social worker
- Geriatric social worker
- Psychiatric social worker
- Public policy social worker
Finally, we have built out some resources that we think will be useful while deciding what kind of social work degree to pursue and/or what kind of social work career to prepare for.
These resources can be found in our aptly named resource section. A few guides to get you started include:
- How to become a social worker
- Social work internship guide
- Social work jobs guide
- Social work salary guide
- Licensed clinical social worker guide
- Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accreditation guide
- Social work ethics guide
- The need for bilingual social workers
- MSW specializations
As mentioned earlier, the need for well-trained social workers is only projected to grow well into the future.
This heightened demand reflects the needs of an aging population and a growing need for mental health services at all levels of society and age groups.
But really, the growing demand also reflects the acknowledgment and importance that social workers play.
After all, we will need a social worker at some point.