Clinical or psychiatric social worker
How to Become a

Clinical or Psychiatric Social Worker

The complete career guide to be a Clinical or Psychiatric Social Worker: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $47,190
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • 18.8%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Growing Demand
    Job Outlook
  • Problem Solving
    Career Attribute

Social workers can specialize in either clinical or non-clinical practice. Those who work as clinical or psychiatric social workers commonly take on roles and responsibilities more akin to counseling or therapy than non-clinical social workers. They take on individual clients to treat and prevent issues.

Recommended Schools

What is a Clinical or Psychiatric Social Worker?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in clinical or psychiatric social worker roles:

  • Meet with clients who are struggling with mental problems and disorders, and listen to patients’ thoughts and concerns
  • Create a safe environment where patients feel they can be open in discussion without feeling judged, guilted, or shamed
  • Provide patients with strategies for changing thought processes or behaviors to overcome negativity and other problems
  • Refer patients to psychiatrists or other services when counseling is unable to resolve issues
  • Refer families to services designed to improve quality of life, including job placement services and government assistance programs

A Day in the Life

In social work, there are two major areas of practice—clinical and non-clinical. Non-clinical social workers can practice with only a bachelor’s degree, and the services they can provide patients are limited. While non-clinical social workers can provide guidance to patients, they usually refer patients to clinical or psychiatric social workers for help overcoming deeper or larger mental problems or issues. Clinical and psychiatric social workers counsel patients using a variety of techniques and therapies.

Clinical and psychiatric social workers commonly treat patients who are suffering from either mild or severe mental disorders, substance abuse or addition, or anger management problems. They may work in a variety of settings, including schools, mental health institutions, substance abuse rehabilitation centers, private practices, or hospitals. They use both individual and group therapy, and employ the practices of behavior therapy, psychotherapy, counseling, and more to treat patients and prevent issues.

Often, clinical and psychiatric social workers move into the role after many years of working as non-clinical social workers. The many years of experience they gain in non-clinical roles enables them to provide advanced and knowledgeable care to patients, especially when it comes to familial problems, substance abuse, and physical abuse issues. They may work in private practices and take patients as a therapist or counselor would, or they may work in hospitals, treatment centers, or other clinical settings.

Typical Work Schedule

Most clinical and psychiatric social workers work a full-time 40-hour workweek, though there are some that prefer to work on a part-time basis. There are those social workers who operate private practices and have the flexibility to create their own schedules, typically choosing to only practice during normal business hours.

Those clinical or psychiatric social workers who work in institutions may also need to be available during evenings and weekends to accommodate patient needs and emergencies.

Social workers spend a good deal of their time in an office or a healthcare or educational facility, but they often must travel locally to visit clients, meet with service providers or participate in meetings.

Projected Job Growth

Overall employment of social workers is expected to grow 11% over the next decade, which is far faster than the average for all occupations. Growth is due to an increased demand for healthcare and social services and will vary based on specialization. For instance, as student enrollments rise across the country, employment of child, family and school social workers is projected to grow 7%, which is still faster than the average for all other occupations.

Employment of healthcare social workers is projected to grow 17% over the next 10 years. That is much faster than the average for all other occupations. This increase in demand will be in part to help the large aging population and their families adjust to new treatments, medications and lifestyle changes they may have been prescribed.

Even more astounding is the 18% expected job growth for mental health and substance abuse social workers. Demand for these professionals will increase as more people seek treatment for their mental health and substance abuse issues. In addition, drug offenders are now, more often than not, being sent to treatment programs, thereby increasing the demand for on-staff social workers.

Typical Employers

Some clinical social workers operate private practices—they’re either self-employed and operate their own practice, share a practice with other medical professionals, or work for a provider who owns a practice. Others work for institutions that have large populations of patients with diverse mental health needs, such as hospitals, substance abuse rehabilitation centers, non-profit organizations, or psychiatric institutions.

Where you work will depend on the type of social work you are interested in. Most jobs fit into one of five different categories:

Child Welfare and School Social Work

Work with children that are affected by a troubled home life. Though the work is not always easy, it is always rewarding. These professionals are usually employed by a school, private clinic or through a community organization.

Geriatric Social Work

Geriatric social workers help aging individuals deal with a wide variety of challenges including financial issues. Medical problems and mental health issues. Typical employers for these professionals are hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes.

Healthcare Social Work

Anytime an individual is diagnosed with a serious disease or illness, their life and their family’s life are thrown into turmoil. These professionals, who are typically employed by hospitals, rehab facilities and private clinics, help people cope with financial stress and emotional trauma.

Substance Abuse

From alcohol to sex to gambling, addicts face many challenges as they try to navigate out of their destructive paths. Substance abuse social workers work alongside psychologists, counselors and behavioral therapists to help their clients beat their addictions and get their life back on track. These professionals are typically employed by public health agencies, private clinics and prisons.

Mental and Public Health

These social workers work with the homeless population as well as those who suffer from serious mental health issues like depression and schizophrenia. They are typically employed by community mental health centers, hospitals and public health agencies.


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How To Become a Clinical or Psychiatric Social Worker

The first step in becoming a clinical or psychiatric social worker is earning a bachelor’s degree. While most aspiring clinical social workers pursue majors in social work, psychology or sociology degrees may also be sufficient. Next, you’ll need to become licensed by your state to practice as a social worker. All states have different licensure requirements, but most require a bachelor’s degree, a certain number of hours of supervised work experience, and passing a written exam.

Most aspiring clinical social workers work as non-clinical social workers for many years before pursuing additional education and licensure to work as psychiatric social workers. To become a clinical social worker, you’ll need to earn a master’s degree in social work. A master’s degree is required to earn licensure as a clinical social worker. Most clinical social workers first earn a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) license, which allows for both clinical and non-clinical practice, but not private practice.

To be able to run a private practice, you’ll need to first earn a LMSW license that allows you to practice clinical social work under the supervision of a licensed, professional clinical social worker. This supervised experience is usually a requirement for earning a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) license that allows you to operate a private practice. However, licensure requirements vary by state for this license as well, and some states may require candidates to have a Ph.D. to become LCSWs.

Clinical or Psychiatric Social Worker Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

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High Range


National Hourly Wage

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High Range


How do Clinical or Psychiatric Social Worker salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Clinical or Psychiatric Social Worker's can make an average annual salary of $47,190, or $23 per hour. This makes it an Above Average Salary. On the lower end, they can make $32,880 or $16 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #423 Nationally for All Careers

Programs and Degrees

Here are the most common degrees for becoming a Clinical or Psychiatric Social Worker. a is usually recommended and specifically a degree or coursework that prepares you for the particular field, see below.

Highest Education Among Clinical or Psychiatric Social Workers

  • 2.1%   Doctorate
  • 35.6%   Masters
  • 40.8%   Bachelors
  • 5.7%   Associates
  • 9.1%   College
  • 5.6%   High School
  • 1.2%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs


2024 Est. Jobs


Job Growth Rate


Est. New Jobs


How does Clinical or Psychiatric Social Worker job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 22,200 jobs for a total of 140,000 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 18.8% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Below Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #62 Nationally for All Careers

What Companies Employ The Most Clinical or Psychiatric Social Workers

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers 22,400 7,400 7%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 13,600 800 1%
Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities 11,200 4,500 5%

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