Psychiatric Social Worker

Psychiatric social work is a rewarding profession that offers a range of employment opportunities. If you are thinking about specializing in this area of social work, here are some critical details that you need to know.

What is psychiatric social work?

Psychiatric social workers serve as members of a psychiatric treatment team and work with people facing mental health challenges. Psychiatric social workers assist and support patients who suffer from conditions such as depression, severe anxiety, and psychotic or substance-related disorders.

What Are The Responsibilities of a Psychiatric Social Worker?

The complexities of interpersonal relationships, seeking and maintaining employment, and other aspects of daily life are exacerbated by the challenges posed by mental illness.

Psychiatric social workers help their clients find strength to create a path to a better quality of life while they receive treatment for their illnesses, and when needed, psychiatric social workers provide support and guidance to their families.

A psychiatric social worker’s job description can include offering individual counseling, group and family therapy, and providing communication and links to hospitals and community resources. A psychiatric social worker would not normally take on advocacy or policy work but maintains a particular focus on the direct care of an individual.

A psychiatric social worker requires the following skills:

  • The ability to conduct assessments regarding a person’s social, emotional, interpersonal and socioeconomic needs;
  • The expertise to employ a variety of techniques or interventions to enhance client and family communications with the medical team;
  • The capability to enable a person to participate in their care and advocate for themselves;
  • The ability to provide targeted education and counseling about specific illnesses and treatments (e.g. eating disorders, alcohol and substance abuse counseling);
  • The knowledge and insight to integrate cognitive and behavior modification techniques;
  • The ability to provide discharge planning and transitional care from one facility to another and to help the person integrate back with family and community; and
  • The expertise to function as a member of a multidisciplinary team.

How to Become a Psychiatric Social Worker

Psychiatric social workers must earn a master of social work (MSW) and be licensed to operate in their state. In some cases, psychiatric social workers require years of clinical experience as a prerequisite to receive a license or certification.

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School Program Description
University of Denver
  • Research-driven faculty dedicated to making an impact on social problems
  • Prepares you to apply social work skills across practice settings
Fordham University
  • Four areas of focus: Individuals and Families, Organizations and Community, Evaluation, and Policy Practice and Advocacy
Simmons University
  • Four Clinical Specializations: Child and Family, Trauma and Interpersonal Violence, Mental Health and Addictions, and Health and Aging
  • Three program tracks: Traditional, Accelerated, and Extended
Case Western Reserve University
  • From Case Western Reserve University’s top-10 ranked School of social work
  • Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks available
University of Southern California (USC)
  • Offered by USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, a top-ranked graduate School by U.S. News and World Report
  • Features virtual and in-person field education in or near student's own communities
Baylor University
  • Ethically integrates faith and social work practice
  • Specialize in clinical practice or community practice

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Where Do Psychiatric Social Workers Work?

Psychiatric social workers are commonly employed in hospitals that specialize in the treatment of mental illnesses, including acute care and residential care hospitals. Some of these facilities commit patients involuntarily when a person may pose a danger to him/herself and others.

Other facilities admit people on a voluntary basis. Psychiatric social workers can also provide mental health services in partial residential facilities or outpatient community settings.

Psychiatric Social Worker Career Outlook

Psychiatric social workers fall within the broader category of mental health social workers. This is a rapidly growing social work sector, that is projected to grow 18% between 2018 and 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Continued healthcare spending and treatment provides opportunities for clinical social workers, such as psychiatric social workers, compared to social workers who do not offer treatment services.

The average annual salary for a mental health social worker is $43, 250, although licensed clinical social workers are likely to earn more.

Why might you enjoy this type of work?

Psychiatric social workers often report that they find this profession fulfilling. There is an increasing demand for trained MSW-level psychiatric social workers, which means greater opportunities for both career growth and job mobility.

Working as a psychiatric social worker can sometimes be stressful. It’s vital to know your limits, protect your own health and wellbeing, and learn how to achieve personal balance when working with people who suffer from mental illnesses. Self-care and a network of social support is an important component for effective and successful practice of psychiatric social work.