School Counseling

Don’t Want to Be a Therapist? Alternative Careers for MSWs

Don’t Want to Be a Therapist? Alternative Careers for MSWs
An MSW prepares you for social work jobs above entry-level positions with better pay and opportunity. Image from Pexels
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Lucy Davies June 30, 2021

MSWs have plenty of career options outside of one-on-one therapy and counseling. We explore many of them in this article.

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People enter social work for many reasons, but all are driven by a desire to help others. There are many ways to help people. One of the most direct and obvious ways is as a therapist, working one-on-one with clients to improve their mental health.

But what if you’re a social worker who doesn’t want to be a therapist? Fortunately, plenty of other jobs and opportunities enable you to direct your commitment and training in non-clinical settings. In this article, we will explore some of those jobs and see how a Master of Social Work (MSW) can help open doors to you. We’ll discuss:

  • What is an MSW?
  • Non-clinical therapy jobs for MSWs

What is an MSW?

A Master of Social Work (MSW) is an advanced degree that prepares students for advanced practice in health and human services. It is typically a two-year, in-depth course of study that prepares you to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) or work in other non-clinical social work settings.

You may pursue an MSW after graduating from college with a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). However, other bachelor’s degrees can get you there, too. Many students apply to social work graduate school after majoring in education, psychology, anthropology, nursing, counseling, and other related degrees. Most critical in your pursuit of a master’s degree is your commitment and understanding of the complexities of social services and advocacy.

Social work operates on different scales. You may find that you are more comfortable working in one and not another. If you are interested in working with people one-on-one in a therapeutic environment, you will want to choose to study on a micro-level. This includes family counseling, housing assistance, substance abuse counseling, and other direct work with individual clients.

The macro-level of social work involves large-scale advocacy in such areas as policy and law. Macro-level social workers coordinate with national and local activist groups and with government officials to make systems function better for people.

The mezzo-level occupies a space between the two, working in larger groups than families but smaller than government agencies. Examples include local group work with schools, non-profit organizations, businesses, and communities.

Curricula for all three levels of social work cover the same material in subjects like sociology, psychology, community organizing, research, advocacy and human behavior. Your MSW program will include field placement and internships directly related to your course of study. You can specialize in a concentration like child and family services, social justice and advocacy, community organizing, child welfare, or geriatric care.

An MSW prepares you for social work jobs above entry-level positions with better pay and opportunity. Let’s look at some of the positions that an MSW qualifies you for in social work careers that are more macro and mezzo than micro-level.

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There are a couple of significant practical considerations:

- A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in social work
- A license to practice or required social work certification

Credentials vary among careers, states, and territories. Licenses include:

- Certified Social Worker (CSW)
- Clinical Social Work Associate (CSWA)
- Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW)
- Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW)
- Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW)
- Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)
- Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP)
- Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)

Most of these licenses require a Master’s or Doctorate, along with additional coursework or clinical internships. (source)

A survey of 2017 social work graduates by the National Social Work Workforce Study found that social workers with Master’s degrees and Doctorates made substantially more than those with no advanced degree. (source)

- People with MSW degrees made $13,000-plus more than those with only BSW degrees
- MSWs make more in large cities or urban clusters
- People with doctorates earned $20,000 to $25,000 more than people with only MSW degrees

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Non-clinical therapy jobs for MSWs

Let’s take a look at some non-therapy job titles available for MSW holders in the field of social work. These jobs range in average salary, but all function on a more policy-based, macro, or mezzo-level social services.

Community service manager

Community service manager or social service manager is just the first part of this job description. You can be a community service manager for any group (children, unhoused people, veterans and their families), community, or neighborhood. These positions are administrative and organizational in nature and involve work that helps organizations and services run smoothly. A good community services manager has great communication skills and a mind for business, focusing on how to get people the services and help they need. Ziprecruiter lists the national average salary at $63,477 per year.

Corporate responsibility social worker

As the business world grows, changes, and modernizes, there is a new emphasis on employees’ mental health and work/life balance in large organizations. Businesses are also becoming more aware of both their impact and the opportunity for relationship-building in the communities they serve. Having a social worker on staff can improve employee retention, efficiency, communication on the inside, and the cultural impact on outside cultures and communities. The average salary for a corporate responsibility social worker in New York is about $66,246 per year.

EAP counselor

Employee assistance program (EAP) counselors are another social work link to the business world. Originally created to help with substance abuse issues for employees, the position has evolved to include guidance on divorce, childcare, domestic violence, mental health, stress, or anything that might affect an employee’s productivity. Salary.com lists the median salary for an EAP counselor as $74,962.

Immigration social worker

In key areas of the United States like New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas and Houston, immigration and residence status has a huge impact on communities. Some social workers work directly with immigrant populations, with specializations in healthcare, law, schools, job and resource allocation. Some immigration issues deal with documentation, others with employment and housing, so an immigration social worker might wear many hats and need a range of strengths and contacts to help with case management. Ziprecruiter lists the national average salary for immigration social workers as $59,890 per year.

Professor of social work

Your MSW degree can lead you into private practice, government work, or right back into the classroom as a professor. If you loved your time in the classroom and getting your social work degree, you might love to build on that experience and teach. Whether you choose to teach at the graduate or undergraduate level, translating your love of learning into inspiring new generations of social work graduates might be just the work you are looking for. Professors of social work command high salaries- salary.comlists the average as $98,992 per year as the median.

Researcher

Becoming a researcher is another great career choice for anyone who loved studying for their master’s degree. Research and writing can lead to grant writing, policy design, and analysis, making sure programs function properly and helping the people they were designed to reach. Researchers can assess current social work services, evaluate neighborhoods’ changing needs, and target communities to design effective programs and policies. Indeed.com lists salaries for social work researchers in New York at about $55,000 per year. Salaries may vary by region.

School counselor

So many of us spent time with our school counselors growing up, whether in college planning, mentoring programs, or seeking help with resources in and out of school. It’s an eclectic position, and it helps greatly to enjoy working with children and adolescents. The job may involve one-on-one work on mental health challenges like eating disorders, peer issues, bullying, substance abuse, home stressors, and the like, school social workers and counselors can also focus on curriculum development, student advocacy, and policy work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports average annual income of $58,120 for school and career counselors.

Social work administrator

If on top of strong communication skills, you have a head for budgets and numbers, a job as a social work administrator might be right for you. This position helps steer budgets for an agency or organization, making sure funding is available and programs are effective. Administrators identify areas that lack support and direct services to the right people with budget-based strategies. GlassDoor lists the average base pay for a social work administrator as $71,155.

Social work planner

Social work planners are focused on making existing programs and systems better. They might be employed to design or redesign supports for whole communities instead of single families or individuals, with an ever-critical eye focused on sustainability. Social work planners might work in law firms, universities, health centers, or local government agencies and often collaborate with activists, lawyers, lobbyists, and legislators. GlassDoor lists the average social work planner salary at about $51,210 per year.

Veteran’s affairs social worker

The US Department of Veterans Affairs is the largest employer of master’s-level social workers in the US. While there are many jobs for therapists on the micro-level, the macro-level is full of program management, design, and policy analysis opportunities. Social workers might assist with housing, veterans’ justice outreach, recovery implementation, therapeutic and supportive employment, and organizing long-term care. With the range of health care social workers needed to help returning soldiers, case managers might find themselves in large metropolitan areas, in smaller communities, or on military bases, immersed within the communities they serve. In New York, Indeed.com lists a typical salary for a veteran’s affairs social worker at about $77,239 per year.

Veterinary social worker

One of the higher-paying positions you can land with your MSW degree in macro-practice is that of a veterinary social worker. These professionals help pet owners and veterinary hospital staff work through loss, trauma, and feelings of guilt. This relatively new and emerging position deals with abuse and neglect cases and assists with resources to help staff and families grieve. Ziprecruiter lists the average national salary for a veterinary social worker is about $55,381 per year.

How long does it take to earn an online MSW?

You have a number of options for study if you choose to pursue your master’s in social work. You can take the traditional route with a full-time, in-person, on-campus course of study, which typically takes two years. Or, you can take a longer approach to balance current work and life duties by attending part-time. There are also accelerated degree programs, which can take about 16 months in a compressed format, and advanced standing programs, which allow you to use your CSWE-accredited (Council on Social Work Education) undergraduate degree and work experience to advance more rapidly.

Online programs offer flexible options for MSW candidates. Many schools offer their masters-level social work programs online, and they are as involved and connected as the on-campus option. Tulane University’s School of Social Work offers both full and part-time 60-credit online programs that run for 16 and 32 months, respectively. Their advanced standing program takes 12 months on a full-time basis and 24 months part-time. Virginia Commonwealth University’s MSW online programs offer even more flexible timing, with their online Master of Social Work full-time program on a 16 month or a two-year track and part-time study as a three- or four-year plan.

With so many job opportunities outside of one-on-one therapy and so many ways to pursue your MSW and affect public health, you’ll find your career path and your own interests aligning in no time!

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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