Social Work

What To Know When Considering A Career As An MSW Therapist

What To Know When Considering A Career As An MSW Therapist
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Nedda Gilbert November 24, 2018

There are many paths to becoming a therapist. The majority of them require a master’s degree. The Master’s of Social Work (MSW) degree is one of the fastest most popular paths to becoming a professional therapist. MSW study is typically completed in only two years.

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There are also accelerated options where the degree can be earned in as few as 18 months, or even sooner for those who have relevant prior experience. Not only is an MSW earned relatively quickly, but social work is a regulated profession, meaning that the degree will be recognized in every state. An MSW is also the prefered degree among healthcare employers because the majority of insurance companies offer reimbursement to licensed degree-holders for the services they provide.

If you want to spend your career helping people, an MSW offers a smart and efficient path to becoming a licensed therapist. But there are many other factors to consider in choosing this profession.

The best place to start is to build an understanding of the field of practice that interests you the most. Other factors you might consider include the population you want to serve, the setting in which you want to work, and the emotional impact of working with people who may be vulnerable, hopeless or depressed. In addition, you should be aware of the additional coursework and training you must complete in order to become a fully licensed therapist in your state.

Choosing A Field of Practice And A Population

If you’re on track to becoming a therapist, you’ll need to select a social work school and academic track in which you can develop clinical skills and specialize in providing psychotherapeutic services. The majority of MSW programs offer this specialization.

You will also want to consider the types of clients you hope to work with and the problems those individuals may be facing. Finally, what type of therapy do you hope to provide? You might prefer to work with individuals or do couples counseling, family work, group therapy, or work that engages in a range of client relationships.

Who Social Workers Help, and How: A Quick Guide

Social workers assist children, adolescents, adults, families, couples, military veterans, parents, divorcing/divorced individuals, immigrants, the terminally ill, the disabled, the elderly and more.

They help clients cope with problems such as drug or alcohol abuse, sexual trauma/abuse, illness, hospitalization, end-of-life care and decision-making, Alzheimer’s, aging, disability, post-traumatic stress disorder, grief, mental illness, homelessness, poverty, rehabilitation, re-entry to civilian life, immigrant adaptation to new communities, disaster relief and recovery, joblessness, marital troubles, domestic violence, child welfare issues, child custody, behavioral problems, eating disorders, sexual identity, and bereavement.

Where do they work? Social workers are employed in hospitals, veteran care facilities and programs, schools, health care organizations, mental health facilities, child welfare agencies, community organizations, the government, social agencies, veterinary practices, not-for-profit organizations, rehabilitation centers, corporate employee assistance programs, and in other organizations.

Working as an MSW therapist is possible in any of these settings and with any of these populations.

Becoming Licensed As a Social Worker/Therapist

Students on the path to licensure must study at a Council for Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited school. Furthermore, they must pursue any postgraduate coursework that they did not complete during their MSW studies.

Any MSW interested in offering counseling and mental health services must be licensed to practice. The MSW degree is recognized by all 50 states, but each state sets their own standards for licensure. Coursework requirements vary by state; many will require extra coursework in child abuse assessment and reporting, spouse/partner abuse, and alcoholism and chemical dependency. In addition MSWs will generally also need to complete up to 3000 hours of supervised work experience in the field. After coursework and training requirements have been met, eligible MSWs can take their state’s licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) exams.

Social Work Burnout

Becoming a social worker is not for the faint of heart. The coursework and training are demanding and stressful. And those heavy impacts do not end once an MSW has been earned. For those who plan on a career as a therapist, managing the demand can be tough.

Many social work therapists report that they are personally affected by their clients’ pain and suffering. They may feel depleted by how much they have to give, and how patient and empathetic they have to be day-in and day-out. All this leads to a common and well recognized problem for therapists: burnout.

Although the social work field recognizes the need for therapists to practice self-care and seek support from colleagues in managing feelings about clients, any prospective MSW therapist should think deeply about whether this work is right for them. It’s important to ask yourself whether you can manage intense, demanding, and highly emotional work in which there is also tremendous accountability to the client.

The takeaway:

There are many personal and professional rewards to becoming an MSW therapist. It is important to explore all the different areas in which therapists can practice. It is equally important to anticipate some of the personal impacts (positive and negative) of serving others as they cope with sometimes catastrophic problems.


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