Why Earn a Clinical Social Work Degree?

Choosing a clinical program versus one that involves a sole focus on generalist and/or macro practice may be a good fit for your personal, educational, and professional goals. Widener University offers an MSW program that follows a trauma-informed, clinical model and uses a social justice lens.1 The program provides students with opportunities to learn fundamental skills and values while helping vulnerable individuals.

In looking at the numbers, clinical social workers represent the largest group of mental health practitioners in the U.S.2 Additionally, while employment of social workers is expected to grow by 12 percent in the next ten years, there are even larger increases projected for positions where clinical social workers are in high demand: healthcare, mental health, and substance abuse.3

Clinical social work is an outgrowth of the profession’s century-plus history. It is a specialty within the profession that focuses primarily on the needs of diverse individuals, couples, families, and groups. These needs may be related to life transitions, mental health and other behavioral concerns, medical issues, as well as relationship difficulties, whether in one’s own family or within a web of interactions in the social, economic, cultural, and physical environment. Clinical social workers provide services in community-based or institutional settings, hospitals and/or clinics, substance use treatment and recovery programs, schools, child welfare agencies, private practices, and for-profit companies.

The clinical specialty embraces two fundamental aspects of social work knowledge and skill: the person-in-environment perspective and the importance of relationships. Professional values, ethics, and principles remain at the core of the work, including the promotion of social and economic justice, and human rights, for clients experiencing oppression and marginalization. Empowerment, strengths, resiliency and prevention are integral to the work. Clinical practitioners also carry out various research and advocacy functions as part of their overall work.

A statement from the Council on Social Work Education sums up key aspects of clinical practice:

“The practice of clinical social work requires the application of advanced clinical knowledge and clinical skills in multidimensional assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of psychosocial dysfunction, disability, or impairment including emotional, mental, and behavioral disorders, conditions, and addictions. Clinical social workers are engaged in crisis intervention, brief and long-term psychotherapy and counseling, client-centered advocacy, consultation, and evaluation. Interventions responsive to all dimensions of diversity are applied within the context of the therapeutic relationship guided by best practices and evidence-based guidelines. Clinical supervision is an important feature of clinical social work.”4

Clinical social work programs have also drawn upon the recent proliferation of neuroscience knowledge as well as research about the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).5

If you have an interest in the field of clinical social work, Widener University’s Online Master of Social Work program will help prepare you to be the future of social services. It is important to be aware that clinical social work is regulated by state laws and regulations. For more information regarding licensure requirements, please see this page.

For more information about Widener’s Social Work program or licensure call 844-386-7321 to speak with a program manager or click here to apply now.

About the Author:

Eric Stein, DSW, LSW is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Widener University’s Center for Social Work Education. He received his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to teaching at Widener, he has taught at UPENN, Rutgers, Marywood, and Stockton University. He has been involved in the field of social work for more than 15 years in clinical and administrative positions both in Philadelphia and San Francisco. His practice has included mental health and community-based services for individuals, children, youth, and families living in marginalized and oppressed communities.


Widener University, “Master of Social Work.” Accessed October 1, 2016, http://www.widener.edu/academics/schools/shsp/social_work/graduate/masters/default.aspx
National Association of Social Workers, “Choices: Careers in social work,” Accessed September 29, 2016, https://www.socialworkers.org/Careers/Career-Center/Explore-Social-Work/Why-Choose-the-Social-Work-Profession
Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” Accessed September 30, 2016, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm
Council on Social Work Education, “Advanced social work practice in clinical social work,” (p. 2), Accessed September 30, 2016, http://www.cswe.org/File.aspx?id=26685
Centers for Disease Control, “Adverse childhood experiences: ACEs,” Accessed September 30, 2016, https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/