How to Become a Psychiatric (Mental Health) Social Worker

How to Become a Psychiatric (Mental Health) Social Worker

What Is a Psychiatric (Mental Health) Social Worker?

People seeking a career in the field of social work may have questions about what a psychiatric social worker — also referred to as a mental health social worker — is and how their role compares to that of a psychologist or a therapist. The answer usually comes down to educational requirements and areas of practice. Becoming a psychologist generally requires a doctoral degree (although some states allow a master’s), and the training path can take four to six years with additional supervised patient work. Social workers will need to earn a master’s degree to become a Master of Social Work (MSW) or licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). 

Mental health social workers provide care to people experiencing mental health issues and may work in various settings such as healthcare, public agencies, private practice, and other clinical settings. 

Education and Licensing Requirements

The path to becoming a mental health social worker begins with a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree in social work is not required to enter a master’s program.  In some states, however, you can complete a master’s program in less time if you have a bachelor’s degree in social work. 

Whether you need a master’s degree to practice varies by state. Most states require a master’s degree to become a licensed social worker. Most states also require two years of supervised experience in a clinical setting after completing your master’s degree. 

All states require a license to practice as a clinical social worker. Additionally, clinical positions require a master’s degree in social work (MSW), which usually takes about two years to complete. Some states also require licensure or certification for non-clinical positions. Education and licensure requirements vary by state, so if you’re considering a mental health social worker degree, you can visit the Association of Social Work Boards to learn about the requirements in the state where you’d like to practice.

What Does a Psychiatric (Mental Health) Social Worker Do?

For some people, the most attractive part of the mental health social worker job description is the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. An MSW program like Baylor’s can help prepare aspiring social workers to serve clients and improve their quality of life while addressing prevalent social issues from a strengths-based perspective. 

A licensed mental health social worker may provide individual, group, family, and couples therapy and work with clients to develop strategies to change behavior or cope with difficult situations. Also, they refer clients to other resources or services, such as support groups or other mental health professionals. Clinical social workers develop and adjust treatment plans in cooperation with other healthcare professionals.

Mental health social workers make a difference for deeply vulnerable populations and individuals who may be experiencing depression, anxiety, and psychotic or substance-related disorders. Work settings include inpatient psychiatric hospitals and treatment centers, government and social agencies, outpatient care centers, and individual and family services.

Social workers also advocate for community policies and resources to improve well-being for individuals and at-risk population groups.

Mental Health Social Worker Job Outlook

Rising trends in mental illness, substance abuse, and criminal sentencing guidelines are leading to a rising demand for mental health social worker jobs. Trends are changing as more people seek treatment for mental health issues and drug offenders are being diverted to treatment programs rather than incarceration. 

Overall, the job outlook for social workers is projected to grow 12 percent through 2030, faster than the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). For mental health and substance abuse social workers, the outlook is even better, with a 15 percent annual growth rate projected through 2030.

Mental Health Social Worker Salary

Typically, social workers work full time and may work evenings, weekends, and holidays or to be on call for emergency situations. The top 10 percent of social workers earned more than $85,820 in 2020 while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,020. The median wage was $51,760. 

The highest annual wages were found in local government agencies, followed by ambulatory healthcare services. The lowest wages were seen in the individual and family services category. New Jersey had the highest annual mean wage in 2020 for mental health and substance abuse social workers at $91,070 per year. The other states in the top five were the District of Columbia, California, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, with the lowest mean annual wage among them at $65,430.

Earn Your Master of Social Work Degree Online With Baylor University

The Baylor University MSW Online Program prepares students to lead lasting change for individuals, families, and communities. In the program, students focus on service, justice, and empowerment for a culturally responsive and compassionate social work career. The program allows students to specialize in clinical or community practice, backed by real-life field experience at an approved site in or near their community. 

Students also have access to personalized guidance and mentorship opportunities. Two tracks are available — the standard MSW option for students with a bachelor’s degree in another major area from a regionally accredited college or university and an advanced standing option for students with a bachelor’s degree in social work from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-accredited college or university within the last five years. Additionally, a GRE is not required for admission. After graduation, career services will help students in their job search through resume and interview preparation. The online program starts three times each year, and applications are reviewed year-round on a rolling basis.

Find out more about the MSW Online Program at Baylor University.

Citation for this content: Baylor University’s online master’s in social work program.