Mental Health Social Worker

Job Duties

Mental health social workers treat people who have mental illnesses or substance abuse problems, such as abuse of alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. Their services often include individual and group therapy, outreach, crisis intervention, social rehabilitation, and training in everyday living skills. They sometimes create support services in order to assist clients when they are returning to the community. They often work in hospitals, substance abuse treatment centers, individual and family services agencies, or local governments. They are often referred to as clinical social workers.

The goal of the mental health social worker is to help individuals function more effectively in their lives. They often provide their services in a health-related setting that are run by managed care organizations. Most specialize in a particular section of the field. Some mental health social workers are involved in research and planning or policy development.

Job Skills

Those interested in becoming mental health social workers should have a number of desirable traits. They need to be very emotionally stable and mature. They must be able to handle a high degree of responsibility. They should have the ability to work on an independent basis without supervision. They need to be able to work well in a team setting and get along with coworkers. And they need to be able to inspire trust and respect in their clients.


In 2002, mental health social workers earned a median annual salary of $32.850. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $21,050, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $52,240.

Training and Education

The most common minimum educational requirement to obtain a job as a mental health social worker is a bachelor's degree in social work (BSW). Those who have bachelor's degrees with majors in psychology, sociology, and other related fields may be able to qualify for entry-level positions. Many positions also require a master's degree in social work (MSW), particularly positions in health settings and clinical work. Jobs in public and private agencies may also require an advanced degree. There are about 436 BSW programs and 149 MSW programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. (CSWE).

BSW programs require a minimum of 400 hours of supervised field experience in addition to academic classes. MSW programs last 2 years and include a minimum of 900 hours of supervised field instruction. Part-time programs are available, usually lasting about 4 years. Social workers are required to be licensed in all States and the District of Columbia. They can advance to supervisor, program manager, assistant director, or executive director of a social service agency or department. You can explore more about training for mental health social worker careers by clicking on this link for schools offering human services degrees.


In 2002, mental health social workers held about 95,000 jobs. About 40% were employed by State and local government agencies.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, employment of mental health social workers is expected to increase faster than the average. The most rapid growth will occur in the area of substance abuse social work. This is due to new legislation requiring convicted substance abusers to attend treatment programs instead of going to jail or prison. This will create enormous demand for these social workers, as government agencies dealing with substance abuse expand at a high rate.