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Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker: Education and Career Information

Have you ever thought about the people who work with mental health patients or the individuals that work in substance abuse centers? If you have some interest in this role and how it operates, you may want to consider having a career as a mental health and substance abuse social worker. These individuals are compassionate, but have a quest for helping others get their quality of life back through effective treatment options. If social work is on your radar, seeking more information on this career is key.

What is a mental health and substance abuse social worker?

This role has a number of things to do. They specialize in the assessment and treatment of people who have emotional, mental or substance abuse issues. They coordinate and conduct activities such as crisis intervention, case management, prevention, education and client advocacy. They also run individual and group therapy sessions. Other tasks include counseling clients, working with other counselors, doctors and healthcare professionals in determining the right course of action and treatment, monitor and evaluate client progress, work on patient records, assist family members in understanding the levels of treatment and how to deal with the situation, acts as a resource for referrals, help develop policies that will assist in getting the help people need. You will find these individuals in hospitals, substance abuse centers, mental health hospitals, outpatient care centers, psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals and community centers. You may also find them working in a governmental agency or research institution developing new policies.

How much does a mental health and substance abuse social worker earn?

This position earns about $12.39, or $15,000 on the low scale, and can make up to over $70,000. These figures are based on a number of factors, including location, education, experience, language and type of facility they work in.

What skills are needed to become a mental health and substance abuse social worker?

There are a number of skills needed for this position:

Social Perceptiveness: It is important to understand how others think and react to certain problems in order to successfully implement treatment programs.

Active Listening: It is important to listen to the clients and their families to hear what is going wrong, what is not working, opening the door to ask questions, and getting the information needed to make sound decisions.

Monitoring: Being able to monitor the clients and how you interact with them is key. This will assist in making any improvements to the program and treatment.

Critical Thinking: Being able to use sound reasoning to identify the areas that need to be worked on with the clients is key.

Writing: It is important to be able to write clearly and succinctly, especially when dealing with large amounts of paperwork and healthcare officials.

Persuasion: When dealing with these types of patients, having the power of persuasion on your side is an important component of the program. In addition to trust, this role will require large amount of persuasion to be successful.

Coordination: Being able to coordinate schedules, treatment times and other relevant aspects of this role is key in getting to the next level.

Management: Managing multiple employees and clients can be hectic. This role requires an innate knowledge of running an office and managing administrative tasks and clients for a positive outcome.

Instruction: Knowing how to instruct others is key. Being able to instruct the clients on how to do certain things, and teaching the family on how to deal with a certain situation is valuable.

Decision Making: Being able to make hard decisions on treatment and moving forward is key. Choosing your actions wisely will assist in performing the right actions for the job.

Problem Solving: Being able to identify and assist in solving problems to get new options and solutions to compare certain issues is an essential part of this role.

Additional KSAs needed are time management, customer service, therapy and counseling, psychology and medicine.

Internship Requirements

There is usually an internship component consisting of 3,000 hours or two years of supervised work experience. Every school and licensing agency has their own set of requirements.

Education Requirements

This position requires a bachelor’s degree, or four year program. The course of action toward this degree is the Bachelor in Social Work (BSW). Having a degree in this specialization, or in psychology or sociology is a sound substitute. This is needed for entry-level positions, but in order to rise and go through the corporate career structure, a master’s degree in social work (MSW) is needed.

Coursework in the bachelor’s degree program includes human behavior and social environment, social research methods, field education, and social work values and ethics. Positions attained with this degree include residential counselor, mental health assistant, or caseworker.

Although a master’s degree is not needed, getting one will be beneficial if expected to rise in this career path. Students do not have to have a bachelor’s degree in social work, but should have a good grasp and understanding of psychology, economics, sociology and biology. The master’s degree program provides a more focused approach to this role, and is more specialized with mental health or substance abuse. This degree program teaches students how to become a supervisor, explore new methods, supervise and manage large caseloads and administer clinical assessments. This program takes an additional two years to complete. Positions attained with this degree include program manager, executive director, supervisor or consultant.

Both educational programs are recognized by the Council on Social Work Education. There are also doctoral programs available that will allow these individuals to teach at the university level. There is a certification process that takes place after obtaining the degree. Every mental health and substance abuse social worker candidate must pass the exam for licensure.

This can be a lucrative career path for someone interested in the social sciences and assisting others in helping rectify potentially harmful situations. This is an interesting and fast-paced career that is always adapting and learning new things.

Social Work Scholarships

Presbyterian Church USA Student Opportunity Scholarships Dr. Alma S. Adams Scholarship Jewish Community Center (JCC) North American Graduate Scholarship
Consuelo W. Gosnell Memorial Scholarship CSWE Scholars Program American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work
Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund The Leopold Schepp Foundation National Association of Puerto Rican Hispanic Social Workers
UJA Federation – The Weiner Educational Center Bethesda Lutheran Communities Service Scholarship Maryland Graduate and Professional School Scholarship
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Quick Fact
In 2018, workers with a bachelor's degree or higher had almost twice as much
median earnings per week than workers with only a high school diploma.*
*Bureau of Labor Statistics

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