If you are pursuing a career in social work, there are two main paths to consider: clinical and non-clinical roles. Review this quick comparison of the day-to-day duties, focus areas, educational and licensing requirements, and salary and outlook data to determine which occupation is right for you.
Clinical social workers provide holistic services to clients, family members, and groups, addressing substance abuse, domestic conflict, critical illness, and other complex needs with a concentration on mental, emotional, and behavioral wellbeing. They represent the largest group of behavioral health practitioners in the US.
In this role, your direct service responsibilities include assessment/diagnosis, treatment planning, intervention, and case management. You may work in community mental health centers, hospitals, recovery programs, schools, state agencies, and private practices.
Clinical social work is a state-regulated occupation, and most states require a master’s degree, a minimum of 3K hours of post-graduate experience in a supervised clinical setting, and the achievement/maintenance of a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) credential.
Non-clinical social workers also deliver valuable client services and support, though generally at a broader scale through systems and programs impacting the community at large. Known as macro-level social workers, these professionals identify areas for change, drive policy reform, address gaps in resources, and improve community members’ access to necessary services. In addition to these administrative functions, you may also provide case management, counseling, conflict resolution, and mediation to individuals and/or groups.
Required education and licensing varies in each state for non-clinical social workers. Possible credentials to pursue include Licensed Social Work Associate (LSWA), Licensed Social Worker (LSW), and Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW).
According to Salary.com, the median annual salary of clinical social workers is $63,760 while social workers with bachelor’s degrees make an average of $52,490 per year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the social worker role in general will grow 12% between 2014 and 2024 (healthcare as well as mental health and substance abuse social worker positions lead the way with projected increases of 19%).