What does a Licensed Clinical Social Worker do?

D. Jeffress

A licensed clinical social worker helps individuals overcome mental health or substance abuse issues by providing counseling and finding housing and employment options. A social worker provides the tools and resources necessary to help clients become productive members of society despite their condition. He or she might facilitate individual and group therapy sessions, arrange for special living accommodations, and investigate long term assistance programs for people with chronic disorders. Social workers practice in a number of different clinical settings, such as hospitals, substance abuse treatment centers, inpatient and outpatient mental health clinics, and private practices.

Clinical social workers might help someone dealing with mental health issues.
Clinical social workers might help someone dealing with mental health issues.

Many people with mental illnesses are fully capable of functioning in society, if they are provided with the appropriate therapy and opportunities to succeed. A licensed clinical social worker helps clients overcome their mental health issues by counseling patients, registering them in work programs, and helping them find financial resources. He or she may also counsel a patient's family, explaining what they can do to help their loved one pursue a meaningful, independent, productive lifestyle.

Some clinical social workers help individuals who have recently been released from prison.
Some clinical social workers help individuals who have recently been released from prison.

A licensed clinical social worker who focuses on substance abusers coordinates one-on-one and group therapy sessions, where he or she provides support and initiates a program of recovery. He or she helps a client identify problems and discusses how to rise above them. After becoming familiar with an individual's situation, the social worker might refer the recovering person to a psychologist or enroll him or her in a halfway house or other group home.

Licensed clinical social workers may facilitate group therapy sessions.
Licensed clinical social workers may facilitate group therapy sessions.

To become a licensed clinical social worker, a person must typically have a master's degree in social work or counseling. Upon the completion of a degree program, he or she is often required to work as an intern or assistant for at least two years before he or she can take a licensing examination and work independently. Many new social workers seek additional certification to improve their credentials and their chances of finding jobs. In the United States, the National Association of Social Workers offers a certification program for current and future clinical social workers. Many other countries have accredited organizations which offer similar certification procedures.

Clinical social workers work one-on-one with troubled teens.
Clinical social workers work one-on-one with troubled teens.

There is a strong need for experienced clinical social workers, especially in hospitals and mental health facilities, to help a growing population of mentally ill persons. To cull the prison population, substance abusers who are convicted of crimes are frequently being referred to treatment programs instead of going to jail. Skilled social workers are essential in providing such people with the care and education they need to turn their lives around and transition back into society.

Some clinical social workers may counsel a patient's family.
Some clinical social workers may counsel a patient's family.

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Discussion Comments


Is there a difference between a counselor and a licensed professional counselor?

My friend and her husband went to a counselor for marriage problems, but I have no idea if the counselor they say was licensed or not.

How does someone know the difference? It must have something to do with the education and credentials they have.

I also have a friend who was required by the courts to see a psychiatrist. In a situation like this, there must be certain types of licensed therapists or psychiatrists that evaluate the situation.


@andee - There are also many challenges when it comes to working with substance abuse cases. My nephew is a professional counselor who specializes in substance abuse situations.

I don't know how he does it as I wouldn't have the patience when it comes to working with people like this. It seems like so many times the process is one step forward and three steps backward.

It does take someone with the right skills and personality to be successful with this line of work.

If I had a friend or family member who was struggling with this, I would certainly want them to get help from someone who was very well qualified and had a good track record.


I think it takes a special person to work as a licensed clinical social worker in a mental health setting.

This can be such a complex area that takes a lot of understanding. I remember some of the bizarre stories my friend told me who was studying to be a doctor.

As part of her rotation, she had to work for several weeks in the psychiatric unit of the hospital. This was a real eye-opener for her, and she knew this is one area she couldn't work at long-term.

Someone who is a licensed counselor working with medical health patients would have a lot of interesting clients. It takes someone who is not only qualified professionally, but also able to deal with the additional problems that go along with mental health clients.


I have an undergraduate degree in counseling/psychology, but there isn't much you can do with this degree unless you pursue a master's degree.

There are always openings available for social workers, but this is different than being clinical licensed social worker.

I have heard it said that you don't get involved with clinical social work because of the pay. Many of these are low paying jobs, and the primary reason you are there is because you care about helping people.

I am one of those people, who even though I have a college degree, have never specifically worked in a job that is directly connected with my degree.

There have been many times I have considered going back to school and getting my master's degree, but right now time and money constraints are preventing that from happening.

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