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Psychiatric Social Worker: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Psychiatric social workers provide services to mental health patients. They may offer therapy, social rehabilitation, crisis intervention or outreach services. A bachelor's degree is usually the minimum requirement to work as a psychiatric social worker, though some employers may prefer to hire those with a master's degree.

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Job Description of a Psychiatric Social Worker

Psychiatric social workers help mental health patients and their families in a similar way to counselors and psychologists. Their main job function is to assess patients and develop individualized plans of care. They may also provide therapy or counseling services to patients, as well as help family members learn to deal with mental illness in the family. Psychiatric social workers may either provide treatment themselves or make referrals to appropriate persons or facilities.

Due to the demand for social services, social workers are expected to have a faster than average career growth (compared to national figures) of 19% from 2012 to 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Healthcare social workers, who assist individuals with psychosocial issues, earned an average salary of $52,520 in 2013, based on data from the bureau.

Duties of a Psychiatric Social Worker

Psychiatric social workers typically conduct interviews in order to determine the appropriate services to offer mental health patients and their families. They develop care plans that include counseling, support services, treatment methods and referrals, as well as periodically review their patient and patient family situations and make changes to the care plans as necessary.

Typical job duties include explaining treatment plans to patients and their families, maintaining patient records, preparing reports, monitoring progress toward treatment goals and conducting annual reviews of active treatment plans. Psychiatric social workers may also offer individual and group therapy sessions to patients, instruct other mental health staff in therapeutic techniques, provide crisis interventions, arrange for services from referral agencies and help patients ease back into the community after leaving inpatient programs.

Requirements to Become a Psychiatric Social Worker

The minimum education requirement for psychiatric social workers is typically a bachelor's degree. Aspiring psychiatric social workers often choose to major in social work, but psychology, sociology and related majors may also be acceptable. Some employers may require a Master of Social Work (MSW). A Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) is not required for admission to an MSW program, but those who hold a BSW may be given advanced standing if admitted. Students in social work programs learn to perform clinical assessments, manage case loads and provide social services to meet clients' needs.

All states have licensing or registration requirements for social workers. Requirements vary by state, but most require two years of supervised clinical experience to obtain licensure.

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