CAREERS IN PSYCHOLOGY:
MASTER'S IN SOCIAL WORK
What about Master's programs in Social Work?
Master’s programs in Social Work or Social Welfare offer a structured, 2-year curriculum of courses required for licensure as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (L.C.S.W.). They are practice-oriented and emphasize practical skills and a social systems approach. If you want to work with people in community health settings, the Master’s in Social Work (M.S.W.) is a good way to go. Clinics and hospitals still have niches for Social Workers, and are still hiring. Many people believe that in the days of managed care, Social Workers will have a competitive advantage over both psychologists and M.F.T. therapists. Their pay is not as high as that of psychologists.
If you eventually want to have a private practice as a psychotherapist for individuals, and also conduct group therapy, you can do it with an M.S.W. license, the L.C.S.W. While the academic training does not always emphasize individual therapeutic work, you can receive training in individual psychotherapy skills through the internship experiences, as well as in post-graduate training.
What do Master’s programs in Social Work require?
Schools of social work do not insist on any particular major for acceptance into their programs. The psychology major does not give you automatic preference, but a psychology major with internship experience is excellent preparation. Virtually every M.S.W. program requires statistics. It’s a good idea to take a couple of Sociology courses (Sociology 201, 315, 316, 318, 345, 375, 415, or 461, for example), or you might minor in Sociology. Do a web search of Master's in Social Work programs to find out what different programs require in terms of prerequisites.
What is an L.C.S.W.?
The Licensed Clinical Social Worker (L.C.S.W.) title indicates that the mental health practitioner has completed an educational program in Social Work, received an M.S.W. academic degree, performed a certain number of post-graduate internship hours, and then passed a particular state's licensing exam. Passing the LCSW exam allows you to practice as an independent, unsupervised social worker. Licensing occurs after educational training (the Master’s degree in Social Work) and internship hours have been completed. For more information about California licensing, see the Board of Behavioral Sciences website on licensing information. Each state has their own licensing requirements, so if you plan on practicing in a state other than California, check into the requirements of the state in which you will be living.
What's the difference between an M.S.W. and an L.C.S.W.?
The M.S.W. (Master’s in Social Work) is an academic degree offered by the school of social work or social welfare after you complete the Master’s program. Even with a Social Work Master’s degree, you cannot practice as an independent, unsupervised counselor / therapist / social worker until you are licensed. To obtain the license, you must complete a Master’s in Social Work, complete 3,200 hours of supervised post-Master's work, of which at least 2,000 hours are direct clinical experience, and pass a written and oral competency exam. Each state has their own licensing requirements, so if you plan on practicing in a state other than California, check into the requirements of the state in which you will be living.
Which California schools offer the M.S.W. degree?
There are M.S.W. programs at San Francisco State, Sacramento State, UC Berkeley, and a new distance-learning M.S.W. program at SSU through CSU Long Beach. USC has an online Social Work program. See this website for information on M.S.W. programs on the west coast, and this Board of Behavioral Sciences site on accredited Master's programs offering a social work degree.
Does Sonoma State offer an M.S.W. degree?
Sonoma State is partnering with CSU Long Beach for a 3-year part-time distance education M.S.W. program. Classes taught by CSU Long Beach faculty are held on Saturdays via interactive TV, with hands-on courses and supervision by Sonoma County faculty. A new cohort may be admitted in fall of 2013 pending interest.
The CSU Long Beach website provides the following information about the MSW Distance Education program. The Distance Education program is a three-year part-time model. All classes are held on Saturdays. Three academic years and two summers are required. Most classes are offered via interactive television (ITV) with frequent in-person visits by experienced CSULB faculty. ITV allows for the simultaneous transmission of two-way audio and video. This enables students and faculty to interact in “real-time.” Distance Education students and faculty from the Long Beach campus view each other on a large screen. Each student has a microphone at his/her desk for individual comments and questions. Courses requiring intensive hands-on instruction are taught in-person by local faculty. Two field placements (during the second and third years of the program) are arranged locally. A local Site Coordinator attends all classes, provides in-person support and advisement, and generally serves as an additional link between Distance Education students and the Long Beach campus. For further information about the curriculum, go to Master of Social Work Distance Education Schedule: 2010-2013.
Email Marilyn Potts with questions about distance education. For further program information, email Sue Elliott. The program provides CALSWEC Title IV-E funding for eligible county employees to pay degree-related expenses.
I want to be a Master's level therapist and see individuals, couples, and families. Should I go for a Master's in Counseling or an M.S.W. degree?
The answer to this question depends on your interests, goals, and resources. See this Board of Behavioral Sciences site for 2007 data on numbers of California licensed Master's level therapists, social workers, and educational psychologists.
There is usually no financial support, such as scholarships or stipends, for students in Master's programs in Counseling. Students must plan on supporting themselves with outside work, or taking out loans, for their education. Paying back loans can be a hardship if later work is unstable or too small for economic support.
In California, M.F.T. therapists are saturated in many of the urban areas, which makes it hard and competitive for therapists to find business and financially sustain themselves. Beginning M.F.T. therapists often report that it takes at least 5 years post-license to establish a private practice that sustains them. Many M.F.T. therapists hold different positions to round out their private practice. For example, they may have a private psychotherapy practice, do some consulting around a specialty topic area, supervise the training of intern therapists, conduct groups, conduct training workshops in specialty topic areas, or work in community mental health settings.
Currently the M.F.T. license is found in 48 of the 50 states, sometimes under the umbrella of the Licensed Professional Counselor (L.P.C.). Each state has their own licensing requirements, which you should be familiar with if you will not be practicing in California.
Social Work is an older profession than Counseling and consequently tends to have more political power, especially as you move toward the eastern United States. It tends to have more structured internships and supervision in settings such as hospitals and large community health clinics. In the Midwest and Eastern United States, social workers are often in charge of mental health agencies. Even in California, mental health agencies advertise more often for M.S.W.s than they do for M.F.T.s. The L.C.S.W. is recognized in all states for independent practice. The M.S.W. programs that we are familiar with these days are seeking students who want to be social activists, social change agents, more than those seeking to be "ivory tower" private practitioners. Currently, there is a stipend for M.S.W. students who agree to work in a high need area after graduation.
The M.S.W. is considered the terminal degree for those practicing in the field. In addition, administrators and adjunct lecturers in social work education may hold a Master's degree in social work. Licensure after the academic degree is not always necessary in social work education, though many people are licensed. In contrast, in tenure and tenure-track university positions in social work, the doctorate in social work (D.S.W.) or a doctorate in a related field such as psychology, counseling, or education, is necessary to make you competitive. This situation is roughly comparable to that in Counseling and Clinical Psychology, where you may not be able to progress through the academic ranks with an M.A. or M.S. in Counseling.
There are many more M.F.T.-oriented Master's programs in California than there are M.S.W. programs. There is an M.F.T.-oriented M.A. or M.S. program in the Counseling Department at Sonoma State, and also at San Francisco State, Sacramento State, Dominican University of California, University of San Francisco, and St. Mary's. There are M.S.W. programs at UC Berkeley, San Francisco State, Sacramento State, and a new distance-learning M.S.W. program at SSU through CSU Long Beach. See this website for more information on M.S.W. programs on the west coast, and this Board of Behavioral Sciences site on accredited Master's programs offering a social work degree.
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