MSW Counselors Put Experience to Work
A Master of Social Work degree is designed for on-the-job training. Every person or group or institution that a professional social worker encounters is going to have a unique set of problems to resolve. No two cases are alike and the only way to learn how to apply a set of professional guidelines to differing circumstances is to encounter them.
That's why field work is a crucial part of any MSW degree. All accredited MSW programs require a minimum of 900 hours of clinical, or field work over the two year experience. That means multiple placements in a variety of settings - public agencies, non-profit service bureaus, public health facilities - all are sources for the enormous variety of difficulties for which social workers seek and find help.
Field placements in the most diverse city in the country illustrate the range of experience that MSW graduates need. In New York students are placed in geriatric facilities, immigration service centers, in facilities operated by the NY State Office of Mental Health and with schools that have multi-lingual student populations. In many instances students work with a visiting nurse organization providing social consultation in tandem with healthcare.
Bringing Problems into Focus
Part of the MSW educational experience focuses on group activity and group behavior. Students learn what it is like to assist groups, community organizations or neighborhood organizations in accomplishing specific goals, and in developing a more cohesive and effective organization. In some instances the community organization role can be a more widespread approach to resolving family issues. If fear for personal safety is keeping kids out of school, a concerted effort to get criminal elements off the street corners or off the school grounds may benefit an entire group of families. Just one contact with a single family having delinquency problems can trigger a larger effort.
Another method for bringing difficulties into focus is working in an environment that specializes in a type of service. School truancy may be just a symptom of a larger problem for the student, which can be dealt with in comprehensive fashion through a service agency designed to provide multiple types of assistance. The same may be true for other important populations such as the elderly and immigrant populations that face massive language and cultural barriers.
The Team Approach
A LCSW who does a lot of counseling is going to encounter situations that call for additional professional help. Families in distress may have a child with health problems as well as behavioral problems. An experienced social worker knows how to identify the need for a specialist and where to find one. In a comprehensive health facility, a social worker may call on a pediatrician or nutritionist to consult with a client family. The social worker may hear about problems in school for one or more of the children and establish a connection with the appropriate school counselor or nurse.
The requirements vary from state to state, but in many instances the credential for a school counselor is different than that for a licensed clinical social worker. Schools are a good example of a situation where counseling goals may diverge: school counselors work with students in an effort to resolve problems that may be keeping them from attending or finishing school. Social workers are trained to look at the larger family picture and often have knowledge of the integrated services approach that school counselors do not.
Developing a working relationship with school professionals, with public health service providers, with housing agencies and with juvenile justice workers in your community is important. In many family situations, the solutions for massive dysfunction are drawn from multiple sources. An MSW graduate learns how to locate those resources and draw on them from field work experience.