Finding resources, setting goals, developing plans, handling crises, supporting clients, protecting children -- American social workers face a number of professional challenges. New York State has two kinds of social workers. A Licensed Clinical Social Worker, or LCSW, works independently, while a Licensed Master Social Worker, or LMSW, is under the direction of a LCSW, psychiatrist or psychologist. An applicant for a LMSW or LCSW position must have a Master of Social Work degree, or M.S.W. In addition, the LCSW designation requires clinical courses and three years of supervised clinical work. An M.S.W. program has many mandated courses, but a few electives are offered.
At the start of the M.S.W. program, students take foundational courses in social work. This includes an introductory class that discusses general practice, techniques and professional ethics. A human behavior class is also required. It focuses on social science theories about individuals and groups within the context of biological, social and cultural settings. Diversity -- including race, class, gender, gender expression, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, religion, physical or mental disability and national origin -- is covered in another class that examines beliefs, values, prejudice and oppression. A research methods class prepares students to investigate issues in the social science field. A fieldwork class provides students with over 400 hours of supervised real-world experience. In some schools, students who already have a Bachelor of Social Work are exempt from many of the core courses.
A B.S.W. program extends introductory classes. Students must continue to take field experience classes, where they explore the professional setting, including clinical practice, administration and research. Some of these practicum courses focus on certain populations, like senior citizens or urban dwellers. Students are required to learn how to provide social work services to specific clientele, such as children and teens, families, couples, adults and organizations. In addition, a course that examines social welfare practices, services and policies, both current and historical, is needed.
M.S.W. programs offer some flexibility, such as allowing elective credits. Students might use this flexibility to explore the social work profession as it relates to diverse situations, such as working with immigrants, dealing with the criminal justice system, navigating the child welfare system, or handling violence. Some electives are community-based, including alcohol and drug programs, policy development, mental health issues and child abuse. An M.S.W. program might allow students to choose a specific area of concentration to explore more fully. For example, students interested in working in a health care setting could learn knowledge and skills needed for mental and physical health facilities.
Some M.S.W. programs require that their students complete a master’s thesis. Often, this is an original research project. Students identify areas of interest, explore existing literature on the topic, develop a research plan, collect data and analyze their results. The final project is presented in both oral and written formats. This course is often presented as a small-group seminar.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: What Social Workers Do
- NYSED: What You Should Know About Licensed Social Workers and Their Services
- Lehman College: M.S.W. Program in Social Work
- Nazareth College: Social Work
- University at Buffalo: School of Social Work: Foundation Course Descriptions
- Fordham University: Graduate School of Social Science: M.S.W. Course Descriptions
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