Social workers who practice in the mental health field use their understanding of the social determinants of health—which include social status, income, education and social support networks—to consider all elements that contribute to a person’s mental and physical well-being.
There are many opportunities for social workers in the mental health field. Some work directly with individuals, couples and groups. Others work at the community level, while still others work for large organizations. They can work in a variety of settings, including institutions, hospitals, community clinics, and private practice.
As well as working directly with individual clients and families, social workers also consider the broader human, social and political issues that impact mental health. They advocate for individuals, families, groups and communities, and work to challenge and change social policies that lead to issues like poverty, unemployment and homelessness.
The right to dignity and a safe environment
Many social workers contribute to interdisciplinary teams, working closely with other health care professionals to provide comprehensive support to clients and their families. They build an environment that honours the dignity of residents and they respect diversity and different ways of knowing. Social workers take the time to get to know their clients and they develop treatment plans based on their clients’ unique needs, strengths and goals.
Role and responsibilities
Depending on the role and the organization, social workers working in the mental health field may:
- Hold individual counselling and psychotherapy sessions for individuals, couples and families
- Conduct peer support groups
- Conduct psychosocial, cognitive and mental health assessments
- Work as part of an interdisciplinary team to develop individualized treatment plans
- Liaise with agencies, organizations and service providers to offer additional support or augment what already exists
- Make referrals to community resources
- Advocate on behalf of individuals, families, groups and communities, as needed
- Develop and deliver education to individuals, families and communities
- Develop and deliver specialized programs, services and cultural activities
- Plan, develop and evaluate community programs
Depending on the role and the organization, social workers working in the mental health field may need:
- Registration in good standing with the relevant provincial or territorial regulatory body
- Bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in social work from an accredited university
It is helpful for social workers working in the mental health field to have:
- Five years of related social work experience
- Ability to demonstrate cultural competence and exhibit respect for diversity
- Crisis intervention skills
When working directly with clients and in private practice, social workers in t he mental health field should have:
- Clinical supervision by a qualified supervisor
- Thorough knowledge and understanding of the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the regulatory body in their province/territory