What Should Social Work Students Know About a Mental Health Concentration?

Social work students understand that a mental health concentration is one of various pathways in this service-oriented career. Social workers are trained to examine different aspects of a case, starting with the individual and expanding to environmental, psychological and social conditions that may have an impact on individual and community welfare. Social work emphasizes the need to connect with clients and to link these clients with the resources they require to alleviate their issues. The standard social work curriculum includes exposure to the basic principles of addressing the mental health needs of clients. For a mental health concentration in social work, students must be aware of the challenges that social work professionals face in this career track.

Mental Health Services and Social Work

Social workers are often assigned cases where clients require mental health services due to chronic conditions, traumatic events or substance abuse problems. The primary concern during the initial contact is to ensure that clients understand the supportive nature of the social worker’s role. The social worker will help these people access rehabilitative, preventative and long-term care programs as appropriate. The social worker may even be part of these programs. Advance credentials will qualify the social worker to provide some of the therapies needed by clients.

Language Competencies to Support a Mental Health Specialization

Effective communication is a crucial skill in any aspect of social work but even more so in the mental health field. Verbal communication skills are paramount when it comes to connecting with clients and establishing the facts of the case. Tactile communications is just as important especially when clients consist of younger children, nonverbal people and for those who do not speak the language.

Various forms of talk therapy involve the ability of the social worker to persuade the client to up. When considering a mental health focus in a social work career, make sure to add courses in communications, psychology and languages that will enhance person-to-person communication skills. Fluency in another language is also a plus for social workers.

Cultural Sensitivity and Understanding Diversity

Cultural competency in the field of social work is critical because the professional will often be in situations that are different from their own background and experience. Be sensitive to differences in cultural beliefs and practices as a social worker, and start developing this skill during the college years. Seek the company of others whose backgrounds differ from yours, and learn diplomacy and openness early in your career.

Choose a Mental Health-focused Practicum or Internship

A social work curriculum aimed at completing a mental health specialization will prepare students to make basic and in-depth assessments of clients’ mental health functioning, managing the communication process, applying effective interventions and evaluating the impact of said interventions. Choose an internship that provides a well-rounded experience in routine and special handling of mental health clients. This experience should provide an insight as to whether this field will lead to a long-term commitment on the part of the students.

Related Resource: Top 10 Affordable Master of Social Work Online (MSW) Degrees

Social work is a field for people who are committed to providing critical services to individuals and communities that are often faced with economic disadvantages along with social and psychological issues. Students of social work considering a mental health concentration would do well to focus on honing their communication skills as well as ensuring that they develop key skills in clinical theory and direct practice strategies in social work.