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Raising the Question: What Is Clinical Practice?
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Raising the Question: What Is Clinical Practice?

Looking at the Field, Beyond the Requirements for Licensing

To become a clinical social worker today is beset by a contradiction.

The profession has evolved a broad view over its 112 year history, of what may be regarded as clinical practice (going back to 1898.) In this issue of Currents, several articles draw out what clinical social work practice looks like today, in the context of the multitude of settings in which social workers predominantly work.

Clinical practice is highlighted in articles about programs serving the homeless, the aging, and families involved with child abuse and neglect, along with services in health care and mental health. An article is also included that highlights the joys and challenges of going into private practice.

The contradiction relates to how clinical practice is considered in the licensing law. In qualifying for the clinical license (the LCSW), the cornerstone of the experience is obtaining 2000 hours in doing psychotherapy and diagnosis. Other forms of clinical experience are not considered as qualifying for the LCSW.

The proponents of the need to set psychotherapy and diagnosis apart from other forms of clinical practice make the point that the nature of the work is sufficiently complex and sophisticated that a special license is needed to protect the public. This is especially underscored by the need to meet certain standards before going into private practice as a psychotherapist.

On the other side of the coin, social workers engaging in other forms of clinical practice make the case that given the range of issues their clients face, their work is highly complex and sophisticated, and the level of understanding and skill required is as advanced and essential to consumer protection as what is now set apart in the law for the LCSW.

Most of the articles here shine a light on these “other” forms of clinical practice. Even if a very significant portion of the social work profession were to agree that everything set forth here is essential to clinical practice, it leaves the question open as to whether other experiences in addition to psychotherapy and diagnosis should be permitted as qualifying for the LCSW.

This question deserves the profession’s thoughtful attention.


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