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Social workers help people to adjust to difficulties in their lives, providing them with the resources, services and opportunities that can be helpful to making a positive change in their life. There are many different areas of specialization in social work, including that of mental health and substance abuse. While these types of social workers have the same responsibilities of many other types, they aim to help people suffering from issues such as anxiety, depression and other sorts of struggles or even a dependency on alcohol, tobacco or drugs.

A mental health and substance abuse social worker helps point patients in a beneficial direction in treating or managing their illness, such as a 12-step program or specific type of support group. They may fill out paper work for them, refer them to organizations to get help for their mental illness or addition, help them gain admission into an addictions facility or more. Additionally, they provide a consistent source of support to an individual, which may be important to their overall success and recovery.

Responsibilities of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

The job expectations for mental health and substance abuse social workers can vary, and really depend on the population of clientele they work with and/or their education level. However, on the job they may be expected to:

  • Interview clients and help determine their mental, physical or emotional condition
  • Be familiar with a wide range of mental health conditions and related resources
  • Consult with other professionals about a plan of action
  • Aid clients into getting entry into a substance abuse program, when necessary
  • Make adjustments to treatment plans
  • Handle any crises that arise as a result of a client's particular needs
  • Help clients transition from a treatment center back into regular living

Job Characteristics for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

While the work environment for mental health and substance abuse social workers can differ, they should be comfortable working with all sorts of people, ranging from various types of professionals to a diverse clientele. On the job, they may need to:

  • Spend much of their time in an office or residential facility
  • Also spend some time traveling to meet clients when it is needed for the job
  • Work with other service providers and participate in meetings
  • Work on the evening or weekend, when necessary
  • Be prepared for days that can be both rewarding and draining
  • Be able to handle heavy caseloads

Skills that can be beneficial to mental health and substance abuse social workers include:

  • Patience
  • Organization and time management
  • Emotional maturity
  • Sensitivity
  • People skills

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker Salary Information

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the following information about mental health and substance abuse social workers nationwide:

  • Total Employed: 109,460, in 2014
  • Employment Growth: 23% growth, from 2012 to 2022
  • Average Salary: $45,820 in 2014

The need for care and treatment for those with mental health and substance abuse issues is expected to increase in upcoming years, particularly as drug abusers are accepted into treatment programs instead of being sent to jail, according to the BLS. Individuals in New Jersey, Connecticut, California, New Hampshire and Maine had the highest mean wages, all above $55,000, as of 2014.

Education, Certification and Licensing for Social Workers

A bachelor's degree is typically the minimum education needed to enter the field. Depending on the scope of the job and the expectations, social workers in mental health and substance abuse may need advanced education, like at the master's level, however. In a degree program, students gain knowledge about:

  • Human behavior
  • Social welfare
  • Working with diverse populations
  • Developing plans to help clients

Certification may be necessary in some states, but the requirements for this vary. Also, the National Association of Social Workers offers a variety of credentials to individuals who are licensed and have a bachelor's or master's degree. These are offered in addictions, case management, healthcare, gerontology, education, military and more.

Licensing may be required when certification is not required or vice versa. However, licensing is almost always required for clinical social workers. These are workers who have a master's degree and work with clients in a clinical setting. Usually, at least 3,000 hours or two years of supervised clinical experience is needed to to seek licensure as a clinical social worker.

Major Employers of Social Workers

  • State and local government agencies
  • Hospitals
  • Local governments
  • Substance abuse treatment centers
  • Family service agencies

Resources for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

  • National Association of Social Workers
  • Association of Social Work Boards
  • Council on Social Work Education
  • American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work
  • The New Social Worker Careers Magazine

Sources:

  1. Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211023.htm
  2. NASW Professional Social Work Credentials and Advanced Practice Specialty Credentials, National Association of Social Workers. http://www.naswdc.org/credentials/list.asp
  3. Social Workers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Jan. 8, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm#tab-6

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers Career Information Skills

Below are the skills needed to be mental health and substance abuse social workers career information according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

   
Skill NameImportanceCompetence
Active Listening4.384.25
Social Perceptiveness4.255.12
Speaking4.254.25
Reading Comprehension44.12
Coordination3.884

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers Career Information Abilities

Below are the abilities needed to be mental health and substance abuse social workers career information according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

   
Ability NameImportanceCompetence
Oral Comprehension4.54.62
Oral Expression4.384.5
Problem Sensitivity4.124.62
Deductive Reasoning44.12
Inductive Reasoning44.12

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers Career Information Knowledge

Below are the knowledge areas needed to be mental health and substance abuse social workers career information according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

   
Knowledge AreaImportanceCompetence
Psychology4.826.54
Therapy and Counseling4.686.51
Customer and Personal Service4.45.86
Sociology and Anthropology4.274.91
English Language4.084.18

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers Career Information Work activities

Below are the work activities involved in being mental health and substance abuse social workers career information according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

   
Work ActivityImportanceCompetence
Assisting and Caring for Others4.635.33
Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates4.635.2
Establishing and Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships4.585.81
Documenting/Recording Information4.494.43
Getting Information4.373.84

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers Career Information Work styles

Below are the work styles involved in being mental health and substance abuse social workers career information according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

   
Work StyleImportance
Concern for Others4.9
Integrity4.77
Dependability4.75
Stress Tolerance4.66
Self Control4.56

Metro Areas Sorted by Total Employment for
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers Career Information

Listed below are the 10 largest metro areas based on the total number of people employed in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers Career Information jobs , as of 2017

   
Metro AreaTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean Salary
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim4,020 $52,290
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward2,070 $65,030
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale2,010 $37,970
Pittsburgh1,350 $35,720
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue1,330 $59,190
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn1,300 $50,640
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach1,240 $36,780
Denver-Aurora-Lakewood1,190 $43,330
Baltimore-Columbia-Towson1,100 $52,670
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington1,000 $43,380

Compare Total Employment & Salaries for Mental Health And Substance Abuse Social Workers

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Total employment and salary for professions similar to mental health and substance abuse social workers

Source : 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; O*NET® 23.1 Database, O*NET OnLine, National Center for O*NET Development, Employment & Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, onetonline.org

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We have some additional detailed pages at the state level for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers Career Information.

Numbers in parentheses are counts of relevant campus-based schools in the state; online schools may also be available.