Duties and responsibilities
The main roles and responsibilities of a mental health and substance abuse social worker is to assess and treat individuals with mental, emotional or substance abuse problems. The typical duties and responsibilities of a mental health and substance abuse social worker include:
- Counselling clients in either group or individual therapy sessions to assist them with substance abuse, mental or physical illness and other related factors
- Monitoring, evaluating and recording client progress with respect to treatment goals
- Interviewing clients, reviewing their records and conducting assessments to evaluate the mental condition of clients
- Collaborating with other healthcare professionals, such as counselors, physicians or nurses to create effective treatment plans
- Counselling or aiding family members of clients and helping them to understand, deal with and accept the mental illness or abuse problem of their loved one
To become a mental health and substance abuse social worker, you will a bachelor’s degree in social work or, preferably, a bachelor’s degree in psychology or sociology. Although not a requirement, it is highly advisable to achieve a masters degree in social work, or one that focuses on mental health, as this further education will provide you with additional knowledge and skills.
Most states require social workers to have licensing. However, this varies significantly state by state. The Association of Social Work Boards can provide all the information for licensing in your state.
Skills and relevant work experience
As well as the education needed to become a mental health and substance abuse social worker, it is also advisable to seek relevant work experience. This can include working in rehabilitation centres or counselling services. Mental health and substance abuse workers should also have skills such as:
- Active listening skills are essential as they aid with the development of trusting and respectful social worker – client relationships
- Communication skills, both written and verbal, to be able to communicate ideas and keep records
- Leadership skills, as mental health and substance abuse social workers will have to lead group therapy sessions
- Social perceptiveness and open-mindedness is key as social workers will have to work with lots of different people, and with people from different religions, cultures and backgrounds
- Decision making is a key skill as mental health and substance abuse social workers will need to make efficient decisions, keeping in mind the costs and benefits. Social workers will also need to be able to make accurate decisions about alternative solutions to each clients individual problem
Mental health and substance abuse social workers tend to normally work normal full-time hours (8am to 5pm Monday to Friday). However, mental health and substance abuse social workers may have to work additional hours when working close to deadlines (e.g., giving evidence in court regarding drug withdrawal, mental state or treatment adherence) or if there is a higher workload. Mental health and substance abuse workers may also have to work evenings or weekends or may have to be on call incase of an emergency.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary of a social worker in the United States was $50,470 in 2019. The bottom 10% of all social workers earned less than $31,790 per year and the top 10% earned more than $82,540 per year.
Mental health and substance abuse social workers were the lowest paid of all social workers in the United States, receiving an annual average salary of $46,650.
The employment of mental health and substance abuse social workers is projected to grow 18 percents from 2018 to 2028, which is the fastest of all social work specialities. This growth is predicted to be because more people are seeking treatment for mental illness and substance abuse and because more drug offenders are increasingly being sent to drug rehabilitation programmes opposed to prison.