What Do Social Workers Who Work in Psychiatric Facilities Do?

A psychiatric social worker provides services to patients experiencing mental health conditions or emergencies. They may help with therapy, rehabilitation, crisis intervention and outreach services. Although a bachelor's degree is the basic requirement, most health care employers prefer to hire candidates with master's degrees.

Job Overview

Psychiatric social workers provide a wide array of services within psychiatric departments or hospitals. Clinically trained social workers provide behavior modification and supportive psychotherapy services. Some psychiatric social workers primarily work with patients with substance use problems through counseling and coaching. Psychiatric social workers are important members of multidisciplinary health care teams. Those who provide psychosocial therapies to patients with psychiatric disorders will evaluate patient, coordinates care and recommend resources to clients. All psychiatric social workers must have the ability to provide personalized care to patients experiencing a broad range of diagnostic conditions and developmental stages. Work environments include primary care, urgent care and specialty clinics.

Primary Duties

Psychiatric social workers will provide intake services to incoming patients and their families. This means that they must obtain psycho-social histories, interview past health care providers and perform in-depth assessments. Based on psycho-social assessment, they will develop individualized treatment goals and plans for patients. This requires them to continually participate in multidisciplinary meetings to review treatment plans and patient progress. Psychiatric social workers must prepare and implement discharge plans that ensure optimal social and psychological functioning within the community. Discharge planning will involve follow-up care and community resources as needed. Psychiatric social workers collaborate with courts, community partners, family agencies, private psychiatrists and local departments of health or human services.


Psychiatric social workers will need a master's degree from a school of social work that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Alternatively, some have master's degrees in medical or family therapy with additional certification. Psychiatric social workers must maintain current licensed clinical social work licenses through their state's governing board. Most psychiatric social workers obtain graduate certifications through universities or health care organizations. Psychiatric social workers need a few years of experience in the psychiatric service area and strong knowledge of mandatory reporting requirements as well as community agencies and resources. Some psychiatric social workers spend one to two years completing a supervised, postgraduate internship. Candidates must have demonstrated interpersonal communication skills that allow them to effectively interact with patients who may be hostile or low-functioning.

The Pros and Cons

There are certain advantages to working as in psychiatric social work. First, there are valuable opportunities to obtain clinical supervision hours required by the state clinical social work license. Second, there are always a variety of work schedules offered around the clock. Third, candidates can obtain clinical experiences in areas related to counseling, mental health and addiction services. As a result, there are excellent career advancement opportunities available. There are challenges to working in a psychiatric hospital. Every day, there may be stressful work activities associated with high risk populations. This may be combative or difficult patients who pose work safety threats. Psychiatric social workers must constantly document patient information and share it with many different health care providers.

A psychiatric social worker is a key cross-disciplinary professional who provides services to patients need psychiatric treatment. To learn more, visit the National Association of Social Workers' website here.