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Social Workers in Counselling - FAQ

Updated: Apr 17


Social workers are somewhat less known in the field of counselling compared to clinical counsellors and psychologists, but have unique training and perspective for those needing help from a counsellor or therapist. Below are some answers to questions about social workers in private practice, although it cannot be guaranteed that all social workers fit this description.


How do social workers approach their work as counsellors?

Social workers help people create their own goals for life and for therapy, embrace who they are, and identify and harness their strengths. Social workers believe in their clients’ capacities to cope and thrive in the face of struggle, and support their choices without judgment. They meet their clients “where they are at” and understand that many situations in which clients find themselves are complex and do not have easy solutions. They use evidence-based, best practice tools in their work, and are also trained to improve their approach by regularly reflecting on and learning from the aspects of the work that challenge them.


Social workers who are passionate about their profession approach their clients with deep empathy for their struggles, strive to help them enhance their quality of life, and feel driven to help make the world a better place.


How are social workers educated and what kind of experience do they have?

In their education, social workers study topics like oppression and discrimination of different groups, such as current and historical challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community, women, people with disabilities, and Indigenous people in Canada. They write papers and do research on social policies and major societal issues, and learn social work theories to help them understand the populations they will work with. They learn about forms of abuse and other dynamics in families and social systems, which come to shape people’s character, behaviour, and coping methods used to deal with emotional pain. They learn holistic assessment skills, counselling skills, and a variety of social work interventions for individuals and groups. Before graduation they do at least one practicum in a community, child protection, or hospital setting, gaining a strong foundation in the real life challenges facing the people they have pledged to help.


Psychologists and clinical counsellors have quite different training, making it interesting that all of these professions practice relatively similarly, side by side.

Before embracing counselling as their career path, many social workers will practice in the above-mentioned settings for years, gaining expertise, wisdom, insight, and approaches which then guide them as they become counsellors and therapists. In order to expand their skill set and be effective counsellors, they often train in specific forms of therapy as well.


Can a social worker give me a psychiatric diagnosis or prescribe medication?

Registered Social Workers (RSW) do not diagnose mental illness, but Registered Clinical Social Workers (RCSW) are considered qualified to do so. However, RSWs who identify symptoms of mental illness in their client will likely respond by making a recommendation that they see their family doctor for mental health assessment and treatment. While social workers cannot prescribe medications, they will probably be familiar with a medication you are taking for your mental health and it would be important to disclose that you are taking medicine.


What level of education must social workers attain to practice a counsellors?

Most social workers in private practice have a Master’s degree (MSW), meaning that they have advanced training and skills. Many social workers obtain a Bachelor’s of Social Work (BSW) degree first, but some go straight into their MSW from a Bachelor’s degree in a field such as psychology.


There is no specific specialization in social work which is required to start providing counselling; it is the responsibility of social workers themselves to accurately deem themselves prepared, sufficiently trained and experienced, and suited for this role.


Are social workers required to charge tax?

Similarly to psychologists, social workers are not required to add taxes to their fees.


Are social workers in counselling covered under my health insurance?

Most plans cover both social workers and clinical counsellors, but not all. It is a good idea to double check this before booking an appointment. Some plans do not cover social workers, while others cover social workers but not clinical counsellors.

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