Clinical Social Work Scope of Practice Related to Diagnosis
This paper discusses a relatively undocumented movement by clinical social workers to gain mental health diagnostic privileges as part of their scope of practice across the United States. The primary purpose of this paper is to identify which states permit social workers to diagnose. Reviewers located the state regulatory codes on social work scope of practice to determine if diagnosis of mental disorders was permitted and contacted corresponding state boards and NASW chapters to understand diagnostic privileges and grassroots movements in this area. We found that only three states do not authorize social workers to diagnose mental disorders: Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. The secondary purpose is to determine what percentage of graduate social work programs require a mental health assessment course to understand how graduate students are being prepared to diagnose. A minimum of two reviewers evaluated social work curricula for Masters-level programs (N = 226) accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. A majority of programs offered or required coursework on the assessment of mental disorders. We also discuss the state training requirements as they apply to diagnosis. As clinical social workers begin to practice in new areas, it is worthwhile examining efforts in addressing policies to expand social work scope of practice. This paper provides examples of successful and unsuccessful efforts to expand scope of practice on diagnosis to inform future efforts to impact policy change as applied to professional practice. A coordinated effort to align academic requirements with clinical social work scope of practice and professional practice guidelines can better prepare the clinical social work workforce.
KeywordsDiagnosis Clinical social work Policy Mental disorders Training
The NASW chapters for Alabama, Pennsylvania, California, Nebraska.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
- American Psychiatric Association (APA). (1987). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-III. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
- American Psychiatric Association (APA). (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-IV-TR. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
- Association of Social Work Boards. (2011). Content outlines and KSAs social work licensing examinations. Retrieved 2, 2014 from https://www.aswb.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/MastersKSAs.pdf.
- Association of Social Work Boards. (n.d.). Model social work practice act. Retrieved April 4, 2017 from https://www.aswb.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Model_law.pdf.
- Cal. Leg. Code. ch. 14, § 4996–4997.1. Social Workers. 2017.Google Scholar
- Gibelman, M. (1995). What social workers do. Washington, DC: NASW Press.Google Scholar
- Hartley, D., Ziller, E. C., Lambert, D., Loux, S. L., & Bird, D. C. (2002). State licensure laws and mental health professions: Implications for the rural mental health workforce. Publication of the Edmund S. Muskie School of Public Service-Working Paper #29: Portland, ME. Retrieved Oct 31, 2018 from https://www.muskie.usm.maine.edu/publications/rural/wp29.pdf.
- H. B. 166. Assem. Reg. Sess. 2018. (AL, 2018).Google Scholar
- H.B. 1415. Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors Act, 2016. Assemb. Reg. Sess. 2015–2016. (PA, 2016).Google Scholar
- National Association of Social Workers. (1989). NASW standards for the practice of clinical social work. Washington, DC: NASW Press.Google Scholar
- National Association of Social Workers. (2003). Practice research network II results. Retrieved Oct 31, 2018 from http://www.socialworkers.org/practice/behavioral_health/bh1003.pdf.
- National Association of Social Workers, Pennsylvania Chapter. (n.d.). Licensed clinical social workers: Diagnosis. Retrieved Oct 31, 2018 from http://www.nasw-pa.org/resource/resmgr/imported/LCSW%20Facts.pdf.
- National Association of Social Workers-Pennsylvania. (2015). NASW-PA legislative advocacy. Retrieved May 12, 2015 from http://www.nasw-pa.org/?page=86.
- S. B. 82. Assem. Reg. Sess. 2016. (AL, 2016).Google Scholar
- S. B. 530. Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors Act, 2017. Assemb. Reg. Sess. 2017. (PA, 2016).Google Scholar
- Socialworklicensure.org. (2018). Social work licensure requirements. Retrieved June 5, 2018 from https://socialworklicensure.org/articles/social-work-license-requirements.
- Tran, A. (2008). A comparative analysis: MFT scope of practice across the nation. The Therapist, November/December. Retrieved May 11, 2018 from https://www.camft.org/images/PDFs/AttorneyArticles/.../a_comparative_analysis.pdf.