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Do You Have the Skills to be a Clinical Social Worker?


Social work is most definitely not for everyone as it requires a great deal of commitment and perseverance. As a social worker, one has to be available for vulnerable people who may not be emotionally stable or able to take care of themselves, find stable employment, or function normally in society. It is not the kind of job one can commit to without being very passionate about making the world a better place for others to live in. Social workers can work in a variety of settings ranging from for profit to non-profit organizations.

For example, clinical social workers usually work with patients in a clinical setting. They aren’t only limited to hospitals, however; they can also work in educational institutes, mental health centers, or private work settings. In fact, clinical social workers can be thought of as an amalgamation of traditional social workers with healthcare professionals because of the nature of their work. They have the autonomy to intake patients and are advocates of good health and well-being practices. They are excellent counselors and are also involved in discharging patients.

Naturally, this multifaceted job requires certain skills in order to be successful, so if you are planning to get into clinical social work, here are some tips you should follow.

Skills needed to be a clinical social worker

These skills, if mastered, will allow you to build a long-term career for yourself in social work.

1.      Communication

Having good communication skills is very important for this job. You not only have to be very in tune with the people you serve as part of your job, but also with your colleagues and supervisors. If you are seeing to a person who requires a certain level of care and attention, you will be the one who has to communicate this fact to all the stakeholders. Keep in mind that good communication isn’t all about speaking – it is also about listening well and comprehending body language, expressions, gestures and words being delivered to you. It’s not the patient’s job to be a solid communicator, but it is yours.

Suppose you are working with an autistic child or even an adult who is unable to communicate the same way as a neurotypical person would. It is your job to be equipped with communication skills as well as listening skills to ensure your patient doesn’t go unheard. You are tasked with understanding the patient’s needs, so it’s your responsibility to ensure everyone else is on board with the care plan that you propose. It’s important to make sure the patient’s family is involved as well. If you are interested in pursuing social work, it’s crucial to start working on improving your communication skills.

2.      Leadership

You might think that social worker doesn’t have to lead the people they serve, but you should look at it in different terms. Whereas leading someone as a social worker cannot be taken in the same context as doing so in an organizational work setting, leadership skills are still required because your patients look up to you. They trust you and your advice because you are essentially guiding them to live a better quality of life. No matter what area of life the person in your care is, if they are seeing you, it means that they need a lot of help. So being a good leader is a must.

Clinical Social Worker

That being said, you are also responsible for identifying wrongful or even outdated practices going on in the healthcare environment. Having leadership qualities will give you the confidence to speak up in front of administration and management departments to foster change.

3.      Emotional intelligence

This skill might be the most relevant for a social worker. This job isn’t easy; there will be days when all the work and progress you have made with a patient will come crashing down to square one because they had a breakdown. There will be days when patients or their families will be rude to you. There will be days when your own boss will fail to recognize your efforts and will pin the blame on you. You will feel unappreciated and exhausted and sometimes it’ll be as if you are trying to do the impossible.

If you don’t have good composure and a solid understanding and grasp of your own emotions, this job will be too difficult. Moreover, if you are not good at understanding other people’s emotions, especially the ones who are coming to you for help, you won’t be able to do much. Therefore, having emotional intelligence is a must for this job.

Empathy is also an extension of having high emotional intelligence. You can even go as far as to say that empathy is a social worker’s fuel and is key to helping you understand your patient’s troubles and how to alleviate them.

4.      Good with children

Children can be some of the most difficult people to work with in this field because they are very young, impressionable, and malleable. If a child’s mind is unable to overcome a traumatic incident or they are maltreated, they grow up to be damaged adults. It increases the pressure and stakes when you are tasked with working with kids.

Kids are also not as effective communicators as adults, nor do they have the same composure as adults. You cannot get angry or irritated with a child even if they are sprawled on the floor crying and calling you names. You need to have a gentle temperament especially when taking in young children as your patients.

In addition, you must be prepared to communicate with your patient’s children. Even if you don’t work with children per se, you will still need to interact with them if your patient is a parent and help walk them through this difficult time.

5.      Time management

This skill is relevant for any job, but it’s especially the case with social work, where you will typically see many regular patients unless you are working exclusively with one client or patient. If you are not good with time, your schedule will be all over the place.

You must be fully present for a person when you are being paid to see them. You cannot really give any excuses to them for being 30 minutes late. Be very vigilant about your routine and make sure you don’t miss any of your patient time slots.

6.      Boundaries

Are you one to cross your own boundaries just to make sure everyone else is catered to? Stop doing that immediately. Not only is this extremely unhealthy for your personal life, but it also doesn’t do you any favors during work. There is a very thin line between a social worker and a client because it is your job to make sure they have everything they need to live a better life. Sometimes it’s easy to go overboard in your efforts and forget to rest. If you continue down this path, however, you will quickly become burned out, miserable, and unable to help your patients.

Before you reach this point, be sure to have boundaries and respect them. Understand that you can only help people under your care, not magically fix them overnight.

7.      Being able to intervene

Your job in a nutshell is to try and fix the problem your client is suffering from. If your patient wants to reconcile with an ex-partner or family member, then your job is to help them try and do that. If a client wants to stop drinking, you will try to help them quit. If a client wants to find employment while dealing with severe depression, you will help connect them with professional treatment while helping them find jobs they can manage.

In order to do your job effectively, it’s important to know when to intervene in your client’s life to nudge them back on the right track. If they start straying away from their goals, it is your job to put your foot down and help them move forward.

8.      Writing

There is a lot of written work associated with being a social worker. You must maintain proper documentation that records patient information and progress. This will all need to be reported to the organization you work for. You will also need to provide care plans and journeys that you recommend for the patient, to be presented in a written format so that it is understood by other stakeholders. Much of your work will also be conducted through email exchanges between you and other colleagues involved with taking care of the patient as well as their families, so improving your writing skills is imperative.

9.      Multi-tasking

What could be a bigger example of multitasking than working with several patients at one time? One of your clients could be a recovering addict and another one could be someone trying to lose a lot of weight. Both people are under your care at the same time but have absolutely nothing in common and will require different levels of attention and approaches from you.

Being a social worker requires you to be good at handling multiple tasks at one time. For example, you will need to regularly update your boss or the hospital staff about the progress your patients are making and document your sessions with them, among many other daily tasks.

10. Observational skills

You will constantly be dealing with people who don’t want to open up to you about their problems. They are either shy or simply pessimistic about your ability to help them and will need time to feel comfortable enough to start sharing parts of their life with you. Having good observational skills will take you a long way with your patients. By observing their body language, how they are with their family or other staff members, and noting what makes them happy, your job will be much easier.

What qualifications do clinical social workers need?

Truth be told, as long as you have the will and the experience, you can make it as a social worker in different settings. However, if you are interested in social work in a clinical setting, it is advisable to get a relevant degree in this field. The Keuka online MSW advanced track can help you kick-start your career as a clinical social worker. Having a master’s degree will improve your chances of landing better employment opportunities.


Only the best human beings choose to go into social work. Dedicating your time, energy, and care to complete strangers going through torment, trauma, and abuse is commendable, to say the least. While the job requires a lot of work, there are very few things more rewarding than being the reason for another struggling human being’s betterment.