Mezzo social work – programs and careers

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Introduction to mezzo social work

Social workers help people cope with problems in their everyday lives. These could be individual problems like a recent divorce or mental health issues, or they could be systemic problems like racism or substandard educational programs. Because of the diversity within the field of social work, experts often divide social workers into 3 groups: micro, mezzo, and macro. As their name implies, micro social workers take a smaller, individual-level focus while macro social workers focus on broad social issues. Mezzo social workers are in the space between micro and macro. They focus on how individuals function within small systems such as neighborhoods, schools, or other organizations.

What does a mezzo social worker do?

Mezzo social workers often think about the world in terms of organizations or systems. Although a mezzo social worker may provide direct individual services, he or she is more likely to focus on social relationships between groups of people. For example, a mezzo social worker might develop interventions for at-risk youth in a vulnerable neighborhood, or recently incarcerated individuals seeking employment.

Mezzo social workers are trained to identify problems within communities and develop new solutions.


Mezzo social workers are trained to identify problems within communities and develop new solutions. They interact directly with groups of people they are trying to help. This might be establishing a new service, developing a program, or conducting a campaign to raise awareness of a social resource.

Although mezzo social work is distinct from micro and macro social work, many social workers move between these roles throughout their careers. For example, a micro social worker who provides clinical services to children through the foster care system may decide to develop a community program for foster children (mezzo) or perform advocacy work to increase funding to the foster care system (macro). Thus, it is most useful to think about the type of work you eventually want to do rather than focusing too much on the distinctions between micro, mezzo, and macro categorizations of social work.

Skills and traits needed to succeed in mezzo social work

Mezzo social workers interact directly with people. Though they may or may not provide direct clinical services, they need to be understanding and responsive to people’s needs. Following are some traits that make for a successful mezzo social worker:

At its core, social work is all about solving problems. That means that mezzo social workers need excellent critical thinking skills. While some of this comes with training, knowing how to think about and solve problems is essential to mezzo social work. Social workers often draw upon their creativity to come up with new solutions to major problems.

Mezzo social workers interact with people from all types of backgrounds. In many cases, they work with some of society’s most vulnerable people, such as older adults, those with intellectual disabilities, incarcerated people, or homeless individuals. Knowing how to communicate effectively with people will contribute to your success in social work.

Social workers’ clients and communities depend on them. This means that a successful mezzo social worker must be dependable, honest, and able to see a project through to its completion.

Are you the type of person who likes to see direct results of your work? If so, mezzo social work may be very rewarding. This type of social worker often puts programs or ideas into direct action, resulting in a tangible change in a community.

Personal integrity is very important for all social workers. Social workers must adhere to their profession’s ethical code. Mezzo social workers often face ethical dilemmas in their work, and they must adhere to the highest standards of personal integrity.

Level of independence varies by practice setting, but many mezzo social workers enter their careers because they value independence and autonomy. This area of social work gives you plenty of room to try new things and enact changes.

While many mezzo social workers work independently to develop and implement solutions to community problems, they typically also interact with a variety of other professionals. This can include clients, engaged community members, healthcare workers, or social services professionals. Social workers must be able to communicate clearly across disciplines to be most effective.

What education is needed to do mezzo social work?

Bachelor’s of social work (BSW)

To be a social worker, you must earn at least a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree of social work (BSW) and bachelor of arts in social work (BASW) programs both prepare students to practice as social workers. In general, bachelor’s programs focus on major theories of social work. The goal is to gain an understanding of major social problems, their causes, and possible solutions. A bachelor’s degree in social work may include hands-on experience such as a practicum.

Most bachelor’s degree programs prepare you for entry level work as a mezzo social worker. For example, you might assist a master’s level social worker in developing a new community program or work as a generalist serving older adults at a senior center. In most states, individuals with a bachelor’s degree in social work are not eligible to provide clinical services such as psychotherapy. You may also be limited in the complexity of work you can do as well as your ability to work independently. Regulations about licensure for individuals with a bachelor’s degree vary by state.


Master’s of social work (MSW)

Most mezzo social workers hold at least a master’s degree of social work. There are many master’s degree programs, each of which may have specific tracks to focus on micro, mezzo, or macro work. Some mezzo social workers get a master’s degree with a clinical concentration, while others do not. Clinical social work programs typically include regular graduate coursework as well as practicum experiences to learn how to provide psychotherapy.

To become a licensed social worker, it is important to complete an accredited MSW program. The Council on Social Work Accreditation (CSWA) determines whether a program meets accreditation criteria. MSW programs may be offered in an in-person, online, or hybrid format. Typically, clinical social work programs have at least some in-person requirements for clinical practicums.

Do you need a license or certification to become a mezzo social worker?

Most mezzo social workers need a license to practice within their field. There are 4 main types of social worker licenses. However, details vary by state, making it important for you to understand the requirements for your own jurisdiction. The 4 typical levels of licensure include:


Licensed bachelor social worker (LBSW)

To earn an LBSW license, you need to have successfully completed an accredited bachelor’s degree program in social work. Most states require bachelor’s-level social workers to complete at least 2 years of full-time post-graduate experience under the supervision of a licensed master-level social worker. You need to also pass the ASWB bachelor’s exam.


Licensed master social worker (LMSW)

The first step to an LMSW license is to complete an accredited master’s degree in social work program and to then pass the LMSW exam. Typically, post-degree experience is not required to become an LMSW.


Advanced generalist

An advanced generalist license indicates that someone has more extensive training than an LMSW. To earn an advanced generalist license, first complete an accredited master’s degree or doctoral program in social work. After your degree program, complete 2 years of relevant experience under the supervision of a licensed master’s- or doctoral-level social worker. You must also pass the ASWB Advanced Generalist exam.


Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)

To be eligible for an LCSW license, you need to have graduated from an accredited master’s degree in clinical social work program. This program typically incorporates some training in clinical practice. After obtaining 2 years of direct clinical service supervised by an LCSW, you are required to pass the ASWB clinical exam.

Mezzo social workers can do their work with a license from any of these tracks. Some mezzo social workers earn a degree in clinical social work and provide some clinical services to clients. Others focus on generalist skills and do not engage in direct clinical care.

Careers in mezzo social work

Hospital and healthcare social worker

Hospital or healthcare social workers are often known as medical social workers. The majority of medical social workers have a master’s degree in social work, with most holding an LCSW license to provide clinical services. At the mezzo level, medical social workers may engage in some direct clinical practice. However, their talents may be used in a slightly different way, for example to focus on groups of people or family systems. Healthcare social workers are employed by hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and other healthcare agencies.

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  • Investigate cases of child or elder abuse, making mandated reports as needed. Mezzo social workers may also implement programs to raise awareness about abuse and neglect.
  • Work with patients and family members to improve access to community resources relevant to their personal health.
  • Plan and coordinate patient care or rehabilitation services, including assessing the effectiveness of current processes.
  • Create new programs to address social programs affecting patients or families, including substance abuse, mental illness, or trauma.
  • Develop support groups to help patients and family members navigate medical transitions or improve their quality of life.
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Most healthcare social workers hold a master’s degree in clinical social work. They must complete 2 years of full-time post-graduate experience in a supervised setting. After passing the clinical licensure examination, they may be licensed as LCSWs. While some healthcare social workers may have a bachelor’s degree or non-clinical MSW degree, this is less common.

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Community health worker

Community health workers focus on improving the health of small groups or communities of people. Many community health workers hold a bachelor’s degree in social work, making this a good entry level position for social workers who do not wish to earn a master’s degree. Community health workers need to understand the cultural and community norms of the people they serve, making this a career option suitable for mezzo social workers.

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Projected growth (2018-2028)


Degree required


  • Advise clients or groups on ways to improve overall health, including implementing diet or exercise programs
  • Identify members of high-risk groups, such as racial or ethnic minority individuals, pregnant women, intravenous drug users, or low-income individuals
  • Long term communication with clients by phone, online, or through written materials to help them follow through with health recommendations
  • Develop informational or educational materials to help members of targeted communities achieve healthier lifestyles
  • Attend health fairs and community events to build relationships with key stakeholders in the community
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A community health worker must hold at least a bachelor’s degree in social work. While some people in this profession have an associate’s degree, they are often limited to working as aides or assistants to the bachelor’s or master’s level staff. After earning your bachelor’s degree, you need to complete the ASWB bachelor’s exam to become licensed.

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Mental health and substance abuse social workers

Some mezzo social workers specialize in mental health or substance abuse issues. While they may provide direct clinical services to affected individuals, mezzo social workers in these areas more often create community programs for prevention or risk reduction. Most mental health and substance abuse social workers have a master’s degree in social work or post-master’s certification.

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Projected growth (2018-2028)


Degree required


  • Develop programs designed to prevent substance abuse or mental health issues
  • Help family members of people affected by mental illness or substance abuse as they support their loved one
  • Identify community resources for treatment or housing and connect vulnerable communities with these resources
  • Act as part of an interdisciplinary team to communicate with physicians, nurses, counselors, psychologists, and other care providers
  • Develop risk reduction programs (e.g., needle exchange programs) to reduce harm associated with substance abuse
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Most often, a mental health or substance abuse social worker holds a master’s degree in clinical social work. They are required to complete 2 years of post-degree experience supervised by a licensed MSW. This typically focuses on mental health or substance abuse issues. After completing the licensure examination, you may become an LCSW or LMSW. Many social workers in this area complete additional coursework or supervised experience to become more effective at mental health and substance abuse interventions.

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Social workers focus on empowering people and improving their functioning within communities and institutions. Because the field of social work is so broad, it can be difficult to pin down exactly what a social worker may do. Thinking of social work through the lens of 3 levels of intervention often helps to define the common career paths of social workers. These 3 levels are micro, mezzo, and macro social workers.

The goal of a mezzo social worker is to understand how people function within their community.


Micro social workers focus on helping people in a one-on-one setting. Most often, this is clinical social work that may include assessment, psychotherapy, and adjustment to psychosocial issues. Micro social workers may also work with individuals or families to help them qualify for social services.
Mezzo social workers are a step away from the individual level. These social workers focus on small communities or organizations. This could be a business, a community or neighborhood, a nursing home, or a school. The goal of a mezzo social worker is to understand how people function within their community.
Macro social workers focus on societal systems and institutions. Rather than working directly with individuals or families, macro social workers conduct research, create social policy, or engage in advocacy work.

In summary, mezzo social workers work in a number of settings. At times, their work may more closely resemble that of a micro social worker, while at other times they may view problems through a macro lens. The flexibility of mezzo social work is what draws many people who want to work with people but may not prefer to provide direct clinical care as a primary part of their job.

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