Micro social work – careers and programs

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Introduction to micro social work

Social work is a broad field that encompasses a wide variety of jobs. For example, social workers could provide individual counseling to older adults or work for a political advocacy group to reduce homelessness. One helpful way to conceptualize what social workers do is to consider the scope of their work: micro, mezzo, or macro. Micro social work refers to one-on-one social work interventions. This individualized focus allows micro social workers to take an active role in helping clients reach their goals and improve their well-being.

What does a micro social worker do?

A micro social worker helps people and their families improve their quality of life. This may include navigating challenging life situations, figuring out how to access social resources, or adjusting to a new medical situation. Although micro social workers interface with communities and larger institutions, their primary goal is to help individuals.

Many micro social workers are clinicians, meaning they assess clients’ needs, create a treatment plan, and provide therapeutic services.


Many micro social workers are clinicians, meaning they assess clients’ needs, create a treatment plan, and provide therapeutic services. Clinical social workers might work in a mental health care facility, hospital, rehab hospital, or nonprofit organization. Some of a clinical social workers’ responsibilities may overlap with those of a mental health counselor or psychologist. Other micro social workers provide non-clinical services. This could be helping clients access government or employer-covered benefits, complete basic legal paperwork, obtain job placement, or seek additional education.

Skills and traits needed to succeed in micro social work

Micro social work is very person-oriented. Social work as a field draws people who are passionate about helping people solve problems and cope with difficult life situations. While some social workers focus more abstractly on policies and advocacy, micro social workers interact one-on-one with the people they serve.

Following are some of the skills and traits needed to be successful as a micro social worker:

This form of social work suits people who like to see tangible results from their work. If you enjoy seeing a direct impact of what you do, micro social work might be for you. For example, you may provide brief psychotherapy to a client and watch them improve their life situation after just a few weeks. This can be incredibly rewarding.

Micro social workers depend on their exceptional interpersonal skills. Making people feel comfortable, discussing emotions openly, and seeing people at their most vulnerable are critical parts of a social worker’s job. Don’t worry if you do not always know what to say in a particular situation. Your training will teach you the specifics about how to interact with clients, conduct psychotherapy, and provide other interventions. Being a “people person” will help you succeed in social work.

Social workers often enter the field due to their compassion for others. Micro social work requires sensitivity and the ability to take another person’s point of view.

A good social worker is reliable, responsible, and dependable. Micro social workers often work with some of society’s most vulnerable people. With clients depending on you for help, it is important that you be reliable.

A strong moral compass is essential for social workers. People in this profession frequently encounter sticky ethical situations. In some cases, your desire to help a client may violate the law or your ethical obligations. Social workers need honesty and the ability to uphold the ethical guidelines of the profession

Social workers draw upon a number of tools to help their clients improve their life situations. As a result, micro social workers need strong problem-solving abilities. This includes the ability to think on the fly to come up with creative solutions to pressing issues.

What education is needed to do micro social work?

All social workers require at least a bachelor’s degree in social work. This could be a bachelor’s of social work (BSW) or a bachelor of arts in social work (BASW) degree program. A bachelor’s program typically focuses on coursework to gain a foundation in social work. This includes learning how to serve individuals and their families. Some bachelor’s degree programs include a required practicum component, while others do not.

A bachelor’s degree typically qualifies you to take an entry level position as a social worker. This might include working at a medical facility, school, rehab center, or adoption agency. However, those with a bachelor’s degree may be limited in the types of interventions they perform. Therapeutic interventions like counseling often require a master’s degree. People who hold a bachelor’s degree are sometimes given less responsibility in terms of leadership, working with complex clients, or working independently. Note that not all states allow individuals with a bachelor’s degree to become licensed, so check your state requirements before choosing this path.

Most typically, micro social workers hold a master’s degree in social work (MSW). Many people with a micro social work orientation get a master’s degree with a clinical concentration. Thus, in addition to regular graduate coursework, they complete practicums to gain clinical skills. This might include offering treatments to children, adolescents, or adults.

A MSW program typically teaches students how to assess patients, diagnose and treat psychosocial issues, promote mental health, improve social functioning, and evaluate treatment success. Some MSW programs are offered in a hybrid setting that allows you to take courses online while completing clinical practicums in person.

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

Yes, most micro social workers must be licensed in order to practice. There are 4 main types of social worker licensure: licensed bachelor social worker (LBSW), licensed master social worker (LMSW), advanced generalist, and licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).


 Licensed bachelor social worker (LBSW)

An LBSW first completes a bachelor’s degree in social work from an accredited program. You must then complete the ASWB bachelor’s exam and complete at least two years of post-graduate qualifying experience. This experience must be supervised by someone with an MSW degree.


Licensed master social worker (LMSW)

An LMSW must complete a master’s degree in social work from an accredited program. Although exact licensure requirements differ by state, most states require individuals to pass the LMSW exam. No post-degree experience is required to become a licensed master social worker.


Advanced generalist

An advanced generalist is someone with an MSW or higher degree (e.g., doctorate in social work) who completes at least 2 years of supervised experience after earning the MSW. Passing the ASWB Advanced Generalist exam is required for this type of license.


Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)

An LCSW must first complete an accredited master’s degree program with an emphasis in clinical work. Then, you must obtain 2 years of direct clinical social work experience in a supervised setting. After passing the ASWB clinical exam, you are eligible to become licensed as an LCSW.

Micro social workers could become licensed in any of these  3 tracks. However, given the clinical focus of many micro social worker positions, many people in this field have the LCSW degree. This is the degree that allows you to practice clinically to provide clinical assessment, psychotherapy, and other clinical interventions.

Typical careers in micro social work

Micro social workers operate in a variety of work settings. The commonality between them is the focus on one-on-one interventions. Some common careers in micro social work include:

Clinical social worker

Clinical social workers provide therapeutic services to patients and their families. They may practice in hospitals, private practice, medical clinics, schools, or mental health agencies.

Total employment


Projected growth (2018-2028)


Degree required


The exact demands of a clinical social worker vary by practice setting, but common tasks and duties include:

  • observing client behavior
  • conducting client assessments
  • creating a treatment plan
  • diagnosing psychological or behavioral problems
  • consulting with a treatment team of doctors or therapists
  • communicating with clients’ families about prognosis and treatment progress
  • helping people access social service programs
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To become a clinical social worker, you will first need to complete a master’s degree program with a concentration in clinical social work. After completion of the MSW, you must obtain supervised clinical experience for at least 2 years. At this point, you are eligible to take the ASWB clinical exam to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).

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Hospital and healthcare social worker

A hospital or healthcare social worker is sometimes called a medical social worker. This type of social worker focuses on helping patients in hospitals or other medical settings. They work closely with patients, their families, and the broader treatment team to ensure high-quality clinical care.

Total employment


Projected growth (2018-2028)


Degree required


  • Advocate for patients to resolve crises, including issues related to the medical crisis that led to hospitalization
  • Refer patients and family members to community resources to assist with recovery
  • Help patients obtain financial assistance, education, job placement, legal aid, or other social services.
  • Investigate child or elder abuse as needed
  • Evaluate patients’ mental and emotional health
  • Coordinate with a patient’s treatment team
  • Maintain complete and confidential patient records
  • Conduct psychosocial assessments to identify patients’ needs
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Healthcare social workers typically have a MSW degree with a clinical concentration. After completing their post-graduate clinical experience hours (2 years), they must pass the clinical licensure examination. They can then be licensed as LCSWs and are eligible to provide clinical services in a hospital setting.

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Substance abuse counselor

Substance abuse counselors focus on helping individuals navigate recovery from alcohol or drug abuse. They often work at substance abuse rehabilitation centers, outpatient clinics, physicians’ offices, detention centers, or schools.

Total employment


Projected growth (2018-2028)


Degree required


  • Assist clients as they deal with substance abuse and related issues, including poverty, unemployment or domestic abuse
  • Assess clients’ needs and create a treatment plan
  • Monitor clients’ progress toward treatment goals
  • Conduct interviews and review medical and mental health records
  • Coordinate treatment with other care providers, including physicians, nurses, and counselors
  • Support family members as they learn how to best assist the client during their recovery from substance abuse
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It is possible to work in the substance abuse field with a bachelor’s degree in social work. Typically, these individuals would be care coordinators or case managers. To provide clinical services to people dealing with substance abuse, most social workers have an LCSW. This requires a master’s degree in clinical social work, 2 years of supervised post-graduate clinical practice, and completion of the ASWB clinical exam.

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  • Gerontological social worker

    Median salary: $50K

    A gerontological social worker specializes in working with older adults. They may work in rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, hospitals, adult protection agencies, or private practice.

    Specific tasks and duties

    The specific tasks of a gerontological social worker vary by practice setting, but common duties include:

    • Assessing clients’ abilities, including their functional capacity
    • Recognizing the difference between normal and abnormal aging
    • Referring clients to medical professionals as needed
    • Providing therapy to older adults to treat depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems
    • Assisting with discharge planning when a patient needs to leave the hospital or another medical setting
    • Helping older adults complete paperwork, such as advanced directives, to make an informed decision

    How to become a gerontological social worker

    Gerontological social workers may have either a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree, depending on their job setting and requirements. Given the clinical focus of many jobs in gerontology, these social workers often have a clinical MSW degree and obtain an LCSW license.

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All social workers share a focus on promoting the development and empowerment of individuals and their communities. Because of the broad skills social workers learn, they are employed in a range of settings.

There are 3 major “levels” of social work that can help to conceptualize what people in this profession do: micro, mezzo, and macro. Micro social workers do what many people think of when they hear “social work.” They work closely with people and their families to provide one-on-one support. This includes clinical social work as well as helping individuals obtain necessary social services or other resources. Mezzo social work takes a step back from the individual level. Mezzo social workers focus on organizations and small communities such as a school, neighborhood, or business. They help people as they operate within these communities. Macro social workers have the broadest focus. The goal of macro social work is to understand systemic and institutional sources of injustice. Macro social workers help people indirectly but typically work on research, political advocacy, or public policy.

There is significant overlap between these 3 levels of social work.


There is significant overlap between these 3 levels of social work. In fact, micro social workers sometimes work at a mezzo or even macro scale. For micro social workers who want to obtain even more education, the doctorate of social work (DSW) degree can be a good option. This is a practice-focused degree that helps clinical social workers obtain expertise in an advanced area of practice. For many micro social workers, the DSW degree may open up additional career paths that require specialization

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