A Model Practice Act for Clinical Social Work

This Model Practice Act for Clinical Social Work, produced by the Center for Clinical Work, is a new way of looking at state licensure of Clinical Social Workers. It consists of statutes and regulations. The statutes are universal and sufficient to protect the public. The regulations are offered with the understanding that legislators, administrators, and licensing board members in any given state have their own needs and customs, which may evolve over time.

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Practice with Children & Their Families: A Specialty of Clinical Social Work

This is the position statement by the American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work (ABE), Practice with Children & Their Families: A Specialty of Clinical Social Work, to which the reader is referred for a much fuller discussion of this specialty and its impact on children and families. The position statement is the source for ABE’s national credential, the Board Certified Clinical Social Worker Specialist in Practice with Children & Their Families.

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The Practice of Psychoanalysis: A Specialty of Clinical Social Work

The American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work has published a position statement on Psychoanalysis as a specialty within the overall practice of Clinical Social Work. The statement identifies the elements of the advanced practice of psychoanalysis in the clinical social work profession. In highly detailed groupings of professional knowledge and skills, it sets forth the specific characteristics of practice by which a clinical social worker psychoanalyst may be recognized for competence.

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Clinical Supervision: A Practice Specialty of Clinical Social Work

This position statement addresses Clinical Supervision as a specialty within the overall practice of Clinical Social Work. It was undertaken to address, from the practitioners’ perspective, it identifies the salient features of clinical supervision and its impact on quality of care and public protection. No area of practice has more power to affect the competent delivery of behavioral healthcare in America With more than 180,000 practitioners in virtually every county of every state, clinical social workers make up the nation’s largest group of providers of those services. At least 40,000 of them receive ongoing clinical supervision. Further, every year, roughly 20,000 new graduates of master’s-level programs enter the field, to be trained by clinical social worker supervisors for the next two years. During that time, most of the graduates’ school-learning will be challenged by the realities of serving people in need who look to them for help and healing.

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Clinical Social Work Standards for Delivery of Care and Guidelines for the Three-Party Model of Clinical Social Work Services

This is a position statement by the American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work (ABE) on the delivery of competent care by clinical social workers and to describe the rights and responsibilities of the three parties (practitioner, third-party entity, client as consumer) involved in the ethical, timely, and effective provision of that care.

The Board, which first published a version of this paper in 1995, published this second edition (in November, 2002), updated and reorganized, with a bibliography. In this third version, the Board promulgates standards for clinicians, where before it issued guidelines. The drafts of the paper were improved by the comments of clinical social work practitioners, educators, clinical supervisors, program administrators, and leaders of professional organizations.

This paper was produced by the American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work (the Board), a standard setting and credentialing organization for the field of clinical social work whose practitioners provide more mental-emotional healthcare than any other professional group in the United States.

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Professional Development and Practice Competencies in Clinical Social Work

This position statement describes standards for the competent practice of clinical social work. Clinical social workers provide more behavioral healthcare than any other professional group in the United States.

The American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work (ABE), which first published a version of this paper in 1995, published this second edition (in March, 2002), updated and reorganized, with a bibliography and greater emphasis on clinical practice. The drafts of the paper were enriched by the comments of 67 distinguished clinical social work practitioners, educators, clinical supervisors, program administrators, and leaders of professional organizations.

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ABE has conducted research on the acceptance and standing of advanced clinical social work in the legislative, regulatory, and judicial arenas. As a repository of information, and as an experienced provider of testimony, ABE is willing to consider requests for assistance, especially from representatives of state and national organizations.

ABE’s testimony and testimony-support tends to be based on the importance of professional standards. ABE focuses primarily on the value of advanced practice as embodied by the BCD certification. Any party with a legitimate interest in advancing or defending clinical social work in a regulatory or legislative setting is invited to contact ABE.

Court Cases

The three court cases mentioned below resulted in strong affirmations of the importance of clinical social work, and can be used in teaching about practice issues as they intersect with the legal system.

New York Court Affirms Clinical Social Work’s Bio-psychosocial Approach (2005)

A New York Court holds that clinical social workers may provide services to those whose mental disorders or symptoms may be organic in nature or result from a concurrent physical ailment. The New York State Clinical Social Work Society played a pivotal role in the case, which cites ABE’s definition of clinical social work.

Read the case opinion and an ABE article about it:

Read Case Opinion Online Download ABE Article

Maryland’s Highest Court Upholds Evaluation, Diagnosis, Expert Testimony (2000)

Confronted with the contention that clinical social workers do not have the right to assess and diagnose mental/emotional disorders or to serve as expert witnesses, the Maryland Court of Appeals found in favor of clinical social workers and upheld their right to perform these services.

ABE filed a joint amicus curiae brief in the case, which was supported by the state’s attorney general.

Read the brief and an ABE article published about this case:

Download the Brief (PDF) Download ABE Article

U.S. Supreme Court Decides in Favor of Clinical Social Work (1996)

In the U.S. Supreme Court Case of Jaffee v. Redmond, which arose from a clinical social worker’s refusal to turn over case notes, the Court granted a broad federal privilege of privacy of communication between psychotherapists (including clinical social workers) and their clients.

ABE filed a joint amicus curiae brief that was cited by the Court in its majority opinion.

Read it and other materials from this crucial case.

Jaffee v. Redmond 1996 News Release (PDF)
Syllabus (PDF) Brief (PDF) Opinion (PDF) Dissent (PDF)
Peter Brody, JD article (PDF)

Brief Definition of Clinical Social Work

Clinical social work is a mental-health profession whose practitioners, educated in social-work graduate schools and trained under supervision, master a distinctive body of knowledge and skill in order to assess, diagnose, and ameliorate problems, disorders, and conditions that interfere with healthy bio-psychosocial functioning of people—individuals, couples, families, groups—of all ages and backgrounds.

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Clinical Social Work Described

Clinical social work is a healthcare profession based on theories and methods of prevention and treatment in providing mental-health/healthcare services, with special focus on behavioral and biopsychosocial problems and disorders. Clinical social work’s unique attributes include use of the person-in-environment perspective, respect for the primacy of client rights, and strong therapeutic alliance between client and practitioner. With 200,000 practitioners serving millions of client consumers, clinical social workers constitute the largest group of mental-health/healthcare providers in the nation.

The knowledge base of clinical social work includes theories of biological, psychological, and social development; diversity and cultural competency; interpersonal relationships; family and group dynamics; mental disorders; addictions; impacts of illness, trauma, or injury; and the effects of the physical, social, and cultural environment. This knowledge is inculcated in social work graduate school and is fused with directpractice skills that are developed by the practitioner during a period of at least two years of post-graduate experience under clinical supervision. This period should suffice to prepare the clinical social worker for autonomous practice and state-licensure as a clinical social work professional. In the years that follow, clinical social workers may pursue an advanced-generalist practice or may decide to specialize in one or more areas.

Clinical social work is notable for the versatility of its practitioners and the variety of their roles, including that of team member and team leader in a multi-disciplinary setting. Client consumers— individuals, couples, families, and groups—benefit from a variety of direct services, including assessment, diagnosis, treatment planning, intervention/treatment, evaluation of outcomes, and case management. Clinical social work settings and services include, but are not limited to, the following (in alphabetical order):

  • child & family services
  • clinics
  • court & forensic venues
  • elder care facilities
  • home health care
  • hospice
  • hospitals
  • not-for-profit agencies and organizations
  • palliative and rehabilitative care
  • private practice offices
  • public & private schools
  • public sector health/mental health
  • rehabilitation facilities
  • religious/spiritual organizations
  • residential treatment
  • rural healthcare
  • services agencies
  • uniformed services and Veterans Affairs.

The flexible and skillful application of knowledge, theories, and methods in a bio-psychosocial approach is a hallmark of clinical social work. Interventions—the direct person-to-person(s) process—are conducted with people of all ages and range in nature from preventive, crisis, and psycho-educational services to collaborative client advocacy and brief and long-term counseling or psychotherapy. Typically, clinical social workers supervise and consult with professional colleagues and may engage in indirect practice (e.g. administration, research, teaching, writing). It is a standard of practice for clinical social workers to engage in career-long continuing clinical education and to adhere to a professional code of ethics.

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The Advanced Clinical Social Worker

A Statement of the Center for Clinical Social Work


Clinical social work is a healthcare profession focused on helping people with bio-psychosocial problems and disorders. Advanced clinical social workers are especially adept at this work. Before entering the advanced level, clinical social workers pass through an entry-level practice phase (specialized graduate education and two years of post-graduate supervised training) and an intermediate phase (at least three more years of practice, which may be autonomous). All clinical social workers adhere to a professional code of ethics and respect the rights of their client consumers, especially those that relate to self-determination and to privacy and confidentiality.

Clinical Social Work described

Built on a base of social-work core values and professional ethics, clinical social work, at all levels, is distinguished from other forms of social work by the nature of its graduate education and training and by its recognition, in every state of the United States, as a licensed mental-health/healthcare profession with unique competencies. Clinical social workers’ professional scope of practice ranges from assessment and diagnosis to interventions and collaborative case management; their knowledge base encompasses the following: normal and abnormal human development and behavior; disorders and addictions; consequences of trauma, illness, or injury; intrapersonal, interpersonal, and family dynamics; the impacts of the physical, social, and cultural environment; and other bio-psychosocial issues.

Advanced Clinical Social Work described

Advanced clinical social workers flexibly and effectively apply their knowledge and skills to many types of client consumers of all ages in a wide range of practice settings. They utilize individual, dyadic, family, and group approaches. In their assessments, diagnoses, treatment planning, interventions, outcome evaluations, and case management, advanced clinical social workers are both very knowledgeable and highly skilled. These advanced competencies may be measured by a board-certification process.

Advanced clinical social workers often specialize in specific practice areas, supervise and consult to other professionals, collaborate, receive difficult referrals, and teach and present in public. Their competence is recognized by a variety of service stakeholders including consumers, courts, the public, payor systems, regulators, and employers. While qualified to practice independently, advanced clinical social workers seek case consultation and make referrals to other specialists when appropriate.

Professional use of self, use of the “person in environment” perspective, continuing clinical education, a disciplined approach to the practice environment, and use of best practices in initiating change and ameliorating complex problems are expected of all advanced practitioners. In their interventions, they create a therapeutic alliance with client consumers and they place a high value on cultural, ethnic, and environmental factors.

In measuring the competence of the advanced clinical social worker, the American Board of Examiners’ Professional Development and Practice Competencies position statement is the basis for examining candidates for advanced-practice certification as Board Certified Diplomates in Clinical Social Work/BCD.

Note: for a more detailed description of clinical social work, please refer to the Center’s statement entitled Clinical Social Work Described.

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