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Questions about the academic and field experiences in MSW

Discussion in 'Psychology [Psy.D. / Ph.D.]' started by PizzaButt, Dec 29, 2008.

  1. PizzaButt

    PizzaButt New Member
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    I've been reading lots of the threads in this forum but still have a couple questions about the curriculum/MSW school experience. I am leaning towards the MSW but am still trying to decide.

    1) I am interested in being a therapist. I have an acceptance to a couple of community counseling master's programs and a couple of MSW programs that have a clinical focus. I am far more interested in the coursework of the community counseling programs. I have compared the two programs side by side and while the MSW programs I applied to are clinically focused and lead to licensure, they all still have the foundation year (the first year is general social work), which I have no interest in at all. It's the second year which is the clinical track, which has all the classes I'm interested in. I'd like to hear what people's thoughts on this are. If you want to be a therapist but are in an MSW program, how do you get through the first year which is all general social work classes?

    2) What are the evaluation methods in social work? It seems from what I've heard that most of the classes have regular research papers as the main way of evaluation. In contrast, the community counseling programs rely on reflection papers rather than research papers, which I think is a lot better way to learn. The idea of writing lots of research papers fills me with dread. I've heard from some social work students that there is a lot of busywork involved. I'm really not very keen on that. I want to get down to brass tacks, not be muddling through a lot of busy work. On the other hand, the work involved in the master's in community counseling programs I've looked at (and the students there I've spoken with) have said that the work is more reflective and meaningful (rather than writing theoretical papers, for example)

    3) In social work school, do students get to choose all of their field placements, the way they do in community counseling master's programs? For instance, I would not want to be placed in a substance abuse treatment center. However, I have a strong interest in working with the elderly, and would prefer field placements where I would get this kind of experience. So I'm wondering if MSW students get to choose their practica and internships the way master's in community counseling students do. I would feel very uncomfortable if I did not get to choose my practica and internships.

    4) Do you have to do any kind of home visits in social work school that is outside of your field placements? I really, really do not want to do any kind of home visits.

    5) How can graduates of MSW programs be as strong clinicians as graduates of master's in community counseling programs, when the community counseling students get all their 60 credits in mental health classes, whereas the MSW students only get 30 credits in mental health classes? It seems to me that this would make a big difference in how prepared you felt after graduating. Also, the community counseling grads I have spoken with have said they feel very prepared to be therapists; the MSW grads have not and have gone for additional post-graduate training for a year or two in a specific modality. It seems like 90% of all private practice therapists are LCSWs, but it seems like MSW students get less class time in terms of learning therapy techniques, interview skills, etc. I want to be a private practice therapist, but it seems like I would get much more training in therapy in a master's in CC than in an MSW program.

    For instance, in the master's in community counseling programs I am considering, the coursework includes psychopharmacology, interview skills, diagnosis and treatment planning, but I do not see these courses in the MSW curricula. It seems like these types of courses are essential in being a therapist, so why doesn't it seem like clinically-oriented MSW programs offer these kinds of classes? I just want to graduate being the strongest trained clinician I can be, and while it seems like the job prospects are better with an MSW, it seems like you're a better trained clinician with the master's in counseling degree. So how do LCSWs reconcile the fact that master's in CC grads have more training in therapy but they are competing for the same jobs? I'm confused about this.

    6) I have spoken to a number of practitioners in the field (both MSWs and LPCs), and asked them whether I should go MSW or community counseling MA. Nearly all of them said community counseling MA, for the reason that they said that social workers who want to be therapists often end up in jobs where they are unable to focus primarily on counseling and instead end up doing case management, whereas LPCs end up doing more pure counseling in the jobs that they get. Do you think this is true? I am leaning toward the MSW anyway, because I feel it offers a broader array of job options.

    7) I'm wondering about whether or not I will be a good match for the social work philosophy over the master's in counseling philosophy. My understanding is that social work's orientation is person in environment, and I'm not exactly sure if there is an overall unified orientation to counseling. However, I am interested in being a private practice therapist and I guess the approach of clinical psych interests me the most--diagnosis, treatment planning, working with people with more severe mental health issues/a more medical based approach. I'm wondering whether social work or a master's in counseling would be more in line with my interests.

    Overall, I much prefer the coursework in master's in community counselor programs, but it seems like the state I'll be moving to is much more MSW friendly. There are hardly any LPCs in private practice, judging from what I've seen on the Psychology Today find a therapist feature. Also, the state social work chapter is far larger and has more going on than the state LPC chapter.
     
    #1 PizzaButt, Dec 29, 2008
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2008
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  3. WannaBeDrMe

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    1. go with the classes you think you might enjoy, don't worry about others' experiences -- I can't answer, my curriculum was clinical and inter-departmentally blended for a various amount of reasons I won't go into... I only had one generalist class and it was taught by a highly clinical professor who ignored the curriculum (hence, on my LCSW exam, I knew almost none of the generalist questions)

    2. i did both research and reflection and I value research more... reflection is fluff, if you want to reflect, do it at home in your diary or in psychotherapy, there was a lot of reflection in class (often mis-directed and wasteful of our time), you NEED research skills to be able to practice effectively, I think those who run from it are in shape to become poorly informed clinicians (just a bias, you asked for opinions, I'm offering mine) -- to me, meaningful is learning how to work the research process

    3. choice was mostly a fallacy in my grad school experience, you were ADVISED in certain directions, I was given choices where to interview for placements but a lot of students were not... the field director guided them away from certain areas... that was her job and why she got paid, same w/research topics

    4. being a social worker and not doing home visits is almost impossible... we are a profession born out of working in the schools, homes, and communities of those in need ... if you don't like home visits... psychology is probably your best route... every counselor and social worker i know in my area (though I'm sure it could be different in your area) has paid their dues w/home visits

    5. this is a loaded question and I'm tired of them on this board, not lashing out at you, but professional communication is a skill that a lot of you need to work on... framing up an idea/concept will be an ABSOLUTE requirement of your new career... you immediately put social work on the defensive with misinformation based on n=1... if you think that is dangerous now, just wait until you make that mistake with a client and do more damage than good...

    maybe it's different in your area, but in my state, NC, the LCSW's receive more clinical training than the counselors by FAR... our counselors have smaller internships, our counselors have fewer course hours total including fewer clinical hours, their supervision period is only 1200 hrs compared with our 3000 hrs... your information is specific to your area, please don't broadly apply it to the rest of the field... for example, my 60+ hours of training was entirely clinical classes outside of research/ethics and my internship was HIGHLY clinical, full-time for 18 mths, my training was atypical but it just goes to show that you can get out of something whatever you put into it

    I think this might be the 9th time I've said this to you, but we can't answer this for you...

    6. according to you, ... you have polled dozens of people looking for answers... at some point, you just have to trust your gut... we have answered this question for you (and others) at least a dozen times since August... I won't type out a response to it again...

    7. person/environment (ecological perspective) is just one approach to social work practice... it's a thereotical base ... you have other options, LOTS of other options, your program might take a particular stance, but in the end, you choose the guiding base of your practice from what you've learned either in school... or on your own... you say here that clinical psych matches your interests... but then you want to do a counseling or msw program...

    you did well with researching jobs/current practitioners in your state... that's a good move... I recommend that...

    here's what else I recommend... you need to talk this out with someone who does this professionally... we have given you so many responses/information and you continue to seek answers from us and say from others in your community... you are to a point where you clearly have a lot of conflicting ideas going on in your head that you need to sort out... this is what career counselors do for a ... career... they can help you make sense of this sort of thing...

    I think all of us have been in situations were decisions were difficult... but at this stage... it's possible more information might just complicate your process. I really think it would be best handled by the point of contact at your programs for application, a professor within your current department, or the career counselor at your school. You have all of the relevant information... you just need to figure out how to make it make sense for you... and none of us can do that for you here... not ethically.

    Good luck and let us know how it shakes out.
     
  4. PizzaButt

    PizzaButt New Member
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    Thanks so much for your responses; I will ponder all of this more. I am just afraid of making the wrong decision. The state my husband and I are moving to looks much more MSW friendly, but then again we are not 100% sure where we are moving to. Also, there are no accredited counseling programs in the city we are moving to, so that is also an issue if I were to go the counseling route.

    Psychology is not an option because I would need to get into a PhD clinical psych program--I already applied to those last year and did not get in, no point in reapplying because these are so hard to get into. PsyD is not an option as there are no programs in the state we're planning to move to. I just want to be a private practice therapist, and it seems that either an MSW or master's in counseling is a good way to do that.

    Can someone elaborate more on the home visits thing--the idea of home visits really scares me I will admit. I am a very petite woman and the idea of going into people's homes alone is not an idea I am comfortable with at all. I think I would have a lot of anxiety regarding this. When do you have to do the home visits--is it a separate thing from field placements in grad school--or after grad school during your internship? Do you need your own car for this (which I will not have).

     
  5. biogirl215

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    What if you physically can't do home visits?
     
  6. xenobart

    xenobart MSW 2010
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    1. As WannaBe said above, the curriculum depends largely upon the program you choose - some are highly theoretical, while others are almost completely clinical. Mine is in the middle - the first semester is generalist, and starting next semester we're working almost exclusively in our concentrations and electives. Even though I want to be a therapist, I've found a lot of the generalist perspectives to be helpful for future practice and make me more aware of multiple ideas and perspectives. For example, knowing social policy is quite important if you ever end up doing therapy for disadvantaged clients.


    2. In my first semester evaluation methods were varied - I did have a couple research papers, but I also had assessment papers, regular old short answer / multiple choice midterms and finals, take home essay midterms and finals, and an in-class video-based final where we had to diagnose patients based on the video vignette. I did have reflection-based papers that made up 90% of my grade in one class, and I felt like I gained the least from that class. As WannaBe said, you'll have plenty of chance for reflection in field work supervision / class, in other classes, and with classmates.

    3. At my program, our first year placements were chosen in our concentrations (in my case, mental health) in consultation with our academic field work consultants. Students who didn't like their placement could get another one assigned. I got a great placement that's very clinical. Our second year we choose placements. Of course, this depends on the school. I've heard other local MSW programs allow students to choose first year placements as well.

    4. I can honestly say that I've never done a home visit in my life. My jobs and internship have all been at day treatment programs (plus one in a school), and none of them had home visits as part of the job duties. Whie home visits are a large part of many social work jobs, it's not a requirement to all jobs.

    5. I feel I'm receiving good clinical training through my concentration in mental health and my highly clinical internship / clinical supervision. Additionally, LCSWs have to receive a minimum of 2 years supervision (more than MFTs, as WannaBe said), as well as additional clinical coursework. Next semester I'll be taking some highly clinical electives as part of my training, such as psychoanalytic therapy and brief crisis intervention therapy. I can't compare MSW to MFT training, so I advise you talk to some MFTs as well.

    6. If it seems like MSWs are most likely to end up in therapy jobs, it's likely simply because they have more job options outside of therapy, whereas MFTs are more limited. In pure therapy jobs (like where I'm interning right now) LCSWs and MFTs are considered equally. It may also be that you're talking to MSWs without the LCSW license, who are more likely to be in case management positions. I've also talked to some graduated MSWs who went into the program intending to be pure therapists and changed their minds at some point and now do other jobs in the field. With the MSW they had the opportunity to change their minds.

    7. In my program so far, I've received training in both the person in environment training and the medical model, as well as other theoretical models in my HBSE (human behavior in the social environment) class. Since all the models have their strengths and weaknesses, I appreciate the holistic training.
     
  7. WannaBeDrMe

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    Master's level psychology degrees allow practice with limited supervision. A lot of practices will have that built in and for experienced Licensed Psychological Associates, to my knowledge, the supervision is more of a formality than anything... I don't know if that's the rule or just with the people I know in practice... but I know some very, very talented LPA's... LPA's do work in private practice and carry caseloads and can have the additional responsibility of psych testing (LCSW's and LPC's can't do this... though I've heard about some stuff LCSW's got permission to do... but I'm not into it... the only assessments I've ever used are very basic assessment tools, definitely nothing diagnostic)

    As for home visits, social work is dangerous. People are killed. However, pizza drivers, bank tellers, and Wal-Mart employees are also killed. I'm pretty sure most social workers are women but I can't remember any stats... and most are probably healthy to petite in size. Of course you never want to put yourself in a situation where you might be in danger so if you have any sense of that... you either don't go, go with colleagues, or go with the sherriff's department.

    I'm not sure about your idea of home visits but I suppose most people are aware of going to take away someone's children... or I don't know the other stereotypes... but there are dozens and dozens of other reasons for home visits. You could be delivering a Thanksgiving meal, assessing a living situation, making sure a disabled person has access to all of the things they need each day, checking on someone if you haven't heard from them in a while, etc...

    As a private practice therapist, you'd likely not do any of those... but as a beginning social worker, in your field placement, I'd say more field experiences than not will have home visits. They were built into our learning contracts regardless of our site placement. I did a brief tour as a school social worker and even we did home visits. Hospice, obviously, does home visits. Case managers do home visits. Hmm... medical/home helath social workers do home visits. Hospital social workers (medical not psychiatric) will occasionally do home visits in this area to see if the person's home will accomodate healing or if they need modifications. DSS social workers do home visits. Adoption workers, early intervention workers, and probably lots of others I can't think of right now... Oh, my last job, crisis workers.

    I haven't talked much here b/c there was a time when I thought total anonymity was the way to go so I tried to disguise my practice but I feel like this is a good place to share that my last clinical job was a crisis responder. If someone called 911 or the area crisis line, I was the therapist to go and do a psychosocial assessment and determine the best treatment... re: hospitalization, jail, an outpatient follow-up appointment, new meds referral at ER, whatever...

    That was a dangerous job... I don't think my state appreciated just how dangerous... they modeled it after a program in KY... which had great success... BUT KY refused to meet people anywhere but the hospital or jail... my job took me into homes and communities... I don't think that's smart... but sometimes, the people making the policies are sooooo far removed from their clinical experiences, if they ever had any, that they don't remember what it was like... or, things have changed so much that they have no diea what's out there right now...

    The LCSW's I know in private practice all still do homevisits... but it is NOT for their private practice... most of them have 2nd jobs or do pro bono work... I'm sure there are some who don't... but I don't know any... social workers just are a unique group and they sort of try to fill whatever gap exists... they might be volunteering with Habitat building homes one weekend and running a fashion show for domestic violence the next... I'm a member of my city's Junior League and all of the social workers I know stay involved in at least a few different ways... most of us work insane, insane hours... by choice...

    Despite wanting my doctorate, I love that I'm a social worker. there were many, many flaws w/my program and numerous flaws w/my state's policies... but it makes me really proud to be part of a profession that started out of nothing other than a desire to help kids learn... and help the families of the kids... and help the communities that surrounded those families... it was that simple... there wasn't any complicated scientific reasoning... it was just help where you can, when you can... support the people... meet their needs... fight for those who can't fight and while you are doing it, teach others to fight too...

    Ok, that's enough social work pride... social work month isn't until march (I think??)... good luck w/your decision. To finish up the home visits thing, I have had many pleasant home visit experiences... even with the families that hated me. Ha. I've almost always felt safe (though a little nervous in some neighborhoods, especially with male adult clients) If it's something you truly can't do, maybe your agency can work out something where you avoid it but you should know that if an unstable person is going to snap... trust me, they don't choose where they will snap... it's just as likely to happen in an office, a locked unit, or their home...

    Also, with crisis work, I had a state car... but all ofther positions, I used my own vehicle not only for visits but to transport clients as well...
     
  8. WannaBeDrMe

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    I'm sure that accomodations could be made in that case. Honestly, though, I think some positions would automatically be off limits to individuals with physical limitations. It's weird to say that in social work which is supposed to be accepting of all... but you want to keep yourself safe.

    We did have a classmate who was legally blind and his options were limited. He did complete home visits but only with a colleague. His field placement choices were also limited. Without getting too much into it, 5 yrs later, he's yet to find a position with an agency and is limited to private practice.

    ADA mandates that all of these accomodations be in place... and most agencies can't afford the time/effort/cash it takes to employ individuals with disabilities right now. He has a great attitude and as much as some of us have pushed him to take legal action, he says he can see all sides of it and understands their dilemma.

    It really sucks because almost any other profession (law, maybe some medicine, teaching, retail, whatever) he could do... but since social work does have that safety concern, I think most of the agencies just feel like they would have to take extra care with him compared to other employees.

    Anyway, it's hard to talk about the experiences of someone else but he is the only physically disabled social worker I know at this time. I have an autoimmune condition and get very ill a few times a year so I can't be around certain things when my kidneys act up.... because of that, I have refused a few home visits. To do that, I just told the clients I couldn't make the trip and they would need to meet me at the office. It took a lot of extra energy b/c you have to wait on them to show up... and in mental health, compliance is ALWAYS an issue. I probably need to stand up for my health more... but alas, as a young one in the field, it's hard to make myself vulnerable in front of those who have done this for 20 years...

    So, long story longer (all of my posts will be long until my packing is finished... ha)... I would start speaking with professors and professionals in the field early on about personal limitations and different professional expectations... and maybe guide career activities in the best direction possible... inpatient work wouldn't need to make home visits as a career, neither would private practice, hmm... probably not a lot of substance abuse... not homeless shelter stuff (b/c there are obviously no homes), and maybe some regular medical social work (but that's not been my experience)

    heavy home visit areas will be adoptions, child protective services, any kind of case management, school social work, early intervention services, any sort of non-profit services, intensive in home thearpies (MST type stuff), Hospice... maybe some others I can't think of now...
     
  9. brusselsprout

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    I am concerned about this same thing and am in the same boat. I am also considering MSW programs and M.Ed in community counseling programs. I recently compared the two programs' coursework side by side. Interestingly, I found that overall, both the CC program and the MSW program had similar courses. However, like you, I have no interest whatsoever in my MSW school's foundational year curriculum.

    Also, like you mentioned, the CC schools I applied to include classes such as interview skills, psychopharmacology, career counseling, assessment and diagnosis and treatment planning which are not offered in the MSW programs I applied to (clinical focus). I don't understand how MSW students can practice therapy without these essential classes. Do MSW students get any assessment, interview skills, psychopharm or diagnosis and treatment planning? Are these things integrated into their other courses? I have looked through my school's entire MSW course guide book and haven't seen any of these, and it would seem these are essential courses.
     
  10. WannaBeDrMe

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    yes and I'm not sure where you guys are looking but CWSE (council on social work education) sets standards for programs. They ALL (if accredited) must meet these standards. In fact, the standards must be VERY specific and detailed. Every school will havea copy available to you and it should explain all of the questions. If your program is not accredited, then these rules don't apply... non CWSE schools are typically not able to grant degrees that are approved for licensure.

    Example: http://ssw.unc.edu/files/web/pdf/CurrMan08-09.pdf


    In the program above, you can take whatever you want... from any department.

    In my state, none of our programs lack the classes you mention not finding in your programs... so maybe it's a geographic issue. In that case, I really have nothing else to offer... b/c I ended up with grad credit for individual semesters of training (not that it's enough, by any means, but it was a entire 4 hr class w/lab dedicated to these topics) in behavioral techniques, gestalt/existential, strengths-based/brief/solution focused, motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral, 3 different classes on assessments (not to mention doing/designing assessments in every single class), hmm, whta else, I don't remember, oh, we did have a psychopharmacology class, psychopathology, for those who wanted it, drugs and behavior classes, etc... just lots of stuff and the curriculum was all skill building as well... look beyond the class titles, go to the catalog, read course descriptions, nif you still haven't found what you want, ask the programs to see if they offer anything not listed to fill the gap....

    Good luck with your decisions.
     
    #9 WannaBeDrMe, Dec 31, 2008
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2008
  11. brusselsprout

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    Yes, I am only looking at CSWE-accredited programs. But the ones I have looked at have not offered the courses you mention above. I'd really love to find a school in my preferred georgraphical location that seems to have this kind of breadth of clinical courses but have not found one unfortunately.
     
  12. WannaBeDrMe

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    I guess the location is the issue. I'm sure that curriculum can vary based on area... but the same basic competencies should apply to all CWSE programs. That includes all of the skill building stuff you mentioned wasn't explicitly stated in the course reviews you've read so far. Sorry I can't be more helpful... I really only know my area and that's not much help to 49 other states of people.
     

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