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What Is Direct Practice in Social Work?

Thursday, September 22, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Most people who go into social work do so because they want to help children, adults and families. When you envision social work, you likely think of sitting down with clients to help them find ways to improve their lives, whether through offering guidance or finding community assistance programs. This type of social work is called direct practice, and it is at the heart of what it means to be a social worker. With a master’s degree in social work, you will have the opportunity to engage in direct practice and help clients live healthier, more fulfilling lives.

Direct Practice

Direct practice in social work involves many responsibilities, including maintaining immediate contact with clients and connecting them with the services and resources they need. In particular, direct practice in social work involves an initial intake, conducting a client screening, determining the client’s eligibility for various services and programs, and providing case management.

As a provider of direct social work, you may have opportunities to provide mediation services or counseling to clients. However, without the appropriate license, direct social workers are unable to provide psychotherapy. Direct practice in social work involves working primarily with individuals and families who are mentally healthy. Of course, mentally healthy people encounter difficulties and emotional challenges, too, so it is likely that you will provide guidance and counseling. This falls within the scope of direct practice in social work, but a good social worker must also know when refer clients to qualified mental health professionals.

The art of providing direct social work is knowing which intervention to implement and when. While mental health workers and clinical social workers often adopt one specific theoretical approach to their clients, direct social workers are more eclectic and draw on whatever will help each client. As a direct social worker, you will have the opportunity to get to know your clients and recognize which programs and services would best suit each one’s needs. This means building a catalogue of potential options and finding the right match for your clients.

How Is Direct Practice Different From Other Forms of Social Work?

There are three types of social work: indirect, direct and clinical. Although there are many different fields in which a social worker can practice, each field requires social workers to engage in at least one of these three types of social work. Indirect social work (sometimes referred to as macro social work) occurs at the organizational level. A program director, institutional services coordinator or social worker guiding governmental policy all practice indirect social work. In other words, indirect social work involves setting up, organizing, maintaining and improving the programs and services that enrich clients’ lives. This differs from direct social work (sometimes referred to as micro social work) in that indirect social work rarely involves face-to-face contact with clients. Rather, indirect social work focuses on logistics, organization, administration and service management.

Clinical social work, like direct social work, involves working face-to-face with clients. The main difference between clinical social work and direct social work is that clinical social workers help clients who are suffering from psychiatric disorders and diagnosable emotional problems. Clinical social workers make diagnoses and conduct psychotherapeutic sessions with patients, often in an in-patient or private practice setting. Clinical social work focuses predominantly on pervasive mental health conditions and how to cope with them.

How Can You Prepare for Direct Practice in Social Work?

If you plan to go into direct practice in social work, the best way you can prepare is to commit to education. As you pursue your degree, consider your coursework and reading materials from the perspective of a direct social worker. Ask yourself how you will use the information you are learning in real-world applications. As you progress toward a master’s degree in social work, imagine yourself in the role of a direct social worker and begin building the skill set to match clients with the best resources.

The master’s degree in social work available from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley will prepare you for direct practice. For example, your SOCW 6315 “Social Work with Diverse Populations” course will introduce you to the challenges and benefits of working with people from a variety of social and cultural backgrounds. Each client will need specific care based on his or her cultural experience and situation. Your SOCW 6360 “Child Welfare” course will prepare you for recognizing and working with children who have suffered abuse or neglect. Every course in your program will give you ample opportunity to develop your skills in direct practice in social work.

Direct practice in social work involves getting to know each client and tailoring a treatment plan to his or her unique worldview and experience. As a direct practice social worker, you will have the opportunity to completely change clients’ lives for the better. Doing so requires a strong educational foundation, such as the master’s degree in social work at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Learn about UTRGV online MS in Social Work — Direct Practice program

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