What is a Clinical Social Worker?

A Clinical Social Worker, or the more formal title of Registered Clinical Social Worker (R.C.S.W.), has significant training, supervision and experience in diagnosing and treating a variety of mental health and family dynamic challenges.  By law, the term "clinical social worker" can only be used by those who have first met the requirements to register as a social worker.  In Alberta, clinical social workers will identify themselves by placing "Registered Clinical Social Worker" or "R.C.S.W." after their name.

Registered Clinical Social Worker symbol

Registered clinical social workers are primarily focused on treating mental health issues, and are considered a specialty of general social work practice.  Registered clinical social workers may work in independent private practice.  They often work as mental health therapists in hospitals, community mental health clinics, or outreach programs.  They may treat anxiety, depression, trauma, relationship challenges, addictions, self-esteem issues, stress management, parenting difficulties, and many other mental health issues.  


Registered clinical social workers hold at least a Masters in Social Work.  Their primary academic training (masters level coursework) will have included multiple courses in counselling with various field practicums ranging in length from 300 to 400 hours. 

Having completed their M.S.W. a registered clinical social worker may then apply to enter the clinical registry.  If their application is approved, the applicant must then complete a minimum two year supervise practicum containing at least 1600 practice hours.  The practice hours are spent working with clients in the applicants primary treatment focus area.  This training may be done in a supervised private practice setting, hospital program, outreach clinic, or mental health clinic. 

Along with direct client work, clinical registry applicants must also undergo 100 clinical supervision hours.  Clinical supervision involves evaluation of the applicant's clinical skills, ethics, theoretical knowledge, and ability to manage associated administrative tasks (e.g. report writing, contact management, business practice skills, etc.) in a competent and timely manner.


A registered clinical social worker will hold at least a masters in social work with a specialization clinical counselling.  They will have completed their 1600 supervised hours.  They will also have passed a written exam.  A clinical social worker will be able to show their M.S.W. and R.C.S.W. certification certificates upon request.  They are also required to engage in regular approved competency training both during their clinical registry applicant period, and for their rest of their time in clinical practice.


Currently anyone with a diploma (2-year degree), bachelors, masters or Ph.D. in social work is required to register with the the Alberta College of Social Workers.   They can use the legally restricted title "Registered Social Worker" (R.S.W.) if they are a member of the College of Social Workers in good standing. Social workers are required to provide proof of ongoing education to maintain their R.S.W. status.

A diploma, bachelors or masters in social work may cover a wide range of education and training experiences.  Social workers may work in Children Services, be program co-coordinators, engage in organizational planning and management, or provide front line services.  Social workers focus on broad social issues such as poverty, domestic violence and unemployment, and some may help individuals with personal problems. 

Having an R.S.W. title does not mean a person has training, supervision or experience in treating mental health or addictions. 


Some R.S.W.s will have a notation on their registration card that they are allowed to conduct "psychosocial interventions".  To acquire this notation a new social work graduate with at least a Bachelor of Social Work (B.S.W.) must provide evidence of having taken relevant course work, or engaged in related activities, and completed a senior practicum in a mental health setting.  The senior practicum is at least 400 hours, although there are no specific requirements regarding the amount of direct client work the student must complete.  The course is graded "completed requirement" or "failed".  The practicum student will also receive a letter from their supervisor during the practicum stating what knowledge, skills, and abilities the student demonstrated during that practicum. 

If these criteria are met the R.S.W. can apply for the "psychosocial intervention" notation.  There are no guidelines regarding training in specific areas of psychosocial practice, nor a requirement to demonstrate competency across mental health conditions.  Thus, there is no regulation against an R.S.W. who has achieved their "psychosocial intervention" notation for their training in addictions, saying they are equally capable of providing services for individuals suffering from depression, trauma, borderline-personality disorder, or any other mental health concern. 

Stephanie is a Registered Clinical Social Worker

She is also an Approved Supervisor for Masters level Registered Social Workers working towards Registered Clinical Social Worker licensing