thoughts on Social Work PhD degrees

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Kiki in Brooklyn, New York

65 months ago

That's a good question about the PHD. I've been asking myself the same thing. If you hope to do research some day, then the PHD is essential. Additionally, a PHD aids you if you hope to be in international development. It may also help on a policy level. That said, I'm not sure how helpful it is when you are in more typical Social Work positions. You run a real risk of being over qualified.

What skills are you looking to get with a PHD? If their are a number of specific reasons you want to go back, then go for it. Otherwise, I'd wait and see what you can do with an MSW.

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Tony in Albuquerque, New Mexico

63 months ago

Hello everyone - this is a great question and I agree with much of what has been said. My thoughts on the subject stem from completing my undergraduate 14 years ago and recently retiring (two years ago) from the United States Air Force. I will begin the MSW Program this August and finish in May 2011.

I would tell anyone a big consideration must be "what do you want your professional identity to be?" In my experience, if you have a PhD or a MSW, natural talent and people skills you will obviously be respected; however, I believe the PhD is seen as the absolute authority on the subject and is less likely to be questioned. I believe this would be especially true among the MDs.

THE BOTTOM LINE FOLKS - do not take a break from school until you have the last degree you want. Suck it up and stay in at least one class a semester until you’re finished. A good friend told me this in 1995! Believe me--time flies.

I believe a PhD will give you more flexibility as you mature such as being an online professor or teaching school at night. I hope to pursue a PhD immediately after completing the MSW--of course I've wanted to teach night school for years.

Good Luck Everyone!!!

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Tiare in Keller, Texas

61 months ago

Hi Meg,
I have currently done my research on your very question. I'm changing careers. I have a BA in Arts & Sciences , MBA in Business Administration and worked 11 years as an executive for a Fortune 100 corporation. I initially wanted to return to school and become an LMFT - however, after interviewing friends who are LMFT's, Social Workers and a few professors in Social Work and Psychology I finally have a clear understanding about each of the options.

MSSW is an absolute must if you want to practice. The tough part is the time commitment. It's 2 years of schooling then x hours for internship depending on your state laws for licensing. TX and CA require 3000 intern hours. Sources in the field have said the quickest anyone has completed 3000 hours is within 3 years. Also, paid internships are hard to come by. Even then, the paid internships may have "on call hours". If you have 5 years to invest and its what you really want to do (practice) then go for the MSSW.

PhD is ONLY a must if you want to be a professor or a researcher. Please note not ALL PhD programs require an MS. Check your specific school for criteria. PhD in Social Work does NOT require licensure. A good PhD program will prepare you to step directly into a research position or teaching position upon graduation.

Good luck! I'm going for a joint MS/PhD. I want to be a professor, publish books and consult with Social Service Agencies. I thought about Direct Practice but I would only want to do it for maybe 3-5 years, then I'd want to teach. For my long term goals the joint MS/PhD made the most sense.

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Chicagogirl10 in Chicago, Illinois

61 months ago

I am currently the Head Clinician for the organization that I am currently employed. I have my MSW and LCSW; in addition; I teach two nights per week at a local university as an adjunct professor in the undergraduate program. You do not need a Ph.D. to teach at a university (unless you wish to be a full time professor). You do, however, have to have at least a masters degree. In many instances, universities prefer part-time adjunct faculty to hiring full-time Ph.D.'s. I have thought about obtaining my Ph.D.; however, have decided against it, since I am just at the right place where I wish to be in my career, and do not feel the need to have Dr. before my name to give me any more credibility than I already have. In addition, I have a friend who obtained his Ph.D. and is having a difficult time obtaining a steady job. At least in the field of social work, the only well respected credentials worth obtaining is your L.C.S.W. and work experience in the field. If you have your Ph.D., however, do not have work experience to back up your educational credentials, you will find it difficult to gain the respect of your clients, your colleagues, and you will most definitely have a tough time getting hired.

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Lewis41 in Camarillo, California

61 months ago

Hello everyone,

I am new to the site and would like to add a few things in response to the MSSW, MSW, and LCSW conundrum.

Firstly, regarding Tiare in Keller’s comment, there is a difference between MSSW and MSW. The ‘Master of Science in Social Work’ is a more academic qualification, as opposed to the ‘Master of Social Work’ which is professional degree – MBA, MPA, or MFA as opposed to MS in Business Management, MS in Public Administration or Public Policy, or MA in Fine Arts. Therefore, an MS is NOT an absolute must to practice, an MSW or MSSW will suffice.

When considering qualifications for counseling, the LCSW is consider equivalent to the PsyD and superior to the MFT, as LCSWs are required to complete 3200 hours of post-degree supervised work as opposed to 3000 hours (1500 post-degree) for PsyDs, and for MFTs it’s 1300 pre-degree and 1700 post-degree (California Board of Behavioral Sciences). However, when considering individual testing, only licensed psychologists are allowed to perform psychometrics. Psychologists use different modalities and focus more on the diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues. Whereas LCSW generally perform psychotherapy and have knowledge and access to social services for their client – focusing of government programs, housing, food stamps, educational programs as well as specific clinical disorders, and dealing with more of the short term day-to-day issues of life rather than long term disabilities. As for the MFT, they focus more on relationships (marriage, family, and group dynamics)…in short, “a MFT specializes in direct intervention (psychotherapy) with the focus on the family as the treatment unit, whereas an LCSW does Intervention in many different areas including public policy, community work, as well as therapeutic intervention” (CSU Long Beach).

The LCSW credential is the strongest credential in the mental health profession at the master's level.

Cheers!

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Laura H in Minot, North Dakota

60 months ago

I am a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) in the state of North Dakota. I am in private practice, but worked for state/government agencies for over 10 years. If you are thinking private practice, you really need to research what degrees in your state are INSURANCE REIMBURSEABLE. In North Dakota, LICSW's are reimburseable by many private insurances, including medicaid, and Tricare(Military). Here in North Dakota, there is really no need for a Ph.D in SW because LICSWs can be in private practice, teach(even at college level), supervise, etc. So I guess what I'm saying it you need to research your state's criteria. Each state is different. PhD programs are extremely expensive and in many states there is really no advantage, other than being called "Dr." However, you are young and if you really want to do it, go for it! Good luck with your decision :)

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Tony B in Albuquerque, New Mexico

60 months ago

Thanks for the reply.

The only reason I would go for the PhD. is so I can be a full time professor and have the summers off.

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Tanya in Plainview, New York

59 months ago

I have read all of your comments and honestly I am still not sure. I'm applying for grad programs right now. I think I'm going to go for the MSW program and decide from there if I want to get my PhD. At this point it does not seem likely but things could change.

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Lynae in Raleigh, North Carolina

58 months ago

If you are interested in becoming a full time professor of Social Work, please note that it is important to have 2 years post MSW practice experience to be able to teach practice classes. That has significant implications for the number of options available. Most schools need faculty to be able to teach practice!

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Tony B in Albuquerque, New Mexico

58 months ago

Thank you, Lynae.

Any other comments on the subject would be appreciated.

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Bill in Los Angeles, California

57 months ago

The way I understand it it that an MSW (I have one) is a professional/practice degree and a PhD is an academic/research degree.

If you want to practice social work (therapy, community organizing, program evaluation, casework, teach practice courses etc) An MSW (and later a license for direct practice) is the terminal degree for the profession.

If you want to conduct and publish your own research, win federal research grants, become a tenured professor. a PHD is advised.

I am in the midst of deciding to go back...I have found that some programs will pay your way plus living expenses for at least 4 years as a matter of policy.

Hope this helps

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Tony in Albuquerque, New Mexico

56 months ago

Hey Bill

It does help. Thanks for the reply. Can you tell me what ultimately led you to decide to go back? What personal benefits/advantages did you see?

Take care

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Bill in Los Angeles, California

56 months ago

So I have not actually decided yet. My thoughts are that I took a job as a research project manager at a university with a good PhD program. I have found I love the work but there is little else i can do in that arena without my PhD. So that compels me, however I am starting a family and the time and opportunity cost money wise make me think twice

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Tony in Albuquerque, New Mexico

56 months ago

I understand Bill

I wish you the best. It can be tough to make family the priority. 20 years in the military took its toll on my family, because I justified taking the toughest jobs out there. Thank God, we are still in together.

Take care

Tony B

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Jim in Clifton, New Jersey

55 months ago

I am currently pursuing my PhD in Social Work. I received my MSW in 2003 and worked to become LCSW. I love being a clinician, and if that is where you want to be, you can stop at the LCSW. However, my interests have changed and I now desire to be a Professor; for this, the PhD is necessary. The Social Work PhD is NOT to advance clinical skills... it is research focused. If you are considering a PhD, I strongly advise you to go full time, universities have stipends and you realyl need all the time you can get to devote to your research and studies... it is HARD. But I am sure will pay off in the long run. Hope this helps.

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Tony in Albuquerque, New Mexico

55 months ago

Wow,thanks for the advice and good luck with the PhD program. As a full time student how long should it take you? Also, what university are you at.

thanks again for the input

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tfigueroa in Bronx, New York

54 months ago

Hello All, I am interested in the social service/social work field and I had a question about it. If there is anyone who is in this field that is certified I would like to know a few things about the field such as: What is a normal day for you as a social worker like?, What are some experiences you go through related to the job?, How long have you been on the job? Any advice you nay offer on how did you plan your career and proceed with your graduate work?. I am a beginner graduate student and I am always open to learning new things from well experienced people.

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gamebreaker in Memphis, Tennessee

53 months ago

At times a day can be very flexible and other times of the day hectic. You can plan your day out, but things change. You have to be able to have an open and flexible mind about these changes. I provide psychotherapy services for a variety places in the my regions. At one site I might do some geriatric social work and at another dealing with juvenile offenders. You have to be able switch gears. I suggest pursuing your master's degree and work towards getting your independent license, which gives you the opportunity to bill medicaid/medicare and private insurance. Mental health social work can pay as low as $26,000 or as much as $75,000+ depending on license, experience, agency and location. Check out the agencies in your area and call around about salaries.

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Tony in Albuquerque, New Mexico

53 months ago

Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'm one year out from my MSW and I'm very excited about the opportunity. I'm pursuing my substance abuse certification and my LISW of course.

Take care

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Kathy in Dayton, Ohio

53 months ago

I am almost 2 years post-MSW and thinking seriously about going back to pursue a PhD. Finding good clincial supervision has been extremely frustrating. I passed the LISW in December but am unsure if private practice is the way to go based on conversations with others out in the field doing the work. It can be rather frustrating.

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Sarah Ann Higgins in Birmingham, Alabama

53 months ago

I am shocked to hear how difficult it is in other areas of the country to find good clinical supervision - and that people PAY for this!!! As a MSW, licensed clinical social worker and private independent practitioner with over 20 years experience, I am always more than happy to supervise graduate level social workers interested in sitting for the clinical exam - for no charge! I feel that it is my duty as a social worker to help others in my profession reach their fullest potential, and NOT financially exploit them in the process! What a racket! Shame on those who DO charge for this!!!

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rcm83@aol.com

53 months ago

Thank you for your comment. It is very disheartening but a reality I have been forced to come to terms with. I would me more than willing to relocate should I find the right opportunity.
You give me hope.
A sincere thank-you.

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Tony in Albuquerque, New Mexico

53 months ago

Thanks Ms. Higgins

For expressing what I already knew that there are senior professionals in our field who will guide us along this journey.

Best wishes

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elle bee in Tucson, Arizona

53 months ago

This is a really interesting string. I'm contemplating MSW vs. PHD as well - I already have a MA in a social science field, and have been working in the field for almost three years. I'm now trying to decide whether or not I want to go clinical (MSW) or research/academic (PhD).

I do want to clear up one fallacy - and that's summers off for PhD. When you are an academic, your work never, ever stops. You're constantly on to the next thing - a new publication, more research, more teaching. Summers off doesn't exist in the university - especially not now with education so threatened around the country. On the other hand, LMSWs have an extremely high burn-out rate. I think the moral of the story is knowing exactly what you want, because despite the cons, social work can be incredible rewarding.

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Tony in Albuquerque, New Mexico

53 months ago

Hello Chicagogirl10

Thanks for replying. I should have my MSW next year and an MBA the year after. I am convinced that will be a fine combination and I will have no need of more "university" education in the field of social work.

I realize the learning must continue if I'm to grow in the profession.

Thank you for sharing your experience.

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Amorpheus11 in Davenport, Iowa

53 months ago

I am just starting my MSW program. I have always been interested in neuroscience. Will I be able to attain atraining in neuroscience as a researcher at this level or do I need to pursue a Ph.D. for this? Everyone in this field, whether in class or on this website is extremely polite.

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Kathy in Dayton, Ohio

53 months ago

I believe that your interest in research will definitely require a Ph.D. There were no aspects of research in my MSW program, aside from a very basic research methods class.
Good luck to you.

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DadMike in Lutherville Timonium, Maryland

52 months ago

Unless you want to be a professor or do research, a Phd in Social Work can be a liability!! I'm a supervisor in a government social service agency, and have my MSW with a clinical license; PhD is meaningless to any field work hiring agency; PhDs also have bad reps- they tend to present as arrogant due to their advance degree, but they are often no more qualified for actual client-level social work than an MSW!! They are also usually bitter that their extra education means zip you, when it comes to salary...Real ice-cold water in the face: Insurance reimbursement rates are the SAME for MSW as PhD in Social Work; there is NO license that distinguishes between PhD and MSW...PhD in social work only helps to get tenure in universities..otherwise, worse than useless!!

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DadMike in Lutherville Timonium, Maryland

52 months ago

Amorpheus11 in Davenport, Iowa said: I am just starting my MSW program. I have always been interested in neuroscience. Will I be able to attain atraining in neuroscience as a researcher at this level or do I need to pursue a Ph.D. for this? Everyone in this field, whether in class or on this website is extremely polite.

Sadly, while knowledge in neuroscience can be helpful in social work, the two fields in practice are so unrealted they may as well be on different planets!! Social work is one of the most unscientific professions...it is trying to change this, and making progress...but an MSW will not do ANYTHING to further a researcher in neuroscience..a medical degree, or a biolgical-science degree would be a far better fit for an aspiring researcher.

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Tony in Albuquerque, New Mexico

52 months ago

Hi - great input!

Since I posted that question months ago I have received a lot of feedback like yours. I am no longer interested in a PhD as it will not help me achieve any goals that I'm not able to attain with my MSW.

I am however, pursuing a dual graduate degree (MBA). From what I gather that will increase my opportunities (pay etc..)more than a PhD.

Take care

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DadMike in Baltimore, Maryland

52 months ago

Tony in Albuquerque, New Mexico said: Hi - great input!

Since I posted that question months ago I have received a lot of feedback like yours. I am no longer interested in a PhD as it will not help me achieve any goals that I'm not able to attain with my MSW.

I am however, pursuing a dual graduate degree (MBA). From what I gather that will increase my opportunities (pay etc..)more than a PhD.

Take care

MBA and Social Work can be a very good combo! It will help alot if you wish to do private practice, and will help alot if you want to get into administration!

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J.T. in Saint Louis, Missouri

52 months ago

Correction, Next August 2011

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DadMike in Maryland

52 months ago

J.T. in Saint Louis, Missouri said: I'll be finishing my MSW specializing in clinical practice with families in August and really want to do international development work. I plan on applying for a PhD program in Public Policy Analysis that specializes in Community Development/Urban Planning. I still have my reservations about being overqualified, but I'm also going to try and work on my LCSW too. What I've come to understand is the MSW LCSW after your name will get you the jobs, the PhD will only be useful in full-time teaching (where schools like this sort of credential) and international development where they want you to be diverse and flexible.

For clinical social work jobs, MSW with/ clinical license is all you need- the Phd won't help, could even hinder.
But for international development-- I don't know at all! If you look at NASW and other sites, the professional social work world is really focused on the micro-clinical side of things.
I've been doing social work for 18 years now, 12 at the MSW level, 10 with my LCSW-C; what little I know of the development field is that it takes in people with very diverse backgrounds- social work is just one of many backgrounds to get in; and MBA or a legal degree or engineering could be just a needed! It depends on the aim of the organization.
If you haven't already, do some intense research into the international development field- who hires, what do they pay, what are credentials needed, etc.
Most social-work oriented sites are clinical and/or child-welfare based; I know that at my MSW program community development was pushed as a field for social work, but I honestly don't know a single MSW that works in that field- the school had to force people to take the courses so they would have enough people to offer the class!

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Rahul in Gurgaon, India

52 months ago

Meg H in Boston, Massachusetts said: Hi everyone,

I am post graduate in social work and currently finishing my Phd in social work , my experience is that when u enter this interesting field u must be know that this society or environment want such people to do something for humane being
I appreciate that people who want to do something for their society or environment
Rahul

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PW in Detroit, Michigan

50 months ago

I graduated a year ago with a MSW degree. I have no post degree experience and other than my internships have not worked directly in this field. I am contemplating applying for a PhD program, but like many others I don't really know if this is the right thing to do. I am frustrated because I have not found a job yet, and really do want to get busy doing something. While I have no particular interest in teaching, I do enjoy research and was an excellent student. It would be interesting to hear comments.

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Amorpheus11 in Davenport, Iowa

50 months ago

Though I am just beginning my MSW program, I see many options. We can engauge in therapy, get a certificate and teach or perhaps think outside the box and try the corporate world, because some companies are looking for those with extensive people skills. Social work can cross over into many seemingly unrelated areas. Explore possibilities that may be out of the comfort zone. There are peeople I know who have hung up a shingle and gone into private practice-the greater the risk, the greater the reward. Do not give up, if you got this far, it is no accident. I am considering a PH. d in neuroscience after I graduate because I love research. Follow your passion.

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Tony in Santa Fe, New Mexico

50 months ago

It's interesting to hear you've found difficulty finding work considering the recent news about RN's having difficulty, which came as a shock to me.

As for me I fully intend to go where I have to for work. It's a big country and USA Jobs is full of opportunities. I wish you the best.

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PW in Detroit, Michigan

50 months ago

Tony in Santa Fe, New Mexico said: It's interesting to hear you've found difficulty finding work considering the recent news about RN's having difficulty, which came as a shock to me.

As for me I fully intend to go where I have to for work. It's a big country and USA Jobs is full of opportunities. I wish you the best.

Thanks, Tony. I wish you the best as well!

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Kathy

50 months ago

I would encourage any MSW to obtain their LISW as this credential will open many doors. It has not been easy finding good clinical supervision in the area I live. I've taken a 13,000/pay cut for good clinical supervision. Hopefully, my salary and employment opportunities will increase with my LISW.

From what I've been told, a Ph.D. is necessary if you want to teach at the college level or do research; otherwise, you really are wasting your time and energy. There are certainly varying opinions on that so do your research before making a decision.

Best of luck you you !!!!!

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Michael Reeves in San Antonio, Texas

49 months ago

The LCSW and the PHD are considered terminal credentials and a PHD can get an LCSW at least in Texas. The PHD has some different focuses and field work requirements. The LCSW is the practical licence and the PHD is the degree to qualify for research and education. Believe me, the PHD will not close doors! It just depends on what you want to do, as the PHD is an additional 2 years past a MSW or related degree. And an LCSW is one year in addition to an MSW.

I am thinking about the PHD route since I am now a special ed teacher.

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PH.D. NY in Bronx, New York

48 months ago

Dear Meg H. If you are interested in both research and clinical practice, I would say go for the Ph.D. in SW. If you are just interested in clinical practice, then a LCSW or a Ph.D. in psychology would be appropriate. I am currently working on my Ph.D. in social welfare and all I can say is that it requires a lot of time, hard work and loss of income. But if you love it, go for it. Good luck.

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Evan in Upper Marlboro, Maryland

47 months ago

Tony in Albuquerque, New Mexico said: Hi - great input!

Since I posted that question months ago I have received a lot of feedback like yours. I am no longer interested in a PhD as it will not help me achieve any goals that I'm not able to attain with my MSW.

I am however, pursuing a dual graduate degree (MBA). From what I gather that will increase my opportunities (pay etc..)more than a PhD.

Take care

Hi Tony

I must confess that this has been quite an interesting discussion. I am at the point when u are trying to make up your mind on which way to go. I have a legal degree but i have an interest in SW. Wat would you say about the combined MSW/MBA. How long did it take you and what university did you attend. Thanks.

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Tony in Albuquerque, New Mexico

47 months ago

I agree this is an interesting discussion. When you say legal degree are you saying that you are a lawyer? If so I don't think you would need to pursue the MBA; however, the MSW program itself is 63 hours and the dual MSW/MBA can be done by completing a different set of 2nd year classes and then 12-18 additional hours. If you need business prerequisites it will take a little longer.
I attend Highlands University (Albuquerque/Distance Learning). Good Luck

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minimac56@hotmail.com in Painesville, Ohio

47 months ago

well, im a 15 year old girl whos dream is to be a social worker.I want to get my MSW and then get my LCSW and work on getting my PHD please message me if u have any comments. Message me at minimac56@hotmail.com thank you very much!

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Michelle in Ottawa, Ontario

46 months ago

Hi Meg,
I am in a similar position, 24 years old, no husband and children. I currently have my MSW in social work I've been in the field for over a year, I went straight into it from my BSW. One thing I have noticed is that clincial positions can be very competitive, especially here in Ontario - as a result of that you find more contractual positions as opposed to full-time permanent. Because of the extreme competition with most social workers having an MSW, I have applied for a Ph.D program and a second language course, just to have that extra foot above. So to answer the original question, when considering the MSW/Phd program, it is important to ask yourself, what is it that will separate me from the other students in the class, why will an employeer chose me over them. I think the fact that you have substantial field experience is already an asset and reason for you to continue with furthering your education...go for it Dr. Meg!

All the best!

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Tony in Albuquerque, New Mexico

46 months ago

Wow Kuttan

It sounds as if you already have a very diverse background. I keep hearing unless you want to teach social work at the graduate level you do not need a PhD. I've decided the research and 4-6 years to get there are not a priority for me. Now that I've looked at it and really see what a PhD requires I really respect those who go for it.

As for me I'm going for another Masters Degree in Criminal Justice.

Best wishes

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Hopeful in Plymouth, Massachusetts

46 months ago

Chicagogirl10 in Chicago, Illinois said: I am currently the Head Clinician for the organization that I am currently employed. I have my MSW and LCSW; in addition; I teach two nights per week at a local university as an adjunct professor in the undergraduate program. You do not need a Ph.D. to teach at a university (unless you wish to be a full time professor). You do, however, have to have at least a masters degree. In many instances, universities prefer part-time adjunct faculty to hiring full-time Ph.D.'s. I have thought about obtaining my Ph.D.; however, have decided against it, since I am just at the right place where I wish to be in my career, and do not feel the need to have Dr. before my name to give me any more credibility than I already have. In addition, I have a friend who obtained his Ph.D. and is having a difficult time obtaining a steady job. At least in the field of social work, the only well respected credentials worth obtaining is your L.C.S.W. and work experience in the field. If you have your Ph.D., however, do not have work experience to back up your educational credentials, you will find it difficult to gain the respect of your clients, your colleagues, and you will most definitely have a tough time getting hired.[/QUOTE
I would love to teach something at a community college or college, but have no experience in that arena. How do you get your foot in the door? THanks.

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socialwkr in Missouri

46 months ago

One thing I noticed with my social work program is that the better professors were MSWs who were still practicing therapy/social work and teaching part time. I admire anyone who gets their PhD though! I know a wonderful professor who does excellent research and research is important too. It furthers the field of social work.

In my state, people with a PhD in social work are going to be most likely employed at a University or College to teach and do research. The University I attended had several adjunct MSW/LCSW teaching the clinicial classes like DSM-IV, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy etc. Most had their own clinical practice. The PhD professors were heavily involved in research as well as their classes. Sometimes some of the PhD professors would not teach courses if they had a large research project.

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Mary in West Bloomfield, Michigan

46 months ago

livefree in Washington, District of Columbia said: I was told by someone who has already finished her masters in SW that having a PHD gives you more opportunities in the field. What do you think? what are the pros and cons
Thanks for any info:-)

MSW is a terminal degree. A PhD doesn't teach you how to be a better social worker, it prepares you to do research and is a path to a tenured teaching position. If that is what you want then you should get a PhD.

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valerie in Capitol Heights, Maryland

46 months ago

Sarah Ann Higgins in Birmingham, Alabama said: I am shocked to hear how difficult it is in other areas of the country to find good clinical supervision - and that people PAY for this!!! As a MSW, licensed clinical social worker and private independent practitioner with over 20 years experience, I am always more than happy to supervise graduate level social workers interested in sitting for the clinical exam - for no charge! I feel that it is my duty as a social worker to help others in my profession reach their fullest potential, and NOT financially exploit them in the process! What a racket! Shame on those who DO charge for this!!!

That is nice to hear. This is also a reason as to why some people don't want to pursue licensure.

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