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5 Traits of a Great Clinical Social Worker

If you have these characteristics, you could be on your way to becoming a great social worker.

Social work can be a highly rewarding career. After all, helping others can lead to greater happiness and health.* But that doesn’t mean social work isn’t challenging or that everyone is cut out for it. Those who excel as a clinical social worker—including school social workers or medical social workers—share more than just the fact that they hold a degree in social work. They tend to have certain personality traits in common, too. These include:


Empathy is the ability to understand and share other people’s experiences and emotions. If you can put yourself in another person’s shoes, you’re empathetic. And that’s perhaps the most important trait for all types of social workers. That’s because, when you’re a social worker, you routinely work with people who are dealing with difficult life events and situations. In order for you to help lift them out of their problems, people have to believe that you understand their world and emotions as they experience them.

5 Traits of a Great Clinical Social Worker


The flipside of empathy is objectivity. No matter how much you feel for your clients, you must still be able to rise above the emotionality of the situation and provide clear, informed guidance. You must always keep in mind what is and isn’t possible within ethical and legal frameworks, and you must ensure your clients follow paths that don’t just “feel right” but are right. The ability to stay level-headed while remaining empathetic is often what separates successful clinical social workers from unsuccessful ones.


People who are dealing with difficult life events or situations rarely have an easy path forward. Often, there are multiple problems that need to be addressed and multiple people who will be affected by any particular decision. It’s not uncommon for the clients of clinical social workers to become frustrated about how long it takes for them to get past their problems. Social workers, however, don’t have the luxury of getting frustrated. To succeed, you must remain focused and patient as you navigate your clients forward.


Due to the empathetic demands of the profession, clinical social workers are regularly at risk for compassion fatigue.† This can sap your energy, disrupt your life, and hurt your ability to do your job well. The best social workers have the emotional strength to deal with the toughest problems of others on a daily basis. They also have the wisdom to take care of themselves, making personal choices that ensure compassion fatigue stays at bay.


It may seem obvious, but the best social workers are good at their job. That means having a deep understanding of both the private and public arms of the social welfare system and knowing how to work with and motivate large varieties of people. To gain this level of competence, many aspiring clinical social workers enroll in a CSWE-accredited Master of Social Work (MSW) program. CSWE accreditation is the only MSW degree program accreditation recognized in the U.S and is also a requirement of licensure in most states.

Thanks to online learning, accredited MSW programs are more convenient to complete than you might think. Through an online MSW program, you can receive a fully accredited MSW degree without having to commute back and forth to a traditional university. In fact, an online social work degree program can give you the flexibility you need to complete the majority of your coursework from home while continuing to work full time.

It takes a certain kind of person to succeed in a social work career. If you think you have what it takes, you can gain the skills you need by earning an MSW online. Walden University offers a Master of Social Work program with clinical practice focus—a great choice for those who want to help others.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a CSWE-accredited online MSW program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

*Case Western Reserve University, Altruism, Happiness, and Health: It’s Good to Be Good, International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, on the Internet at

†K. Jackson, Social Worker Self-Care—The Overlooked Core Competency, Social Work Today, on the internet at

Walden University’s Master of Social Work (MSW) program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), a specialized accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). CSWE’s Commission on Accreditation is responsible for developing standards that define competent preparation for professional social workers and ensuring that social work programs meet these standards.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, 1-800-621-7440,