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Must-Haves for Building a Great Social Work Practice

A successful social work career can begin with a well-built private practice.

Approximately 170,000 licensed clinical social workers are practicing in the United States,* and the field is growing. If you’re thinking of starting your own social work practice, this could be an excellent time to do so. But building a successful practice takes time and knowledge, no matter what type of social worker you are or want to be. Here are a few things you’ll need if you want your practice to succeed.

MSW Degree

In most states, if you want to be a clinical social worker, you have to hold a Master of Social Work (MSW). But earning this social worker degree doesn’t require you to drive to a school of social work and attend classes at specific times. Thanks to online MSW programs, you can earn your MSW degree from home and on a flexible schedule designed to let you continue working full time and/or handling your other responsibilities.

Must-Haves for Building a Great Social Work Practice

Best of all, if you attend the right online university, an online MSW program will have the same accreditation as an MSW program at any of the top campus-based universities. You just have to make sure your MSW online program has CSWE accreditation. Referring to the nonprofit Council on Social Work Education, CSWE is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as the only accrediting agency for social work education in the U.S. You can be certain that an online social work degree program with CSWE accreditation is meeting the highest educational standards. As such, earning an MSW online from a CSWE-accredited institution can be the vital first step in building your own practice.

State License

Different states have different licensing procedures for social workers. Many even have different procedures for clinical social workers vs. school social workers vs. medical social workers. In general, if you want to go into private practice, you’ll want to be a licensed independent clinical social worker (giving you an MSW, LICSW), but you should contact your state licensure board and make sure you’re properly licensed under local and state law.

Practice Design

Running a practice means you’ll be running a business. Think of a practice design like a business plan. Before you so much as rent space, you’ll need to answer the following questions:

  • What kind of clients do you want?
  • Where should you be located to be close to your preferred clients?
  • How much space do you need?
  • How much will rent/overhead/administrative expenditures cost you a month?
  • How much will furnishings cost? 
  • How much time do you want to devote to the practice?
  • What level of salary do you want to draw?
  • What are the current insurance rates, private pay rates, and sliding scale fees?
  • How many clients do you need to see to make ends meet/reach your goals?  

Completed Paperwork

What do social workers do? While opening your own practice, you may think the answer is: paperwork. Starting any business requires you to file the proper forms with your state. Opening a healthcare business requires those same forms, plus a lot more. You need to make sure you:

  • Obtain a tax identification number.
  • Obtain a National Provider Identifier.
  • Secure malpractice insurance.
  • Possess a list of up-to-date procedural terminology codes so you can bill properly. 
  • Enroll as a provider for all the insurance plans you wish to accept.
  • Possess and understand all the forms required by HIPPA, the ACA, and any other law or regulation that applies to healthcare providers and/or clinical social workers in your state.  

Promotional Materials

If you want clients to show up at your practice, you’ll need to let people know you exist. That means you’ll need to promote yourself and your practice. You’ll want a professional website and you’ll likely need some form of mailer to send out to the surrounding community. You can also produce a brochure to give to professionals who can refer clients to you. On the self-promotional side, take advantage of opportunities to speak or volunteer in the community. The more you get your name out there, the more clients you’re likely to attract.

Professional Network

Practicing on your own can give you a lot of freedom, but you don’t want to get too far removed from the social worker community. To keep up with your profession, consider joining professional organizations, staying in touch with fellow graduates of your MSW program, traveling to national conventions, and attending local events in the social worker community. That way, you can enjoy your own practice without losing the benefits of being part of a wider community.

Few things are as rewarding as starting your own practice—particularly if you do it right.

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.


*K. Battista-Frazee, Building A Better Practice, Social Work Today, on the internet at www.socialworktoday.com/archive/052416p10.shtml.

†Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Social Workers, on the internet at www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm.

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.

The minimum academic credential required to obtain licensure to practice as a social worker in most states is a Master of Social Work (MSW) from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Walden University’s MSW program is accredited by CSWE. State licensing boards are responsible for regulating the practice of social work, and each state has its own academic, licensure, and certification requirements.

Walden recommends that students consult the appropriate social work licensing board in the state in which they plan to practice to determine the specific academic requirements for licensure. Walden enrollment specialists can provide information relating to the state-by-state requirements for licensure. However, it remains the individual’s responsibility to understand, evaluate, and comply with all licensing requirements for the state in which he or she intends to practice. Walden makes no representations or guarantee that completion of its coursework or programs will permit an individual to achieve state licensure, authorization, endorsement, or other state credential as a social worker.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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