Skip to Content
Resource Articles //

What Is the Difference Between Direct Service Social Workers and Clinical Social Workers?

Choosing the right online social work degree can prepare you for the career of your choice.

A social work career offers a variety of roles and ways in which you can positively influence the lives of adults, children, and families. As you chart your career path, one question to consider is, will you become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), working with individuals and families to address personal challenges, or a direct service social worker, helping to troubleshoot client issues and connect them with the services and resources they need?


Learn more about these social work career options to see which practice aligns with your interests and educational and professional goals:

Direct Service Social Workers

According to the Social Work Guide, “Direct service social workers will perform intake and initial screening to determine what services their client should be connected to. A direct service social worker’s responsibilities often vary from case to case. Some of their responsibilities include making referrals, performing case management, determining program eligibility, counseling, and mediation.”1

You’ll find these social work career professionals in positions such as case manager, care coordinator, and school social worker. Direct service social worker jobs serve diverse populations that may include military families and clients receiving hospice care.

Educational requirements vary, but for some social worker jobs—like case manager or care coordinator—the minimum degree requirement is a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW).2

Clinical Social Workers

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) defines clinical social work as “a specialty practice area of social work which focuses on the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness, emotional, and other behavior disturbances. Individual, group, and family therapy are common treatment modalities.”3

In this social work practice, LCSWs work in settings that include private practice, hospitals, addiction recovery centers, and social service agencies.

Clinical social workers must hold a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. In most states, in order for graduates to obtain licensure, their MSW programs must have Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accreditation.

Advance Your Social Work Career

Earning an MSW from an accredited university can provide the tools and training to prepare you for licensure—and to expand your social work career opportunities. Walden University’s online social work degree program has CSWE accreditation and offers you the flexibility to work and earn a degree at the same time.

When you choose Walden to earn an MSW online, you’ll:

  • Learn from curriculum that prepares you to pursue licensure.
  • Delve into award-winning, custom case studies to enrich your learning.
  • Experience virtual reality scenarios that simulate actual situations you may face in your social work career.
  • Choose from four concentration options that align with today’s in-demand social work jobs: Advanced Clinical Practice, Military Social Work, Social Work With Children and Families, and Social Work in Healthcare.

Walden’s online master’s in social work degree program offers further flexibility with three online degree completion options to accommodate your lifestyle and goals. With the Standard option, you’ll take one or two courses each term. The Accelerated option is an ideal choice if you can dedicate yourself to your studies full time, as you’ll take three courses in most terms. Finally, the Advanced Standing option is for students who have a BSW from a CSWE-accredited program and graduated with a minimum GPA of 3.0.

Walden’s Master of Social Work degree program offers four start dates throughout the year, so when the time is right, choose the concentration that supports your professional interests and prepare to make a difference with a social work career.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree program online with four concentrations. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,

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 accreditation standards that define competent preparation for professional social workers and ensuring that social work programs meet these standards.

Note on licensure: 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.