Clinical Social Work Practice

SSW Clinical Social Work Practice with Individuals, Families, and Groups

The major objective of this curriculum is to promote the development of knowledge and skills in diagnosis, assessment, treatment, and prevention. Numerous social work skills, human behavior theories, and evidence-based practices are taught to inform student learning.

Person-in-environment theories form the primary knowledge base for the curriculum because they emphasize individual, family, group, and community resources as well as reciprocity between people and their environments. Four frameworks for differential assessment and intervention are introduced: cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic, and family systems. The values of clinical practice are strongly based in respect for the worth and dignity of all people. Client empowerment and participation are viewed as key to successful client outcomes.

Basic skills taught include the purposeful use of oneself as a therapeutic or change agent; relationship building; interviewing; reflective listening; goal-setting and problem-solving; advocacy for client services and rights; clinician modeling of skills and skill rehearsal with clients (e.g., assertiveness or anger management); clinician as educator (e.g., about a family member’s medical condition); use of a strengths perspective; and demonstrating effective professional communication, both oral and written.

Clinical internships provide opportunities for the application of classroom learning to client and family situations in the field. Alternatively, student experiences in these diverse community and institutional settings, both public and private, provide rich material for problem-solving and intellectual growth in the classroom.

Clinical social workers are employed in a variety of settings, including mental health clinics, hospitals, community health settings, schools, early childhood intervention programs, housing developments, nursing homes, and child welfare.

Offerings such as the Mildred A. Flashman Family Therapy Certificate Program strengthen family systems practice. The Trauma Certificate Program offers specialized knowledge in trauma-focused interventions at multiple levels of social work practice. A Group Work Specialization supports advanced mastery of group theory and practice. As part of the Louis Lowy Certificate in Gerontological Studies, the School’s curriculum includes policy and practice with aging populations. Urban practice elective courses also teach methods relevant to effective work with diverse racial/ethnic groups and groups at the lower end of the economic spectrum. Elective courses include family therapy; couples therapy; cognitive and behavioral therapy; brief and time-effective treatment; advanced practice with adults, children and adolescents; social work with refugees and immigrants; assessment and treatment of substance abuse; and clinical practice with child and adult trauma.

Dual degrees with the Schools of Education, Public Health, and Theology enable students to enrich their knowledge and skills in specialized areas of clinical practice.

Clinical Social Work Practice with Groups

Individuals can meet their basic needs only with and through other people. Social work utilizes the collective power and the mutual aid of groups to help people grow, heal, and bring about neighborhood, community, and social change.

Group work at the Boston University School of Social Work is a key part of clinical practice since it provides a bridge between social work with individuals and social work with larger systems. Group work concepts and skills can be applied in organizations and communities, as well as in groups that provide support, health education, psychotherapy, and recreation. Social workers lead groups with diverse populations and in a variety of settings.

Examples of group work include an after-school ethnic arts group for children; an early recovery group for incarcerated women with substance abuse problems; a hospital support group for patients with cancer; a therapy group for couples with relationship problems; and a task group to develop more green space in the city.

In group work classes, students study theories of small groups, utilizing family systems, cognitive-behavioral, psycho-educational, and psychodynamic frameworks. They learn to develop groups and to engage members around a common task, using verbal and activity-based approaches. They also learn methods for building cohesion and responding to group crises. Many field education agencies provide opportunities for students to observe and practice group work methods.

Specialization in Group Work

The Boston University School of Social Work is one of a handful of graduate schools in the country that offer a group work specialization. The specialization allows students to concentrate on small group theories and to develop competence in the method, drawing from work with groups in the urban environment. Some of the most innovative and effective programs in communities today are group-based.

In addition to taking the required courses (SSW CP 759 Introduction to Social Work Practice and SSW CP 771 Practice with Groups), group work specialists take SSW CP 762 Advanced Group Work and must have significant, supervised practice in leading, co-leading, and developing groups. Augmenting the specialization is SSW CP 764 Group Dynamics, a course based on experiential learning, and independent studies with faculty. All group work courses are open to all graduate social work students.

Clinical Social Work Course Offerings

  • SSW CP 759 Introduction to Clinical Social Work Practice
  • SSW CP 762 Advanced Group Work
  • SSW CP 764 Group Dynamics
  • SSW CP 770 Clinical Practice with Individuals
  • SSW CP 771 Clinical Practice with Groups
  • SSW CP 772 Clinical Practice with Families
  • SSW CP 785 Family Therapy
  • SSW CP 787 Clinical Practice with Couples
  • SSW CP 791 Seminar: Family Therapy
  • SSW CP 794 Clinical Practice with Children
  • SSW CP 795 Cognitive and Behavioral Treatment
  • SSW CP798 Psychodynamic Practice with Adults
  • SSW CP 799 Brief and Time-Effective Treatment
  • SSW CP 803 Clinical Practice with Adult Trauma
  • SSW CP 804 Clinical Practice with Childhood Trauma
  • SSW CP 806 Clinical Practice with LGBT Persons
  • SSW CP 807 Clinical Practice with Older Adults
  • SSW CP 809 Alcoholism and Drug Abuse: Identification and Early Intervention

Detailed course descriptions are available on this website.