Clinical Social Work Scope of Practice Related to Diagnosis

Research paper by Avani Shah, Kim Granda Anderson; Xiao Li; James T. Meadows; Tara B. Breitsprecher

Indexed on: 11 Nov '18Published on: 09 Nov '18Published in: Clinical Social Work Journal


This paper discusses a relatively undocumented movement by clinical social workers to gain mental health diagnostic privileges as part of their scope of practice across the United States. The primary purpose of this paper is to identify which states permit social workers to diagnose. Reviewers located the state regulatory codes on social work scope of practice to determine if diagnosis of mental disorders was permitted and contacted corresponding state boards and NASW chapters to understand diagnostic privileges and grassroots movements in this area. We found that only three states do not authorize social workers to diagnose mental disorders: Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. The secondary purpose is to determine what percentage of graduate social work programs require a mental health assessment course to understand how graduate students are being prepared to diagnose. A minimum of two reviewers evaluated social work curricula for Masters-level programs (N = 226) accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. A majority of programs offered or required coursework on the assessment of mental disorders. We also discuss the state training requirements as they apply to diagnosis. As clinical social workers begin to practice in new areas, it is worthwhile examining efforts in addressing policies to expand social work scope of practice. This paper provides examples of successful and unsuccessful efforts to expand scope of practice on diagnosis to inform future efforts to impact policy change as applied to professional practice. A coordinated effort to align academic requirements with clinical social work scope of practice and professional practice guidelines can better prepare the clinical social work workforce.