6 Social Work Practice

Learning Objectives

In this chapter the student will be reviewing:

  • The meaning of direct and indirect practice
  • Overview of the Bachelor of Social Work and the Master of Social Work
  • A comparison of rural and urban social work
  • Licensure information for Texas Social Workers (LBSW & LMSW)

Social Work practice begins with the purpose of the social worker. Understanding of the social work profession starts with an intense appreciation of the person in which the social worker serves (Sheafor & Horejsi, 2008). The social worker understands that humans are social beings, these social creatures’ growth and development need the guidance of nurturing and protection provided by others around them. It is this inter-connectedness and interdependence of people in the social environment that is the foundation of practice in social work as a profession. The environment a person lives in has a lot to do with how a social worker may apply knowledge and guidance. There are two distinct types of social work practice that are used according to the type of setting.

Direct Practice

Direct practice is when the social worker works directly with an individual, family, or group of people. The first direct meeting can occur in a variety of ways such as a crisis, voluntary, or involuntary. The first meeting is a critical point in establishing a good helping relationship. A social worker should prepare for any type of first contact, so that they may set up the best relationship possible with the client (Sheafor & Horejsi, 2008).

BSW Practice

At the BSW level, direct practice is primarily done as a case worker. The case worker may meet with the individual daily, weekly, or monthly depending on the type of work. For example, in short term crisis work, the person may have daily meetings. For adults with intellectual disabilities, a monthly check-in may be more appropriate and required by the supervising agency. Direct practice is typically done as a worker at an agency, non- profit, or government setting. A direct case worker may be involved in many different areas of practice, including but not limited to working in adoption, Child Protective Services, in a group home for individuals with brain injuries, a shelter for abuse survivors, or with Community Mental Health. The caseworker may be involved in finding resources or providing support for the client. Meetings may take place at an agency or in the client’s home.

MSW Practice

At the MSW level, direct practice is usually done in the role of the therapist or counselor. Therapists see their clients on a weekly basis, although this period may vary. Therapists often work at the same agencies as BSW level caseworkers, but in a different role. While the BSW worker is involved with taking care of the many logistical issues a client may have (housing, food, etc.), the MSW worker is usually assisting the client with skill building, learning coping strategies, and focusing on their overall mental health treatment. Sessions may take place at an agency or in the client’s home.

Indirect Practice

Indirect practice is generally when the social worker is involved in activities that consist of facilitating change through programs and policies. This type of practice is more of behind the scenes and is aimed to help prevent problems from developing. Also, the social worker may participate in this type of practice by advocating through agency administrators, legislators, or other powerful people to effect a change (Sheafor & Horejsi, 2008). You may also hear the term Macro system practice, which means systems larger than a small group or single person (Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman, 2010). Micro systems are continuously affected by the Macro systems. The two major Macro systems that impact individuals the most are communities and organizations.

According to an article written by Johnson (1999), Indirect social practice has often referred to environmental intervention in the client’s networks or social aspect. The belief was to help alleviate challenges in the client’s surroundings. There are two elements associated with indirect practice. The first one is called concrete assistance; this is resources available to the client to help with basic needs. For example, food assistance programs are the most common resource needed for clients. The second element to indirect social work practice is sociopsychological intervention. Which is the adjustment of attitude or behavior of significant people within the client’s social environment (Johnson, 1999).

Rural Environment

Such limited resources in consideration include available locations, trained and licensed individuals, and monetary funds. Thus, as Lohmann (2011) describes, social workers must play multiple roles, from community organizers to caseworkers. As such, these roles are valued for their creativity in how treatment occurs, and how flexible the social worker is with switching between the individual and the community. Limited resources also mean that rural social workers often practice in isolation, without direct supervision and with difficulty accessing continuing educational materials. As such, it is important that these workers seek additional opportunities to expand their professional development and continue advocating for best practices.

Urban Environment

In contrast to rural communities, urban communities are those settings involving metropolitan areas with an increase in population density, a decrease in general size, and an increase in access to social services for its population. The rise of industrialization has led to a migration from rural communities to urban ones, resulting in a population shift between the two areas where urban areas hold much of the population. This, in term, leads to an increase in problems, such as differences in socioeconomic status, an increase in migrant and immigrant populations, higher crime rates, and differences in health outcomes of residents.

Unlike rural environments, urban environments allow for a range of continual educational options, including seminars at meeting halls or college campuses, specialized opportunities for trainings in issues such as a trauma, and the ability for social workers to gather in conferences. This, in turn, allows social workers to have outside supervision, as well as an increase in communication across the profession.

Social Work Job Opportunities

BSW- Bachelor of Social Work: this is considered an Undergraduate degree and is an employable degree once you gain your Limited License. If you choose not to move on to a Graduate degree you will need to take the state licensing exam to practice a career in what you have learned. Your employment at the BSW level will be related to casework. Many individuals work with just their BSW for their entire lives. If you enjoy casework, it is not necessary to obtain your MSW degree. There are many positions available for BSW level workers.

MSW- Master of Social Work: this is considered a graduate degree and is employable with a Limited License. If you choose to stay with your MSW you can take the licensing exam in the state, you are choosing to practice in and follow your state’s guidelines for licensure and procure a clinical or macro licensure.


Now that we have covered distinctions of the BSW and MSW degrees, and the urban and rural work settings, let us move on to a vital part of working in the field: state licensure. It is important to keep in mind that all states and countries are different with regulations regarding licensure for practice. The same goes for BSW and MSW criteria for licensure. What we are offering in this text are the requirements for the LBSW, LMSW, and LCSW in the State of Texas.

Overall, here is what is required for Texas licensure at the present time. This information is shared with the caveat that changes are made periodically by the Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners. To be eligible to become a social worker in Texas, you must have graduated from a Council on Social Work Education-accredited program (CSWE) with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in Social Work and have passed the applicable Association of Social Worker Board (ASWB) licensing exam.

A presentation offered by Professor Karen Magruder on the Texas Licensure process:

2020 Presentation on Texas Licensure by Professor Karen Magruder

All applicants must:

  • submit a complete application and fee
  • submit passing scores from the ASWB
  • submit an official transcript that shows the conferral date of your social work degree
  • complete the Texas Jurisprudence Examination
  • submit a self-query report from the National Practitioner Data Bank
  • submit electronic fingerprints for a nationwide criminal history search

Applicants licensed as a social worker in another state must also submit official verification of license from every state in which a social worker license is/was held. Applicants who have not yet taken the licensing exam begin the process by applying for the exam with ASWB. Information on that process is available on our ASWB Licensure Examinations webpage.

For the Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker:

The requirements for obtaining a license as a Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker are set forth in 22 TAC 781.401. These requirements include:

  • a baccalaureate degree in social work from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-accredited program.
  • passage of the bachelor’s Examination administered nationally by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); and
  • passage of the Jurisprudence Examination.

For the Licensed Master Social Worker:

The requirements for obtaining licensure as a Licensed Master Social Worker are set forth in 22 TAC 781.401.  These requirements include:

  • a master’s or doctoral degree in social work from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-accredited program and documentation in the form of a university transcript of successfully completing a field placement in social work.
  • passage of the master’s Examination administered nationally by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); and
  • passage of the Jurisprudence Examination.

For the Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The requirements for obtaining licensure as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker are set forth in 22 TAC 781.401.  These requirements include:

  • a master’s or doctoral degree in social work from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-accredited program and documentation in the form of a university transcript of successfully completing a field placement in social work.
  • a minimum of 3,000 hours of Council-approved supervised professional clinical experience over a period of 24 to 48 months, or its equivalent if the experience was completed in another jurisdiction. Council-approved supervised professional experience must comply with 22 TAC 781.404.
  • a minimum of 100 hours of Council-approved supervision, over the course of the 3,000 hours of experience, with a Council-approved supervisor. Supervised experience must have occurred within the five calendar years immediately preceding the date of LCSW upgrade application.
  • passage of the Clinical Examination administered nationally by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); and
  • passage of the Jurisprudence Examination.


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Introduction to Social Work: A Look Across the Profession Copyright © 2022 by James Langford, LCSW and Craig Keaton, PhD, LMSW is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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