What is Social Work? And What Do you Need to Know?

Social workers approach clients with a holistic and psychosocial approach. We tend to an individual’s internal world including their physical, spiritual, mental, and psychological health, as well as their external environment including housing, finances, relationships, employment, lifestyle.

A blog by Laura Robinson

My name is Laura Robinson and I have been a practicing social worker for the past 10 years (starting to feel very old now or maybe let’s call it something nice like “seasoned” or “experienced” so that I can hold onto my youth). Across the time I’ve worked in this profession, I have discovered some uncertainty and confusion surrounding what social workers do and how they differ to other clinical roles.

It would seem that this role is not as clear cut and obvious and I don’t blame anyone for that, as I have worked in several different positions myself – from a drug and alcohol counsellor, to school counsellor, to private mental health accredited practitioner across clinics in Brisbane.

Further to this, I have met social workers working in hospitals, in case management positions, in schools and universities, for the NDIS, aged care, in policy and not-for-profits and the list goes on. It feels rather varied, doesn’t it? Sometimes I will see jobs advertised looking for a “Psychologist/Mental Health Social Worker” and I think this can add to the confusion even more. Are they the same thing? What is the real difference here?

I’d like to preface that I am a strong advocate for all types of mental health clinicians. I believe we need them all and there is no one type of clinician that is generally better than any other. I’ve learned that the age of a clinician doesn’t mean experience, a specific type of mental health clinician does not necessarily guarantee a positive experience for a client’s treatment and that sometimes there are strange hierarchies that exist that can really mean quite little in reality when you’re working on the ground with people.

So, while I’m here to discuss the social work perspective, I really also wish to acknowledge and honour all clinicians who work in this ecosystem of health care.

All clinical roles hold similarities in that they serve a purpose to create a therapeutic space to meet with clients, to support them to share their stories and feel heard but work towards meeting their personal goals and improving their mental health and lives.

So here are the differences:

  • Social workers approach clients with a holistic and psychosocial approach. We tend to an individual’s internal world including their physical, spiritual, mental, and psychological health, as well as their external environment including housing, finances, relationships, employment, lifestyle. We approach clients with curiosity around how these two things are connected, and this enables us to be quite comprehensive in understanding how a person functions and lives in their ecosystem. It often also allows us to work in diverse roles.
  • Social workers focus on the client’s strengths and work to have “unconditional positive regard” for their clients. I love that! During sessions, we are actively looking for client strengths and we enjoy helping clients to see and recognise them for themselves too and to draw on them.
  • Social workers are not involved in the process of formally diagnosing clients. While some more experienced mental health accredited social workers may be aware of a potential diagnosis, we stick to our strengths and scope of practice, and we refer clients to psychiatrists (for adults) or paediatricians (for children) for assessment, diagnosing and further treatment from there.
  • Social workers operate with flexibility in their role. One minute they might be providing some supportive counselling, and the next they may work to mitigate risk, or liaise with a client’s treating clinical team, or advocate for change on a social justice issue.
  • Social workers seek to be warm and relational in their approaches. There really isn’t anything sterile about meeting with us. While we utilise theories and our evidence based, clinical knowledge and skill set, we also recognise that a significant amount of healing is done relationally (coming back to that unconditional positive regard and strengths-based approach really matters!).
  • The values that underpin social work are respect for all people, a strong sense of social justice and a commitment to professional integrity.
  • Social workers utilise Focused Psychological Strategies (FPS) in their work with clients, which places them in the same pool of work as a clinical psychologist, hence why often social workers are sought after with psychologists. Mental Health Accredited Social Workers also work directly with GP’s under Medicare to provide Mental Health Care Plans for clients.
  • Social work could look like equipping individuals with tools and education to produce positive social change, or it could look like completing a child safety report or supporting a client to contact emergency services. It could be discussing harm minimisation strategies with a client, how to modify their behaviour in a context, or as simple as assisting them to take better care of themselves.

I’m quite proud to be a social worker and of these components that make us different.

If you’re interested in meeting with one of our social workers at Acacia Psychology for a session, we would be more than happy to meet with you. All of our social workers are Mental Health Accredited and are able to offer mental health care plan rebates.

For all other questions and enquiries regarding Acacia services or social work, please feel free to contact our very friendly reception on 1300 668 200 or via info@acaciapsychology.com

A blog by Laura Robinson

My name is Laura Robinson and I have been a practicing social worker for the past 10 years (starting to feel very old now or maybe let’s call it something nice like “seasoned” or “experienced” so that I can hold onto my youth). Across the time I’ve worked in this profession, I have discovered some uncertainty and confusion surrounding what social workers do and how they differ to other clinical roles.


It would seem that this role is not as clear cut and obvious and I don’t blame anyone for that, as I have worked in several different positions myself – from a drug and alcohol counsellor, to school counsellor, to private mental health accredited practitioner across clinics in Brisbane.

Further to this, I have met social workers working in hospitals, in case management positions, in schools and universities, for the NDIS, aged care, in policy and not-for-profits and the list goes on. It feels rather varied, doesn’t it? Sometimes I will see jobs advertised looking for a “Psychologist/Mental Health Social Worker” and I think this can add to the confusion even more. Are they the same thing? What is the real difference here?


I’d like to preface that I am a strong advocate for all types of mental health clinicians. I believe we need them all and there is no one type of clinician that is generally better than any other. I’ve learned that the age of a clinician doesn’t mean experience, a specific type of mental health clinician does not necessarily guarantee a positive experience for a client’s treatment and that sometimes there are strange hierarchies that exist that can really mean quite little in reality when you’re working on the ground with people.

So, while I’m here to discuss the social work perspective, I really also wish to acknowledge and honour all clinicians who work in this ecosystem of health care.

All clinical roles hold similarities in that they serve a purpose to create a therapeutic space to meet with clients, to support them to share their stories and feel heard but work towards meeting their personal goals and improving their mental health and lives.

So here are the differences:

  • Social workers approach clients with a holistic and psychosocial approach. We tend to an individual’s internal world including their physical, spiritual, mental, and psychological health, as well as their external environment including housing, finances, relationships, employment, lifestyle. We approach clients with curiosity around how these two things are connected, and this enables us to be quite comprehensive in understanding how a person functions and lives in their ecosystem. It often also allows us to work in diverse roles.

  • Social workers focus on the client’s strengths and work to have “unconditional positive regard” for their clients. I love that! During sessions, we are actively looking for client strengths and we enjoy helping clients to see and recognise them for themselves too and to draw on them.

  • Social workers are not involved in the process of formally diagnosing clients. While some more experienced mental health accredited social workers may be aware of a potential diagnosis, we stick to our strengths and scope of practice, and we refer clients to psychiatrists (for adults) or paediatricians (for children) for assessment, diagnosing and further treatment from there.

  • Social workers operate with flexibility in their role. One minute they might be providing some supportive counselling, and the next they may work to mitigate risk, or liaise with a client’s treating clinical team, or advocate for change on a social justice issue.

  • Social workers seek to be warm and relational in their approaches. There really isn’t anything sterile about meeting with us. While we utilise theories and our evidence based, clinical knowledge and skill set, we also recognise that a significant amount of healing is done relationally (coming back to that unconditional positive regard and strengths-based approach really matters!).

  • The values that underpin social work are respect for all people, a strong sense of social justice and a commitment to professional integrity.

  • Social workers utilise Focused Psychological Strategies (FPS) in their work with clients, which places them in the same pool of work as a clinical psychologist, hence why often social workers are sought after with psychologists. Mental Health Accredited Social Workers also work directly with GP’s under Medicare to provide Mental Health Care Plans for clients.

  • Social work could look like equipping individuals with tools and education to produce positive social change, or it could look like completing a child safety report or supporting a client to contact emergency services. It could be discussing harm minimisation strategies with a client, how to modify their behaviour in a context, or as simple as assisting them to take better care of themselves.

I’m quite proud to be a social worker and of these components that make us different.

If you’re interested in meeting with one of our social workers at Acacia Psychology for a session, we would be more than happy to meet with you. All of our social workers are Mental Health Accredited and are able to offer mental health care plan rebates.

For all other questions and enquiries regarding Acacia services or social work, please feel free to contact our very friendly reception on 1300 668 200 or via info@acaciapsychology.com