Advanced Clinical Social Work Specialization

The Advanced Clinical Social Work Specialization (ACSWS) within the Master of Social Work program encourages students to learn the most effective theoretical approaches to clinical social work practice as well as to critically reflect on the therapeutic relationship and their role in supporting empowerment, resiliency and transformation for those they serve. The ACSWS student concentrates their studies in one of eight ACSWS focus areas spanning clinical psychotherapy and/or direct clinical social work practice with theoretical awareness in a number of settings such as mental health agencies, family service agencies, youth programs, community-based clinical agencies, private practice and religious institutions such as churches, to mention but a few.

One core course with two related electives grounded within one of the eight specialization focus areas and an advanced clinical specific internship provide the student with the basic understanding of theoretically grounded clinical practice and its terminology, the complexities of building and maintaining effective therapeutic relationships, ethical and cultural considerations, and bridging individual clinical practice with social justice and advocacy, all of which are important considerations for today’s clinical professional. The MSW graduate with this specialization will be able to recognize the interpersonal complexities within clinical practice in order to work towards healing the individual as well as encouraging social reforms that support well-being for all populations.

Contact Information

Bill Ressl, PhD, LCSW
Aurora University Orchard Center, Room 300
630-947-8935
wressl@aurora.edu (preferred)

Specialization Requirements

  • Required core course: SWK 6810 Advanced Therapeutic Relationships & Integrative Psychodynamics (3 semester hours)
  • Two elective courses from one of the eight focus areas (6 semester hours)

Focus Areas

Aging and Older Adult Mental Health: As the age of many in our society advances, the mental health of older adults is a growing concern. This focus encourages student growth towards critical clinical awareness in issues that aging creates and which older adults face on a daily basis. Students with this focus will gain a competitive position aimed directly at clinically serving older adults in a variety of settings including private practice as well as within community mental health service agencies.

Brief Therapeutic Interventions: This focus prepares the advanced student to employ brief therapeutic methods in psychotherapy as well as the ability to practice clinically in a variety of short-term clinical direct practice settings such as crisis centers, retreat centers and business settings. Graduates with this specialized focus will be able to employ short-term interventive strategies with a clear understanding of related clinical theory and psychodynamic processes.

Child, Youth and Families: This focus encourages student growth towards a critical clinical awareness in issues that strive to improve the lives of children, youth and families. Students with this focus gain a competitive position aimed directly at clinically serving children, youth and families across a number of mental health direct practice settings.

Family and Systems Models: This focus encourages the advanced student to gain a solid theoretical foundation in understanding the interactive emotional processes that inform today’s families which span the creative horizon. Students will gain a competitive position through an in-depth study of not only family systems but also how individual psychodynamic processes inform and are informed by individual, family and social group functioning. It prepares students to do clinical practice through a family systems therapeutic and theoretical lens within independent private practice, community mental health centers or clinical agencies, and family services agencies, to name a few, as well as offers a solid foundation for future research, such as towards a DSW or PhD.

Independent Clinical Practice: Independent practice continues to grow as an ever-changing field. This one-of-a-kind clinical program of study offers the advanced student the opportunity to name their specific long-term clinical goals and create a program of study catered to match those specific needs. This focus provides the advanced student with the greatest creativity in developing their own specialized clinical program of study. The student will not only learn the most effective approaches to clinical social work practice but will also be encouraged to critically and clinically reflect on the best practices of empowerment, resilience and transformation for those they will serve.

Individual Therapeutic Models: This focus is for the advanced student desiring advanced work in a particular clinical theoretical system(s) of thought. It not only offers the student a solid foundation for independent clinical practice, but also a solid theoretical clinical foundation for future advanced clinical studies, such as towards a DSW or PhD. Through advanced clinical studies the student will gain a competitive position by developing a critical theoretical lens that can inform resilient and empowering direct practice as well as serve as a foundation for future research.

Spiritually Resilient Practice: While AU is an independent, non-sectarian institution, our students come from a rich religious and spiritual spectrum. This focus is designed for students who desire to practice clinically within or in association with a religious institution such as a church, mosque, or synagogue. Social workers who practice in religious institutions are often defined as Church Social Workers. They are forced to balance NASW values with religious beliefs, and are often on the front line of abuse issues related to children as well as older adults. This focus challenges and encourages students to define their clinical social work practice in relation to their individual religious and/or spiritual beliefs as well as a specific content area. It offers the student a competitive position in understanding spiritual well-being, support and care.

Violence Prevention: The field of violence prevention is rooted in the growing awareness of interpersonal violence in our society. While much of social work and related disciplines have been focused on interpersonal violence after-the-fact, this focus encourages the student to reduce interpersonal violence before-the-fact through the development of clinical services aimed at reducing violence against children, families and other vulnerable populations. A solid clinical foundation prepares students to be proactive with individuals and families as well as enable them to develop clinically focused advocacy that develops clinically grounded services and programs in community-based agencies and businesses that strive to prevent interpersonal violence.