Social Work

University of Mississippi

MSW Program Mission

To prepare competent and ethical clinical social workers, for scientific inquiry, who are leaders committed to diversity, social and economic justice, and the enrichment of the quality of life, with systems of all sizes, at every level of society.


  1. Prepare professional clinical social workers, who are able to develop knowledge for competent, effective, and ethical autonomous social work practice and the development of service delivery systems.
  2. Prepare students for professional clinical social work practice through the study of its history, purposes, philosophy, and theoretical and practice frameworks.
  3. Prepare students who will provide leadership in the effective and ethical clinical social work practice with diverse populations and systems of all sizes, to alleviate poverty and oppression, and to provide social and economic justice for all citizens at the local, national, and global levels.
  4. Provide students with content about the social contexts of clinical social work practice, the changing nature of those contexts, the behaviors found in systems, and the dynamics of change.
  5. Prepare students who will demonstrate a commitment to continue life-long learning and professional growth.

Core Foundation Competencies and Practice Behaviors

Educational Policy 2.1—Core Competencies

Competency-based education is an outcome performance approach to curriculum design. Competencies are measurable practice behaviors that are comprised of knowledge, values, and skills. The goal of the outcome approach is to demonstrate the integration and application of the competencies in practice with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. The ten core competencies are listed below [EP 2.1.1-EP 2.1.10(d)], followed by a description of characteristic knowledge, values, skills, and the resulting practice behaviors that may be used to operationalize the curriculum and assessment methods.

  1. EP 2.1.1—Identify as a professional social worker and conduct oneself accordingly.
    Social workers serve as representatives of the profession, its mission, and its core values. They know the profession’s history. Social workers commit themselves to the profession’s enhancement and to their own professional conduct and growth. Social workers

    • advocate for client access to the services of social work;
    • practice personal reflection and self-correction to assure continual professional development;
    • attend to professional roles and boundaries;
    • demonstrate professional demeanor in behavior, appearance, and communication;
    • engage in career-long learning; and
    • use supervision and consultation.
  2. EP 2.1.2—Apply social work ethical principles to guide professional practice. Social workers have an obligation to conduct themselves ethically and to engage in ethical decision-making. Social workers are knowledgeable about the value base of the profession, its ethical standards, and relevant law. Social workers
    • recognize and manage personal values in a way that allows professional values to guide practice;
    • make ethical decisions by applying standards of the National Association of Social Workers
    • Code of Ethics2 and, as applicable, of the International Federation of Social Workers/International Association of Schools of Social Work Ethics in Social Work,
    • Statement of Principles;3
    • tolerate ambiguity in resolving ethical conflicts; and
    • apply strategies of ethical reasoning to arrive at principled decisions.
  3. EP 2.1.3—Apply critical thinking to inform and communicate professional judgments.
    Social workers are knowledgeable about the principles of logic, scientific inquiry, and reasoned discernment. They use critical thinking augmented by creativity and curiosity. Critical thinking also requires the synthesis and communication of relevant information. Social workers

    • distinguish, appraise, and integrate multiple sources of knowledge, including research-based
    • knowledge, and practice wisdom;
    • analyze models of assessment, prevention, intervention, and evaluation; and
    • demonstrate effective oral and written communication in working with individuals, families,
    • groups, organizations, communities, and colleagues.
  4. EP 2.1.4—Engage diversity and difference in practice. Social workers understand how diversity characterizes and shapes the human experience and is critical to the formation of identity. The dimensions of diversity are understood as the intersectionality of multiple factors including age, class, color, culture, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity and expression, immigration status, political ideology, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation. Social workers appreciate that, as a consequence of difference, a person’s life experiences may include oppression, poverty, marginalization, and alienation as well as privilege, power, and acclaim. Social workers
    • recognize the extent to which a culture’s structures and values may oppress, marginalize,
    • alienate, or create or enhance privilege and power;
    • gain sufficient self-awareness to eliminate the influence of personal biases and values in
    • working with diverse groups;
    • recognize and communicate their understanding of the importance of difference in shaping
    • life experiences; and
    • view themselves as learners and engage those with whom they work as informants.
  5. EP 2.1.5—Advance human rights and social and economic justice. Each person, regardless of position in society, has basic human rights, such as freedom, safety, privacy, an adequate standard of living, health care, and education. Social workers recognize the global interconnections of oppression and are knowledgeable about theories of justice and strategies to promote human and civil rights. Social work incorporates social justice practices in organizations, institutions, and society to ensure that these basic human rights are distributed equitably and without prejudice. Social workers
    • understand the forms and mechanisms of oppression and discrimination;
    • advocate for human rights and social and economic justice; and
    • engage in practices that advance social and economic justice.
  6. EP 2.1.6—Engage in research-informed practice and practice-informed research.
    Social workers use practice experience to inform research, employ evidence-based interventions, evaluate their own practice, and use research findings to improve practice, policy, and social service delivery. Social workers comprehend quantitative and qualitative research and understand scientific and ethical approaches to building knowledge. Social workers

    • use practice experience to inform scientific inquiry and
    • use research evidence to inform practice.
  7. EP 2.1.7—Apply knowledge of human behavior and the social environment.
    Social workers

    • are knowledgeable about human behavior across the life course; the range of social systems in which people live; and the ways social systems promote or deter people in maintaining or achieving health and well-being. Social workers apply theories and knowledge from the liberal arts to understand biological, social, cultural, psychological, and spiritual development. Social workers
    • utilize conceptual frameworks to guide the processes of assessment, intervention, and
    • evaluation; and
    • critique and apply knowledge to understand person and environment.
  8. EP 2.1.8—Engage in policy practice to advance social and economic well-being and to deliver effective social work services. Social work practitioners understand that policy affects service delivery, and they actively engage in policy practice. Social workers
    • know the history and current structures of social policies and services; the role of policy in service delivery; and the role of practice in policy development. Social workers
    • analyze, formulate, and advocate for policies that advance social well-being; and
    • collaborate with colleagues and clients for effective policy action.
  9. EP 2.1.9—Respond to contexts that shape practice. Social workers are informed, resourceful, and proactive in responding to evolving organizational, community, and societal contexts at all levels of practice. Social workers recognize that the context of practice is dynamic, and use knowledge and skill to respond proactively. Social workers
    • continuously discover, appraise, and attend to changing locales, populations, scientific and technological developments, and emerging societal trends to provide relevant services; and
    • provide leadership in promoting sustainable changes in service delivery and practice to improve the quality of social services.
  10. EP 2.1.10(a) (d) Engage, assess, intervene, and evaluate with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Professional practice involves the dynamic and interactive processes of engagement, assessment, intervention, and evaluation at multiple levels. Social workers have the knowledge and skills to practice with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Practice knowledge includes identifying, analyzing, and implementing evidence-based interventions designed to achieve client goals; using research and technological advances; evaluating program outcomes and practice effectiveness; developing, analyzing, advocating, and providing leadership for policies and services; and promoting social and economic justice.
    • EP 2.1.10(a) Engagement Social workers
      • substantively and affectively prepare for action with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities;
      • use empathy and other interpersonal skills; and
      • develop a mutually agreed-on focus of work and desired outcomes.
    • EP 2.1.10(b) Assessment Social workers
      • collect, organize, and interpret client data;
      • assess client strengths and limitations;
      • develop mutually agreed-on intervention goals and objectives; and
      • select appropriate intervention strategies.
    • EP 2.1.10(c) Intervention Social workers
      • initiate actions to achieve organizational goals;
      • implement prevention interventions that enhance client capacities;
      • help clients resolve problems;
      • negotiate, mediate, and advocate for clients; and
      • facilitate transitions and endings.
    • EP 2.1.10(d) Evaluation Social workers critically analyze, monitor, and evaluate interventions.

Core Competencies with Clinical Knowledge and Practice Behaviors

  1. EP 2.1.1 Identify as a professional social worker and conduct oneself accordingly. Clinical Knowledge
    • Recognize the importance of the therapeutic relationship, the person-in-environment and strengths perspectives, the professional and strengths perspectives, the professional use of self with clients, and adherence to ethical guidelines of professional behavior.

    Clinical Practice Behaviors

    • Readily identify as social work professionals
    • Demonstrate professional use of self with clients
    • Understand and identify professional strengths, limitations, and challenges
    • Develop, manage, and maintain therapeutic relationships with clients within the person-in environment and strengths perspectives.
  2. EP 2.1.2 Apply social work ethical principles to guide professional practice. Clinical Knowledge
    • Know about ethical issues, legal parameters, and shifting societal mores that affect the therapeutic relationship.

    Clinical Practice Behaviors

    • Apply ethical decision-making to issues specific to clinical social work.
    • Employ strategies of ethical reasoning to address the use of technology in clinical practice and its impact on client rights.
    • Identify and use knowledge of relationship dynamics, including power differentials.
    • Recognize and manage personal biases as they affect the therapeutic relationship in the service of the clients’ well-being.
  3. EP 2.1.3 Apply critical thinking to inform and communicate professional judgment. Clinical Knowledge
    • Understand and differentiate the strengths and limitations of multiple practice theories and methods, clinical processes, and technical tools, including differential diagnosis.
    • Deconstruct theories and methods to evaluate how they relate to clients and client systems within their environmental contexts.

    Clinical Practice Behaviors

    • Engage in reflective practice.
    • Identify and articulate clients’ strengths and vulnerabilities.
    • Evaluate, select, and implement appropriate multidimensional assessment, diagnostic, intervention, and practice evaluation tools.
    • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of multiple theoretical perspectives and differentially apply them to client situations.
    • Communicate professional judgment to other social workers and to professionals from other disciplines, in both verbal and written formats.
  4. EP 2.1.4 Engage diversity and difference in practice. Clinical Knowledge
    • Know about many forms of diversity and difference and how these influence the therapeutic relationship and clients’ presenting issues.
    • Know about the ways in which various dimensions of diversity affect (a) explanations of illness, (b) help-seeking behaviors, and (c) healing practices.
    • Advanced practitioners are cultural beings and understand how clinical practice choices can be culture-bound.

    Clinical Practice Behaviors

    • Research and apply knowledge of diverse populations to enhance client well-being
    • Work effectively with diverse populations
    • Identify and use practitioner/client differences from a strengths perspective.
  5. EP 2.1.5 Advance human rights and social and economic justice. Clinical Knowledge
    • Understand the potentially challenging effects of economic, social, and cultural factors in the lives of clients and client systems.
    • Understand the stigma and shame associated with disorders, diagnoses, and help-seeking behaviors across diverse populations.
    • Understand strategies for advancing human rights and social and economic justice in domestic and global contexts.

    Clinical Practice Behaviors

    • Use knowledge of the effects of oppression, discrimination, and historical trauma on client and client systems to guide treatment planning and intervention.
    • Advocate at multiple levels for mental health parity and reduction of health disparities for diverse populations.
  6. EP 2.1.6 Engage in research-informed practice and practice-informed research. Clinical Knowledge
    • Know about evidence-based interventions, best practices, and the evidence-based research process.

    Clinical Practice Behaviors

    • Use the evidence-based practice process in clinical assessment and intervention with clients.
    • Participate in the generation of new clinical knowledge, through research and practice.
    • Use research methodology to evaluate clinical practice effectiveness and/or outcomes.
  7. EP 2.1.7 Apply knowledge of human behavior and the social environment. Clinical Knowledge
    • Understand how to synthesize and differentially apply the theories of human behavior and the social environment (biological, developmental, psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual).
    • Familiar with diagnosis classification systems used in the formulation of comprehensive assessment.
    • Understand how sociocultural contexts influence definitions of psychopathology.
    • Have a working knowledge of psychotropic medications that are typically used in the treatment of mental health disorders, including expected results and side effects.

    Clinical Practice Behaviors

    • Synthesize and differentially apply theories of human behavior and the social environment to guide clinical practice.
    • Use bio-psycho-social-spiritual theories and multiaxial diagnostic classification systems in formulation of comprehensive assessments.
    • Consult with medical professionals, as needed, to confirm diagnosis and/or to monitor medication in the treatment process.
  8. EP 2.1.8 Engage in policy practice to advance social and economic well-being and to deliver effective social work services. Clinical Knowledge
    • Recognize the connection between clients, practice, and both public and organizational policy.
    • Know about factors that influence the development of legislation, policies, program services, and funding at all system levels.
    • Know of advocacy methods that contribute to effective policies that promote social and economic well-being.

    Clinical Practice Behaviors

    • Communicate to stakeholders in the implications of policies and policy change in the lives of clients.
    • Use evidence-based practice and practice-based evidence in advocacy for policies that advance social and economic well-being.
    • Advocate with and inform administrators and legislators to influence policies that affect clients and service.
  9. EP 2.1.9 Respond to contexts that shape practice. Clinical Knowledge
    • Know how relational, organizational, and community systems may impact clients.
    • Anticipate and react to evolving cultural, technological, geographical, political, legal, economic, and environmental contexts.
    • Encourage clients to effect changes within these contexts.

    Clinical Practice Behaviors

    • Assess the quality of clients’ interactions within their social contexts.
    • Develop intervention plans to accomplish systemic change.
    • Work collaboratively with others to effect systemic change that is sustainable.
  10. EP 2.1.10 (a)-(d) Engage, assess, intervene, and evaluate with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Clinical Knowledge
    • Involve the dynamic, interactive, and reciprocal processes of therapeutic engagement, multidimensional assessment, clinical intervention, and practice evaluation at multiple levels.
    • Have a theoretically informed knowledge base so as to effectively practice with individuals, families, and groups.
    • Understand and implement practice theories (models, metaperspectives, strategies, techniques, and approaches).
    • Evaluate treatment outcomes and practice effectiveness.

    Clinical Practice Behaviors

    • Engagement
      • Develop a culturally responsive therapeutic relationship.
      • Attend to the interpersonal dynamics and contextual factors that both strengthen and potentially threaten the therapeutic alliance.
      • Establish a relationally based process that encourages clients to be equal participants in the establishment of treatment goals and expected outcomes.
    • Assessment
      • Use multidimensional bio-psycho-social-spiritual assessment tools.
      • Assess clients’ readiness for change.
      • Assess clients’ coping strategies to reinforce and improve adaptation to life situations, circumstances, and events.
      • Select and modify appropriate intervention strategies based on continuous clinical assessment.
      • Use differential and multiaxial diagnoses.
    • Intervention
      • Critically evaluate, select, and apply best practices and evidence-based interventions.
      • Demonstrate the use of appropriate clinical techniques for a range of presenting concerns identified in the assessment, including crisis intervention strategies as needed.
      • Collaborate with other professionals to coordinate treatment interventions.
    • Evaluation
      • Contribute to the theoretical knowledge base of the social work profession through practice-based research.
      • Use clinical evaluation of the process and/or outcomes to develop best practice interventions for a range of bio-psycho-social-spiritual conditions.