The term “clinical social work” is used when social work takes place in treatment contexts and offers its own counselling and treatment services. Using a bio-psycho-social understanding of health, illness and disability, clinical social workers work with social diagnostics, counselling and social therapy to improve the quality of individuals’ lives within their environments. There is not always a clear-cut distinction between clinical and general social work. Nevertheless, the necessity for and type of clinical-social or clinical-therapeutic action is assessed on the one hand by the indication (e.g., hard-to-reach individuals or people with multiple problems), and on the other hand by the method and intensity of personal influence. More generally, the benefits for clients and their social environment (e.g., reduced suffering) are taken into account. This involves a client-centred approach and systematic consideration of social embeddedness.
Clinical social work refers to both an action science and a highly skilled specialism within social work. The scientific element entails developing knowledge about psychosocial problems and clinical-social action (research and evaluation) as well as training and guiding scientifically reflective practitioners. Clinical-social practice, meanwhile, requires a certain level of qualification (usually a master’s degree) and takes place in outpatient, day-care, inpatient and transitional health and social service facilities. These include all manner of psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, acute care hospitals, counselling centres, support facilities for former offenders, addiction treatment centres, special needs education centres, facilities for children, youths and families with special care needs, and geriatric and geronto-psychiatric facilities.
The Expert Committee for Clinical Social Work seeks to function as the core and a forum for the academic community working in this area. It offers a platform for discussing theory, research and practice, and it promotes the profile of clinical social work in Germany – both in training and in clinical-social practice.