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Social Work/can a social worker diagnose people?


Heidegger wrote at 2009-01-08 17:33:58
No, a social worker should not diagnose Asperger's.  A psychologist (PhD or PsyD, ABPP [board certified] with experience in developmental disorders and with certification to use the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) is the most appropriate professional for this.  Failing that, a psychiatrist (board certified) with experience in developmental disorders would be appropriate.  

Matt wrote at 2009-06-16 23:14:20
I personally would not take to heart what LCSW said. I would instead find a child- clinical psychology (or neuropsychologist) and a developmental-behavioral pediatrician. They are truely the ones that are the most qualified to make such a diagnosis. Social workers doing counseling and diagnosis is scary.

David Kearby wrote at 2009-10-23 07:20:12
Yes, clinical social workers (LCSW) can diagnose and treat all mental/psychological disorders. However the important distinction to make is that not all social workers are "clinical" social workers. Clinical social workers have a master's degree in social work with specific course work in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. Clinical social workers are well qualified to diagnose and treat all mental disorders. However, LCSW's are licensed in individual states so those states have the ability to state exactly what the scope of practice for a clinical social worker may be. One state, Indiana, doesn't allow clinical social workers to "diagnose" but does allow them to perform a mental health assessment. However, this is the exception to the rule as all other states have specifically written into their codes that "the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness" is within the scope of clinical social work practice. If you lookup the professional regulations for social work in your particular state, you will be able to read exactly what a social worker, clinical social worker, etc can perform as part of their professional practice.

Here is an example from Ohio: A person licensed under this chapter to practice as an independent social worker or a social worker may diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders

This one is from New York State: The practice of clinical social work encompasses the scope of practice of licensed master social work and, in addition, includes the diagnosis of mental, emotional, behavioral, addictive and developmental disorders and disabilities and of the psychosocial aspects of illness, injury, disability and impairment undertaken

Melissa W wrote at 2011-09-16 23:35:48
An LCSW is qualified to assess, diagnose and treat mental health disorders. The clinical licensing requirements include supervised clinical field work, assessment and treatment plan development for Axis I disorders (to the tune of 3000 supervised hours prior to testing for the license). Aspergers Disorder, currently, is considered both a pervasive developmental disorder, and a mental health disorder, making it the only developmental disability diagnosis an LCSW is qualified to make. A word of caution however, I would suggest additional testing or multidisciplinary team approach of consulting with a developmental pediatrician, psychiatrist, licensed psychologist or neuropsychologist for confirmation of the diagnosis. An LCSW is also qualified to administer the Gilliam Autism Rating Scale (GARS) which is a screening tool that notes Autism markers, but does not diagnose. An ADOS provides a much more comprehensive assessment for the diagnosis of Autism spectrum disorders, but we, as LCSW's, are not qualified to administer this.

Further, as a sidenote regarding the Aspergers diagnosis; rumor has it that Autism Spectrum Disorders are scheduled to be combined in the next version of the DSM, removing the stand alone diagnoses of Aspergers Disorder, Autism, and PDD, NOS. They will simply be referred to as Autism Disorder with qualifiers of high to low functioning. When this occurs, LCSW's will no longer be qualified to diagnose this Aspergers as it will be considered a medical diagnosis.  

Rita wrote at 2013-05-30 16:38:27
I've found in my experience having two children with autism and profession in internal medicine that social workers have been much more qualified than the psychologists and psychiatrists I have met with because social workers have a focus on the family system and are experts and seeing how people interact with their environment. When I took my children to for a psychological evaluation, the clinician was dependent on a survey instrument that wasn't very clear. I found the social worker evaluation and follow-up therapy to be much more valuable and useful.

little red riding hood wrote at 2015-03-27 23:38:54
There is a difference between can and should (implying competence). Can they? In some states. Should they? No.  Some states do not allow LCSW's to diagnose and/or complete evaluations- there is no way to diagnose ASD's without a thorough evaluation. As I clinician, I would take a diagnosis form a LCSW (especially ASD's) with a grain of salt.  

batti wrote at 2015-04-08 00:06:02
Yes, they can. @little red riding hood... I would take advice from an individual on the internet who states easily disprovable facts (i.e., some states do not allow LCSWs to diagnose or assess) with a grain of salt as well. They undergo 60 graduate credit hours in clinical course work, a year internship (generally in their area of interest) and two to three years of supervised practice before taking a national licensing exam. They then go on to do more hands on clinical work (e.g., assessments, psychotherapy) than most individuals working under other MH licenses (e.g., psychologists, psychiatrists) who, while highly educated, focus on other areas as well. It's not like a PhD psychologist spent TWICE as much time as a MSW on psychotherapy, they study research methods and statistics as part of their course load and spend almost half that time working on their personal dissertation and research. A psychiatrist studies medicine and does not even focus on mental health, outside a rotation during their third or fourth year, until residency. All are very qualified, but in terms of a psychiatric evaluation and subsequent diagnosis rendered by an MSW; they are more than qualified.

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Elizabeth Rose, MSW


I will answer general questions about the profession of social work, especially health care social work. I can refer you to other resources for more specifics.


I write for and manage the website, Social Work World,, and spent 30 years in health care social work and management.


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