5 Key Courses in a Doctor of Social Work Program

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Updated March 19, 2021

Doctor of Social Work Program Courses

  • Neuroscience
  • Epistemology
  • Psychopathy and Psychopharmacology
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Clinical Management

Social workers represent a rapidly growing field within the United States. As our population grows and becomes more diverse, we find ourselves facing a wider range of unique challenges than at any point in our history. A doctor of social work takes a wide range of specialized courses, which aren't directly associated with each other in very many fields; this makes such a person a highly qualified professional, and someone who will have a lot of opportunities available to them. At the same time, they will be able to help people improve their lives, and those of their family members.

Resource: Top 20 Most Affordable Online DSW Degrees (Doctor of Social Work)

Here are five important courses which are nearly universal requirements for the completion of a PhD in social work.


As a doctor of social work, you will require a practical, clinically applicable understanding of some of the basics of neuroscience. This will provide you with a framework for understanding the effects of certain common characteristics in social work cases, characteristics such as trauma, substance abuse, and the effects of long-term mental illness on the sufferer's family members. Neuroscience is also useful for understanding how an individual's brain grows and develops during various identifiable periods within their lifetime, particularly during early childhood.


This is the study of the foundation and acquisition of knowledge. Through epistemology, the doctor of social work learns how to find resources, how to help the families in their care acquire the resources that they need to improve their situation, and how to implement evidence-based interventions and therapies, in order to constructively address common problems within social workers' cases. This is an important part of the program which you will ultimately need to be able to train others in pursuing, in addition to practicing its strategies yourself.

Psychopathy and Psychopharmacology

Across America, and particularly in lower income brackets, rates of severe, long-term psychological illness are on the rise. Psychopathy and psychopharmacology is a body of courses which examines pharmacological treatments and interventions for severe, psychopathological conditions. Included in the coursework is the serious, evidence-based evaluation of whether or not a particular case merits pharmacological treatment; an individual's age, and whether or not they present a potential danger to themselves or to otherers, are some of the determining factors at work here.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, was the first form of psychological therapy which was determined to be significantly effective in the treatment of borderline personality disorder. Its use has since expanded to the treatment of other mental disorders as well. A form of social therapy, CBT takes the individual needs of the patient into consideration through an individually customized treatment regimen; it focuses upon the needs of the patient, and on the development of coping strategies to help them interact socially in a constructive and mutually beneficial manner.

Clinical Management

With a doctorate, you will most likely be slated for an administrative role — if not immediately, then certainly along the course of your career. Individuals with graduate-level training are needed to help instruct and manage caseworkers, and others who work one-on-one with children and families in need of assistance. Clinical management involves the development and implementation of administrative strategies and leadership behaviors, as well as addressing how to impart one's own training to staff and associates in need of some support.

There will always be opportunities for social workers. As the size of our population increases, the need for qualified social workers will likewise go up. Historically, the field has long been plagued by such issues as a lack of qualified applicants. With a PhD, you will find well-paying (and otherwise richly rewarding) career opportunities opening up for you.

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