An Emerging Theory to Guide Clinical Social Workers Seeking Change in Regulation of Clinical Social Work
U.S. regulation of social work began in the 1940s. By the mid-1990s, all jurisdictions within the United States regulated the profession through licensure. One purpose of licensure is to protect the public and the profession; however, legislation defining social work varies vastly among jurisdictions. The variation exists not only between jurisdictions, but also within licensure categories. The disparity within clinical social work continues without resolve. This qualitative study explored the barriers encountered and solutions used in three states as they secured laws allowing licensed clinical social workers to independently provide mental health services. Grounded theory research, based on information from 12 historians, is used to develop a theory to aid advocates in jurisdictions not yet achieving fully independent practice of clinical social work. The emerging theory offers a complex-systems approach to using a strategic framework to overcome barriers when attempting policy change. The primary purpose of the research is to develop strategies that aid in securing changes in clinical social work regulation. The emerging theory may serve a broader purpose by supporting the Association of Social Work Board’s (ASWB) goal of practice mobility and license portability. As advocates in various jurisdictions attempt to align regulations with the Model Social Work Practice Act from ASWB, they may experience barriers. This emerging theory could guide efforts to change clinical social work regulation.
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