Monday, April 14, 2014

Strategies for Passing the Social Work Licensing Exam

To pass the social work licensing exam takes a combination of social work knowledge, marathon focus (4 hours!), and having a handle on some basics of test prep and test taking strategies. If you're here, you already have and/or are developing what it takes!

The knowledge part is pretty straightforward. Know the Code of Ethics, DSM basics, etc. To build your focus, take practice tests (like the ones at SWTP) in four-hour blocks, recreating as best you can the conditions of the real exam. For test-taking strategies, let's look to the web. Here's just the tip of the iceberg of sites that aim to help you be the best test-taker you can be. There are plenty more where these came from. Have a particular question about exam-prep best practices? Search engines will usually cough up an answer. Or write us here. We're rooting for you! Okay, here are some sites to check out:
Think, how many tests have you already taken and passed? Dozens? Hundreds? Lots. This one may have higher stakes, but the basics are the basics, and you know them. You can do it. Good luck!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Couples Therapy and the Social Work Exam

Continuing our  tour of different modalities of therapy and how they may appear on the social work licensing exam, we come now to couples therapy. Couples therapy presents its own range of issues, some of which echo those in individual therapy, some which cleave closer to group therapy, some all its own. If the exam hits upon couples therapy, it's likely to be in an item or two dealing with the unique ethical legal issues that can come up when working with a couple.

This article from the NASW handles the legal basics. With a little imagination, you'll be able to cook up a bunch of potential exam items based on the content there. How do you handle a subpoena in a divorce proceeding? Where does confidentiality begin and end when you're working with a couple? What do you with secrets in couples therapy--for example, if a member of a couple tells you they're having an affair? Still other questions might try to draw out social worker bias regarding same-sex couples, particularly with regard to adoption. Or rigid attitudes about family planning. Or regarding unconventional approaches to sexuality. Take care to be where the client is!

The internet is a little reticent on couples therapy issues in social work, but here are a few places for additional reading, not all specific to social work (or even to  North America):
As with any topic area, remember the Code of Ethics; remember the basics; remember to be the best by-the-book social worker you can be--at least for the duration of the exam! Good luck.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Group Therapy and the Social Work Exam

Let's jump into that list of psychotherapies from the previous post and take a look at group therapy. Here's another topic about which there's way more to know than could possibly show up in questions on the social work licensing exam. And here again, to narrow down your exam prep, you might try to approach the topic as an exam item writer. If you had to come up with a few questions about group psychotherapy, what would first come to mind? Maybe personal experience. Maybe a textbook or two from school. Chances are that one of those textbooks would be Irvin Yalom's The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy. Read it? Great. If you remember the basics, you're probably good to go for this topic and the exam. Need to learn and/or get refreshed on it? The web is happy to provide a summary, especially about Yalom's key principles of group:
How might this material show up on the exam? Maybe as an item about establishing group rules--who's in charge? Maybe as an item about CBT vs. other approaches (e.g., a psychoed or process group)--really an intervention question posing as a group question.  Or you may see a question about the appropriateness of group for a certain type of client (say, those diagnosed with ODD or BPD). Given a passing familiarity with the topic, these don't have to be particularly vexing questions. As ever, just think like an ideal, textbook social worker, and choose the ideal, textbook response. Good luck!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Psychotherapy and the Social Work Exam

Psychotherapy is a big part of social work practice and will show up on the social work licensing exam. But which psychotherapy? There are lots and lots of therapies out there--just take a gander at this giant Wikipedia list, which goes from Abreaction Therapy to Wilderness Therapy (X, Y, and Z are wide open). Will either of those show up on the exam? No, not as correct answers at least. The examiners are looking to see if you're familiar with mainstream, clinically-validated therapy. This shrinks the list down considerably!

Take a look at this Psychotherapies page from NIMH. It includes the very types of psychotherapy likely to show up on the exam: CBT, DBT, Interpersonal Therapy, Family Therapy. Note that Psychodynamic Psychotherapy shows up in the "Other Types of Therapy" section, alongside Light Therapy. The lesson here: know your CBT, know your DBT. Focus less on the other stuff, however much you may be drawn to it personally and professionally.

When a question asks what is the BEST treatment for a particular disorder, say OCD, the answer is very likely to be CBT, or some specific type of CBT (e.g., Exposure Therapy). When a question asks what a therapist should do FIRST with a client who has childhood trauma informing maladaptive coping now, the answer most often is the here-and-now one. Help with resources, social support, etc. For social workers, plumbing psychic depths is supposed to come later.

This doesn't mean you won't benefit--on the exam and in practice--by getting familiar with a wider range of therapies than those included on the NIMH list. Check out the early episodes of the Social Work Podcast for chirpy, concise summaries of Gestalt Therapy and others. Good listening, good to know. Just keep in mind the FIRST and BEST option for you on the exam isn't likely going to stray from the short list.

Good luck on the exam!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Post-traumatic stress disorder has always been a part of what social workers see in practice. Sometimes the PTSD is long-standing, rooted in childhood trauma, and doesn't show up in a client's chart. With wars overseas and violence at home, and a lot of media attention on the diagnosis, PTSD may, more and more, be correctly identified more often. For the same reasons, its not unreasonable to prepare to see questions about PTSD on the social work licensing exam.

As a topic for the exam, PTSD isn't all that complicated. The differential between acute stress and PTSD is one easy opening for test writers. Co-occurring PTSD and substance abuse is another. One way to approach the topic for the social work exam is to think what you would do if you had to come up with questions for the exam--about PTSD and whatever else. Where would you go to get ideas?

As you're preparing for the exam, everything you read and encounter that has to do with social work is potentially useful as exam prep. An article about soldiers struggling as they return to civilian life...there's a vignette question in there. Breakthroughs with new treatments (e.g., EMDR)...another potential question.

But first, here are some places to go--the usuals--to get down the basics about PTSD.

What is post-traumatic stress disorder? (NIMH)
Posttraumatic stress disorder (Wikipedia)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Suicide and the Social Work Exam

Suicide assessment, stats, and danger-to-self reporting are all likely to show up on the social work licensing exam--for good reason. A major role of the social work exam is consumer protection. How better to make sure that social workers are equipped to protect clients than by asking questions about handing suicide? The topic can also be unnerving. Being unnerved and still pushing through seems to be another essential element when aiming to pass the social work exam.

You're likely to have covered suicide from several angles while persuing your MSW, and then again in internship trainings, and still again when working with clients. Here are a few places to brush up on the essentials. Knowing your way around this topic can potentially help you through several questions on the exam. It can also help you be a better all-around social worker.
There's much more where these came from on the web. Good luck.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Happy Social Work Month

Happy Social Work Month from Pass the ASWB Exam. Thanks for everything social worky that you do!