MSW Focal Areas

Each focus area consists of a course cluster that students can choose from to develop knowledge and skill in working in a practice area or population of clients. Focus areas offer opportunities for development of skills and expertise in a practice or social problem area.  Each of the advanced policy options (students will be required to take one) will be affiliated with one or more focal areas. Most courses in the focus areas will cross levels of practice. Note: It is not required that students have a focus area in order to graduate.

Focus areas will enable students to choose electives that fit their current interests and career goals. Students may choose electives from one or multiple focus areas. Descriptions of courses may be viewed on the WSU Graduate Bulletin

Complete list of MSW Elective options 

Integrated Health, Behavioral Health, and Substance Use    

Affiliated faculty: J. Lloyd Allen, Suzanne Brown, Viktor Burlaka, Jason Carbone, Lauree Emery, Megan Hicks, Luisa Kcomt, Michael Kral, Anwar Najor-Durack, Lisa O'Donnell, Stella Resko, Heather Walter-McCabe

Increasingly systems of care and social work best practices are identifying the importance of integration between physical, behavioral health, and substance use treatment service systems and interventions. Research supports better treatment outcomes across physical, behavioral and substance use domains when treatment for all three are integrated and when problems across all three areas are considered together. This focus area offers courses that help students integrate knowledge about physical and mental health and substance use.  These courses span the micro-macro continuum and offer perspectives on the impact of health disparities, poverty, oppression, and the urban context on physical health, behavioral health, and substance use outcomes and services. The Certificate on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Studies and then joint master's degree in Social Work and Public Health are included in this focus area, as are the student training programs in Behavioral Health integration and Opioid Use Disorder integration in primary care (BHWET/OWET). 

Related programs: 

Existing Electives  
SW 6810 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) Health and Well-Being
SW 6815 Mind-Body-Spirit Approaches and Social Work Practice
SW 6540 Effects of Drugs and Alcohol on Physical and Social Functioning 
SW 6551 Behavioral Health and the Criminal/Legal System
SW 6991 Social Justice & Health
SW 6620 Understanding Suicide
SW 7115 Interprofessional Education
SW 7140 Biomedical Components of Substance Use and Addiction
SW 7150 Health Disparities and Substance Use
SW 7885 Professionalism and Ethics
SW 8690 Interpersonal Practice in Substance Use
SW 7880 Infant/Family Mental Health Assessment 
SW 8381 Interpersonal Practice with Children and Adolescent
SW 8550 Social Functioning: Human Sexuality
SW 8580 Impact of Health and Disease on Social Functioning



Trauma, Stress, and Violence

Affiliated faculty: Suzanne Brown, Jason Carbone, Carolyn Dayton, Joy Ernst, Shantalea Johns, Poco Kernsmith, Athena Kheibari, Kristina Nikolova, Lisa Panisch, Debra Patterson, Rebecca Sokol, Shirley Thomas, Bryan Victor 

Trauma, stress, and violence are ever present in the lives of individuals who seek assistance from social workers; and these experiences have far-reaching implications for children, adults, older adults, and families across the lifespan. The courses in this focus area examine the impact of exposure to violence and toxic stress on individuals across the lifespan and across bio-psycho-social-spiritual domains. Courses such as SW 7700, SW 6575, SW 8991, and Models for Crisis Stabilization incorporate interventions across the micro-macro continuum and all courses examine the impact of oppression as an additional stressor that magnifies the impact of violence and other potentially traumatic stressors on human functioning. Interventions that reduce the potential impact of violence and traumatic stressors on human development and functioning as well as resilience and protective factors are included in this focus area.

Existing Courses
SW 6575Violence Prevention and Intervention
SW 6991 Understanding Suicide
SW 7700 Trauma Informed Child Welfare
SW 7885 Professionalism and Ethics
SW 8570 Dynamics and Intervention in Family Violence
SW 8585 Advanced Interpersonal Practice in Trauma and PTSD

Social Work in Criminal Legal Settings

Affiliated faculty: Erin Comartin, Susan Lebold, Athena Kheibari, Poco Kernsmith, Sheryl Kubiak

The criminal/legal focal area will prepare students to work in multidisciplinary teams at each intercept of the criminal/legal system (police, courts, jails, prisons, probation/parole). Courses give a foundation on criminological theory and current policy responses, while providing practical tools for assessing the risk and needs of individuals (both adults and youth) charged and/or sentenced with criminal offences. Importantly, the needs of victims of crime and communities affected by violence. Special populations considered in this focal area include individuals with behavioral health needs, individuals convicted of sex crimes, and hate crimes towards vulnerable racial and LGBTQI populations. All courses use a social justice lens when assessing the needs of individuals, organizations, and communities impacted by violence. The restorative justice course offers both Interpersonal Practice and I-CPL students a necessary foundation for interventions that directly addresses violence in a way that repairs harm.  

Related programs: 

Existing Courses
SW 6500 Social Work and the Law
SW 6535 Youth, Delinquency, and Juvenile Justice
SW 6551 Behavioral Health and the Criminal/Legal System
SW 6575 Violence Prevention and Intervention
SW 7885 Professionalism and Ethics
SW 8570 Dynamics and Intervention in Family Violence
SW 6991 Seminar in Holistic Defense





Social Work with Older Adults

Affiliated faculty: Faith Hopp, Luisa Kcomt, Fay Keys, Tam Perry, Joy Ernst

This focus area will equip students with knowledge and skills needed to work in a variety of settings that serve older adults and their families. The population of older adults is increasing and people over the age of 65 will comprise 20% of the population by 2030. While we celebrate increasing life expectancy and the diversity of older adults, the aging process is often accompanied by increased needs and challenges even as we recognize the resilience and strengths of older adults. Students who focus in aging gain important perspectives, knowledge, and skills that will be valuable to a variety of settings including housing, senior centers, hospitals, nursing homes, multiservice agencies, and community-based organizations.    

Affiliated program

Existing Courses
SW 5720 Social Services for Older Adults
SW 7115 Interprofessional Education
SW 7995 Introduction to Gerontology
SW 7770 Palliative Care and Elder Law
SW 7885 Professionalism and Ethics
SW 8860 Grief and Loss Issues in Social Work Practice 

Children and Families

Affiliated faculty: Ballentine, Brown, Burlaka, Dayton, Emery, Hong, Love, Schropshire, Nikolova,Panisch, Victor, Weiner  

Since the beginning of the profession of Social Work Children and families in context have been a primary focus. This area incorporates three substantive areas related to children and families.  Courses in the Child Welfare focal area cross the micro-macro continuum and offer perspectives on intervention for both policy and interpersonal practice. These courses are also requisites for students in the Child Welfare Certificate Program.  The courses offered for School Social Work also cross the micro-macro continuum and offer perspectives on system level interventions as well as psychosocial assessment of children and youth. These courses are part of the requirements for credentialing in School Social Work. Courses in the Infant Mental health focus area take a developmental and attachment-based perspective on children and families and examine assessment and intervention with very young children and their caregivers.  Courses in this area are also required for the dual title in Social Work and Infant Mental Health.  

Affiliated programs:

Existing courses and focus areas

Child Welfare
SW 5755 Intro to Child Welfare
SW 6100 Child Welfare and Social Systems: Context for Case Management Practice
SW 6535 Youth, Delinquency, and Juvenile Justice
SW 7700 Trauma Informed Child Welfare
School Social Work
SW 8180 Social Services in the Schools 
SW 8330 Psychosocial Assessment of Children and Youth
Infant Mental Health
SW 6010 Family Centered Collaboration in Early Childhood Intervention and Special Ed
SW 6883 Social Work Practice with Very Young Children and Families
SW 7880 Infant/Family Mental Health Assessment
SW 8880 Infant Mental Health Practice
SW 8883, 8884 Infant Mental Health Seminar(IMH Dual-Title Students Only)
SW 7885 Professionalism and Ethics
SW 8381 Interpersonal Practice with Children and Adolescents
SW 8620 Interpersonal Practice with Couples

Research and Evaluation

Affiliated faculty: J. Lloyd Allen, Megan Hicks, Faith Hopp, Kristina Nikolova, Tam Perry, Stella Resko, Rebecca Sokol, Richard Smith

Social Workers engage in research informed practice and practice informed research. These courses provide opportunities to practice these skills and prepare for a career in assessment, program evaluation, and research. Many public organizations as well as private agencies and foundations hire full time program evaluators at the master's level. This focal area is good preparation for the Graduate Certificate in Research and Evaluation as well as a doctoral program.

Related Program:

Existing Courses
SW 7830 Research Methods for Social Work
SW 7850 Evaluation Research
SW 8025 Community Assessment & Evaluation
SW 8035 Techniques of Quantitative Data Analysis
SW 8045 Techniques of Data Interpretation and Presentation
SW 8048 Social Action Research & Evaluation

Community Change, Social Entrepreneurship, and Social Justice

Affiliated faculty: Kess Ballentine, Jason Carbone, Lauree Emery, Joy Ernst, Michael Kral, Richard Smith, Judith Wineman

Social Workers advance human rights, social, economic, and environmental justice. This focal area provides opportunities to learn more about how to do that. Interpersonal social workers can get exposure on what skills they will work towards in their career path as they become supervisors and leaders in their organizations working in interprofessional teams. Students can also build skills on how to start their own organization. This focal area pairs well with the Graduate Certificate in Entrepreneurship hosted by the Mike Ilitch School of Business.

Existing Courses
SW 6585 Introduction to International Social Work
SW 7085 Social Work Leadership Strategies
SW 7095 Social Entrepreneurship 
SW 7115 Special Topics: Interprofessional Education
SW 8015 Intervention/Program Planning and Grant Writing