Upcoming changes to private practice registration & clinical regulation

What you need to know

The Nova Scotia College of Social Workers (NSCSW) is pleased to announce that changes to regulations regarding private practice registration and clinical practice are planned to take effect in April of 2024. This transition marks a significant step in our ongoing commitment to ensure high standards of professional social work practice to serve the public interests. This includes significant changes to our By-laws; sections 32 and 33 are being replaced with new guidelines that were approved by members at our special general meeting in 2023.

We understand that these changes may raise questions. We’re here to support you through this transition. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for any clarifications about what you read below.

Important changes to NSCSW By-laws

Here’s what you need to know:

New clinical practice regulations

As of April 2024, only Registered Social Workers approved by the Board of Examiners will be able to engage in the private practice of the clinical social work specialization. Information on how to apply for this specialization will be provided to members in Spring 2024.

Grandparenting for existing private practitioners 

If you’re an existing private practitioner whom the Board of Examiners has previously approved to engage in clinical social work, you do not need to reapply; the NSCSW will transfer your registration from private practitioner to clinical specialist. You should expect to receive notice in May of 2024 to confirm that your status has changed accordingly.

Private Practice for Registered Social Workers & Social Worker Candidates

If you’re a Registered Social Worker or a Social Worker Candidate in good standing, in April 2024 you will become eligible to engage in private practice of social work, provided you have the necessary competence. However, this will not extend to clinical social work services. Clinical social work in a private practice setting will still require authorization from the NSCSW Board of Examiners.

Understanding clinical social work

Clinical social work is a specialized field that:

  • Provides mental health, addiction, trauma, grief/loss/illness, and crisis assessments, contextualizing individuals within their unique social environments.
  • Employs research-based therapy methods that align with bio-psycho-social-spiritual principles that are culturally relevant.
  • Engages directly with individuals, couples, families, and groups, addressing complex issues impacting individual and family functioning.
  • Is guided by broader social work concepts such as human rights and social justice.
  • Initiates and implements intervention plans with the client to meet goals

Requirements for Clinical Social Work Specialization

Are you considering applying for this specialization? We plan to have instructions ready for you by Spring 2024. Applicants must meet specific educational, experience, and supervision requirements:

  • Earn a Master of Social Work degree from an accredited school, or demonstrate substantial equivalency through graduate-level academic coursework and practice experience.
  • Complete 12 academic credits from an accredited social work program or equivalent professional development that aligns with the course requirements identified by the Board of Examiners.
  • Fulfill 1800 hours of supervised practice experience in a clinical setting.
  • Complete 24 hours of clinical social work supervision.
  • Undergo an assessment of clinical abilities conducted by a clinical social work supervisor.

Academic credit requirements

Applicants must complete 12 academic credit hours, equivalent to four academic half-credit courses, aligned with clinical social work specialization. Of these credits, six must be completed at the Master of Social Work (MSW) level.

The coursework should focus on:

  • Understanding the conceptual, historical, political, gender, and societal factors that influence values, beliefs, and practices regarding mental health, well-being, addiction, trauma, grief/loss/illness, and crisis services and systems from a bio-psycho-social and spiritual perspective.
  • Assessment within persons, families, and communities dealing with mental health, well-being, addiction, trauma, grief/loss/illness, and crisis, with a strong emphasis on human development and social behaviour.
  • Therapy and research-based service modalities, focusing on developing the abilities required to support individuals, families, and communities affected by mental health, well-being, addiction, trauma, grief/loss/illness, and crisis.
  • A practicum in a clinical setting where the direct provision of the clinical scope is utilized in the service for mental health, well-being, addiction, trauma, grief/loss/illness, and crisis issues.

To demonstrate completion of the academic coursework, applicants must upload the course syllabus. If a course syllabus is unavailable, applicants must outline the objectives of the course and sign an undertaking indicating they have completed the course.

Demonstrating equivalency to academic requirements

Applicants who have not met or partially met the academic requirements will be able to demonstrate equivalency through the NSCSW registration portal. Here, they can outline 432 hours of informal and formal training that aligns with the objectives of the required academic courses.

Provision for applicants with incomplete requirements

If you haven’t met the supervision and/or practice hour requirements, you may still receive authorization to practice clinical social work in a private practice setting. However, you will have “restrictions to complete supervision.” These restrictions will be visible on your public profile until you complete the required supervision and practice experience.

Additional information & interviews

The Board of Examiners may request an interview or additional information if your application is inadequate or inconclusive in determining your suitability for the clinical social work specialization.

Malpractice liability insurance

Before you engage in the private practice of a clinical social work specialization, you must provide evidence of suitable malpractice liability insurance coverage.

Understanding the role of clinical supervision in social work

Clinical supervision plays a key role in the professional development of social workers. It focuses on enhancing the practitioner’s skills, knowledge, abilities, and regulation to grow their clinical expertise. Here’s what you need to know:

Who can be a supervisor?

To qualify as a supervisor, one must be a Registered Social Worker in good standing with NSCSW or a legislated regulatory body. They should have at least three years of experience in clinical social work and demonstrate competencies in clinical supervision.

What skills should supervisors have?

Clinical supervisors should possess knowledge and skills in various modalities aligned with the scope of practice outlined in NSCSW By-laws. Effective supervision requires a comprehensive understanding of supervision principles, the ability to address the strengths and challenges of supervisees, model ethical practice, and provide support and encouragement.

The role of clinical supervisors

Active participation is crucial in developing specialization skills. Supervisors play a vital role in:

  • Assessing satisfactory levels in assessments
  • Enhancing relational abilities such as engaging with clients using empathy and dialogue
  • Focusing critically on social context and oppression
  • Collaborating with other professionals
  • Advocating for access to services
  • Encouraging reflexivity including self-awareness, agency, and knowledge of human social behavior & skills
  • Promoting collective responsibility by using critical thinking for policies that advance rights and justice

Clarifying the supervision reporting procedure

If you’re an applicant who has previously practiced in a clinical setting and have accumulated 1800 hours of practice experience along with 24 hours of clinical supervision, your supervisor will be required to complete an online assessment of your clinical abilities.

However, if your supervision hours are not yet completed, you should create an online plan detailing how you intend to fulfill these hours. Once you’ve completed the 1800 hours of practice experience and 24 hours of clinical supervision, your supervisor can then finalize their assessment of your clinical abilities online.

Upcoming policy decisions for new clinical specialization regulations

As we prepare to roll out new regulations for the clinical specialization, we want to keep you informed about several important policy decisions that will be made in the coming months. These crucial steps are designed to ensure the highest level of competence and care in our profession.

Finalizing supervision criteria

One of our key areas of focus is finalizing the criteria for who can provide supervision in a clinical setting. This will be determined by a thorough review of qualifications and experience, ensuring that supervisors are well-equipped to guide their supervisees effectively.

Setting clinical guidelines

We’re also working on establishing clear guidelines for clinical practice. This includes the use of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), recognizing its pivotal role in assessments and case planning. We are also focusing on outlining the necessary steps for obtaining specializations within the field.

Ensuring culturally appropriate services

We’re developing specific guidelines for providing clinical services to Black, Indigenous, and 2SLGBTQIA+ service users. These guidelines are intended to foster understanding, and to acknowledge and address the unique challenges faced by these communities. We hope to ensure that everyone in Nova Scotia can access social work services that are culturally safe.

Consultation period

Your voice matters. We have repeatedly sought our members’ participation in determining whether and how to undertake this transition. Starting in February and running through March, we will be launching a final round of consultations on the guidelines that are currently under development. This is your opportunity to provide input and help shape the future of our profession. We encourage you to actively participate in these discussions.

Final thoughts

We understand that these changes may prompt questions or raise concerns, so please don’t hesitate to contact us. The NSCSW is committed to providing support throughout this transition period. And please stay tuned for more details about these upcoming changes.

Together, we can continue to uphold the highest standards in social work practice and foster an inclusive, competent, and caring profession.

9 thoughts on “Upcoming changes to private practice registration & clinical regulation

  1. I am concerned that local schools such as Dal and St Thomas lack courses that provide clinical skills at least in theory to students. For example Dal has an emphasis on Solution Focused Therapy which is a brief model therapy clearly rejecting the idea of an assessment, a history, any use of the DSM etc. while St Thomas (new MSW) has a generalist model that has one course that may very briefly touch on treatment theories. Students in these schools may have a very hard time meeting the curriculum hours.

  2. Hi Debra! I am happy to report that social work educators were consulted in the design of the academic coursework requirements. The Dalhousie School of Social Work informed us that they have upgraded their MSW course selection, so current and future social work students at that school should have sufficient credit hours available if they choose to take them.

    Fortunately, social workers who have already graduated and didn’t have enough eligible credits on their transcript still have many options to upgrade their learning. Potential applicants can either seek further university instruction, perhaps even at Dalhousie’s continuing education program, or they can pursue equivalent professional development that meets the goals set by the Board of Examiners.

  3. Yes, I would say those who graduated from the 2 year program at Dal covered off these requirements in the curriculum. That program was introduced by Dal in 2020. Solution focused was offered as a PD course through the continuing Ed department, and was not a major component of the program. Also, several clinical practice and theory courses were offered.

  4. Hi,

    Maybe I missed it – but what about registered clinical Social workers already working in the public system (ie. for NSH) who may want to transition to private work in the future. Do they have to jump through all these hoops as well?

  5. Our “hoops” may seem daunting, but they are a regulatory framework designed to protect the public, developed by the College through a multi-year process of research and consultation.

    Under the current regulations, existing private practitioners have already had their credentials and competencies individually assessed by the Board of Examiners. If their prior approval included clinical practice, they will be grandparented in during the transition so that they won’t have to be reassessed. But if RSWs currently practicing clinical social work in the public system have never applied to the Board of Examiners for private practice approval they have not gone through that assessment process yet. They have several choices:

    1. apply for private practice to the BoE now, to be assessed under the current framework
    2. apply for clinical practice to the BoE after this transition, to be assessed under the upcoming framework (see above)
    3. pursue non-clinical private practice (capacity assessments, workshop facilitation, consultation, etc.) after the switch to the new framework, when this type of work will no longer require BoE assessment and approval

    If they choose option 2, social workers who have practiced clinically within NSH will likely have already fulfilled most or all of the requirements for supervision, depending on how long they’ve been working there; this should significantly reduce the administrative burden of their applications.

  6. Hi,

    I have 15 years of clinical experience in mental health and addictions at NSH. Are you saying that I will not be grandfathered in and that I have to jump through all the hoops listed in the reply to Kelsey’s question?

  7. In short, yes. But I missed a fourth option in my response to Kelsey, which would be to simply continue working for the public system for now. And I want to emphasize that we’re only in phase one of a three-phase process that was developed over three years of intensive consultation with our members and other stakeholders.

    “Hoops” have existed for the private practice of social work in Nova Scotia for many years. During phase one, we’re repositioning those hoops for clinical private practice, and removing them entirely from non-clinical private practice; this is a significant removal of barriers that currently exist to self-employment for social workers in our province.

    By the time we get to phase three, our goal is establish “Registered Clinical Social Worker” as a protected title in Nova Scotia via legislation. If and when we achieve this, we’ll also develop appropriate criteria and a process for grandparenting practitioners like yourself. That’s likely a few years away, though.

    I encourage you to keep an eye out for opportunities to be involved in this transition and help guide it; there will be more member consultation sessions, surveys, and committee work over the next few years, and I hope you’ll consider participating. The self-regulation of our profession is a privilege that we have been able to retain because of the dedication, service, and expertise of so many members who have generously shared their time and knowledge with us.

  8. Thank-you, I appreciate the response. I didn’t mean to come off negatively but I do have concerns about the level of criteria that is being added (which is a leap from what the process is currently). I understand this is to protect the public. Specifically, I’m worried that we are shifting to a model where there may become shortage of clinical supervisors and in which candidates for the clinical designation may end up paying supervisors (like is currently the model within other regulatory bodies and countries) – which has its obvious barriers and will mean that certain groups have an especially hard time gaining entrance into the specialty. I am happy to hear that non clinical practice will have less barriers.. that’s good news!

  9. Thanks Kelsey! The criteria for supervisors was identified as an area where we need to design our regulations with particular care and intention, for exactly these reasons. If you haven’t already participated in this process, I hope that you will be able to join one of our upcoming consultations and help us fine-tune the details – dates and details will be shared soon.

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