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MSW Curriculum

Lesley University's Master of Social Work (MSW) program organizes 20 courses (60 credit hours) into Foundation and Advanced Generalist level components, with up to three electives. This is in alignment with the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) requirements.

Foundation Year Curriculum (30 credits)

The Foundation curriculum consists of eight courses designed to provide specific social work knowledge, skills, and values that are practiced in the two required, concurrent 200-hour Field Placement I and II (for a total of 400 hours).

Foundation courses include practice with client systems at the individual level (micro-level); family and group level (mezzo-practice); and with organizations, communities and social policy (macro-level).

  • Human Behavior in the Social Environment I (3 Credits)

    This course provides a holistic approach to social work practice that integrates biological, psychological, and socio-cultural frameworks that form the foundation of the Social Work concept of person-in-environment.

    Theoretical frameworks will be discussed in terms of their application to micro (individual), mezzo (couple, family, and social group), and macro (communities, social policies, and social-cultural factors) practice to promote resilience and critically assessed for their influence on social work practice in the context of social identities.

  • Fundamentals of Social Work Practice I (3 Credits)

    This course extends and applies concepts and theories of human behavior in the social environment to inform the processes of engagement and relationship building in support of specific theories of change.

    Through structured assignments and video-recorded simulations, students will be supported in the cultivation of self-awareness around their own and their client’s social position and relationships, as well as specific, empirically-supported theories and skills for social work practice to promote resilience with diverse individuals, with content to support foundation-level practice to promote resilience with individuals, couples, families and groups.

  • Challenging Racism (3 Credits)

    Since its inception, the social work profession has been committed to developing services that promote diversity and alleviate social oppression and injustice. This foundation course is an examination of the dynamics of racism and its intersectionality with various forms of oppression in US society.

    Through course readings, case studies, and experiential activities, we will examine and engage in an analysis of racism from structural, psychological, and applied perspectives. A focus of this course will be on the impact of race and racism for consumers, services, and social work/helping professions.

    The goal of this course is to stimulate skills of critical analysis, provide an understanding of critical race theory, and heighten self-awareness. We will also begin to identify how social workers and helping professionals can intervene and oppose racism personally and professionally. In addition to the development of skills consistent with anti-racism work, students will actively engage in an action project.

  • Field Seminar I (3 Credits)

    This required Field seminar is taken concurrently with Fieldwork I. The purpose of this course is to provide students the opportunity to integrate their professional development and direct practice skills within the context of their fieldwork experiences.

    Students will engage in extensive self-reflection and assessment in relation to their professional skills, values, knowledge, self-care, and identity. They will also explore the changing role of the socio-political climate and its impact on the provision of social services, policy development, and consumer/agency resources and practice. Constructs central to the field such as ethical decision-making, evidence-based practice, social justice, and self-care will also be explored. The integration and application of classroom and field will build on the social work framework across the Social Work curriculum and provide a springboard for entrance into the profession.

  • Fieldwork I (3 Credits)

    This required Fieldwork course is taken concurrently with Field Seminar I. It is the first of four foundation, experiential learning, or Fieldwork courses designed to link the four Fieldwork courses and experiences (for a total of 400 hours during the Foundation year and 600 hours in the Advanced Generalist year) with the social work curriculum through assignments that integrate understanding of the influence of social policy on service delivery, and concepts such as evidence-informed practice, social work values and ethics, culturally-aware and evidence-informed engagement with clients, assessment processes, interventions and strategies for the evaluation of client progress.

  • Social Work with Communities and Social Systems (3 Credits)

    The purpose of this course is to provide students with a foundational level understanding of macro social work practice and roles. The course builds upon knowledge of human behavior in the social environment and adds resilience theory and a critical introduction to theories of change to frame assessment of diverse communities and social service networks. Assessment data is used to link with local, national, and global interventions.

    The course also introduces students to empirically supported models and emerging interventions that address macro-level social issues. Through project-based assignments, students practice community/organizational assessments and asset mapping. They also participate in workgroups to learn how to engage, assess, and intervene in communities and organizations. Course content for MSW students provides additional breadth and depth and course assignments are tailored to the masters-level student. 

  • Research Evidence for the Helping Professions (3 Credits)

    The purpose of this foundation course is for students to develop skills in the identification, analysis, and application of empirical evidence to promote resilience in social work practice. The course introduces students to formal and informal research methods to evaluate client outcomes in their individual practice and program outcomes with a critical awareness of the implications of person-in-environment factors such as race, class, gender and other social influences.

    Students will develop research questions that relate to basic research concepts such as the relationship between research needs and research design, internal and external validity, triangulation, and basic quantitative and qualitative research processes so that they may critique the existing evidence for practice.

    Students also critically examine available social work practice/research ‘evidence’ for biases and relevance for the diverse array of clients, populations, and contexts with which they work. 

  • Social Policy Analysis, Advocacy, and Practice (3 Credits)

    The purpose of this foundation course is to analyze contemporary societal needs and problems, as well as the historical and current context of social welfare programs and policies in the United States. It presents frameworks used to define and analyze social problems with an emphasis on client strengths. 

    Students will be introduced to policy-making processes and will link policy with social service delivery with special emphasis on programs designed to aid the poor and the policies that shape them. The course is designed to help social workers advocate for policies within the social welfare system that promote resilience, fulfill their ethical obligations to improve social conditions and promote social justice.

  • Field Seminar II (3 Credits)

    This required Field seminar is taken concurrently with Fieldwork II. The purpose of this course is to provide students opportunities to integrate their professional development and direct practice skills within the context of their fieldwork experiences.

    Students will engage in extensive self-reflection and assessment in relation to their professional skills, values, knowledge, self-care, and identity. They will also explore the changing role of the socio-political climate and its impact on the provision of social services, policy development, and consumer/agency resources and practice.

    Constructs central to the field such as ethical decision-making, evidence-based practice, social justice, and self-care will also be explored. The integration and application of classroom and field will build on the social work framework across the Social Work curriculum and provide a springboard for entrance into the profession.

  • Fieldwork II (3 Credits)

    This required Fieldwork course is taken concurrently with Field Seminar I. It is designed to link Fieldwork experiences (which total 400 hours during the Foundation year and 600 hours in the Advanced Generalist year) with the social work curriculum through assignments that integrate understanding of the influence of social policy on service delivery, and concepts such as evidence-informed practice, social work values and ethics, the person-in-environment perspective, culturally-aware and evidence-informed engagement with clients, assessment processes, and interventions and strategies for the evaluation of client progress and how this client outcome information can be used two revise our practice.

Advanced Generalist Curriculum (21 credits)

The Advanced Generalist courses are designed to provide the advanced knowledge, values, ethics, and skills that will be needed for practice with people at all three systems levels (micro, macro, and mezzo).

Concurrent with Advanced Generalist courses, students are to integrate theory, research, policy, and related curricular content through experiential learning in the 600-hour Field Placement III and IV courses, required by the Council of Social Work Education.

  • Social Work Practice with Individuals, Couples, and Families Across the Lifespan (3 Credits)

    The purpose of this course is to broaden and deepen foundation-level assessment skills with diverse client systems and to link assessment findings with a critical analysis of research and practice ‘evidence.'

    Students will learn to evaluate the holistic influence of services with couples, families, and groups. The course introduces common factors that cut across theories of change and the corresponding skills to engage,assess the intra-personal realm, collaborate with clients to devise goals for intervention,promote client motivation, and to evaluate the efficacy of these processes.

    Careful attention is given to the student’s social identities as these influence power dynamics and contribute to assumptions and biases in professional practice.

  • Human Behavior in the Social Environment II: Theory to Practice (3 Credits)

    This course provides theoretical frameworks to understand and interpret intra-personal human behavior in couples, families, groups, organizations, and larger social system contexts from a social work perspective.

    Developmental theories emphasize strengths and resilience, which were introduced in the Human Behavior in the Social Environment I course, are applied to the social work helping process from engagement through termination with consideration of how client outcomes inform our professional efficacy with diverse clients across the life span.

  • Assessment and Evidence-Inform Intervention with Mental Health, Neurodiversity, and Substance Use (3 Credits)

    The purpose of this course is to enable students to engage with and critically assess diverse clients. Students will perform structured and semi-structured assessments of psychological, social, and biological contributors to mental health, neurodevelopmental, and substance use disorders across the lifespan.

    The course includes critical analyses of the limitations and benefits of the DSM-5 classification system in terms of social work values, the promotion of human rights and equitable treatment of persons with varying abilities to inform the selection of interventions.

    Students will learn theories of etiology, symptoms, evidence-informed interventions, and prognosis across the diagnostic categories most often encountered in social work practice. Students will select, use, interpret, and critique the validity and efficacy of standardized assessment instruments and protocols for their influence in the promotion of holistic client well-being.

  • Fieldwork III (3 credits)

    This required Fieldwork course is taken concurrently with one of these courses: Advanced Social Policy Analysis, Grant Writing, and Program Design; Social Work Practice with Individuals, Couples, and Families Across the Lifespan; or Human Behavior in the Social Environment II: Theory to Practice.

    The purpose of this course is to integrate the required 600-hour Fieldwork experiences in the Advanced Generalist year with the social work curriculum through assignments that integrate critical analysis of the influence of social policy on the scope of social work programs and to explore the influence of evidence-informed practice in the context of social work values and ethics.

    Students will practice culturally-aware and evidence-informed engagement with clients, assessment processes, interventions, and strategies for the evaluation of client progress and consider how service outcomes may influence their own professional development and how service delivery may be augmented to meet client needs.

  • Advanced Social Policy Analysis, Grant Writing, and Program Design (3 Credits)

    The purpose of this course is to link the Advanced Generalist Practice Fieldwork experience with exploration and analysis of the social policies, funding sources, and social programs that are intended to mitigate social inequities related to social issues including: housing, education, health care, and financial literacy.

    Using case studies and, when possible, their Fieldwork students will acquire hands-on strategies to identify social issues, locate grant-funding, learn grant-writing skills, advocacy, research, program design and how to use program evaluation findings to promote holistic client well-being

  • Fieldwork IV (3 credits)

    This required Fieldwork course is taken concurrently with one of these courses: Standards and Ethics for Socially Just Practice; Social Work Practice with Individuals, Couples, and Families Across the Lifespan; or Human Behavior in the Social Environment II: Theory to Practice.

    The purpose of this course is to provide structured, professionally supervised experiences in the 600-hour Advanced Generalist Fieldwork. Fieldwork experiences are intentionally linked with the social work curriculum through assignments that integrate critical analysis of the influence of social work priorities such as social policies, evidence-informed practice, and social work values and ethics.

    Students will practice culturally-aware and evidence-informed engagement with client systems, assessment processes, interventions and strategies for the evaluation of client progress, and using outcome data for their individual, professional development as well as implications for service delivery.

  • Standards and Ethics for Socially Just Practice (3 Credits)

    This Capstone course is framed by the organizing theoretical models of the program: person-in-environment, critical theory, and resilience theory.

    From these perspectives, students engage in project-based applications of their past and present Field experiences and hypothetical case examples to develop a personalized framework for ethical decision-making that includes consultation of the National Association of Social Work (NASW) Code of Ethics, ethical theory,values clarification, and social justice considerations.

Electives (9 credits)

Students may take three or more electives from this list, or from other master's degree programs with permission from the program director or academic advisor.

  • Skills and Resource Development to Promote Community Living for Neurodiverse Clients (3 Credits)

    Many individuals and their families across the lifespan meet challenges due to neurodevelopmental conditions that compromise their ability to live autonomously.

    This advanced elective course is a blend of direct-practice skills, such as relationship building, structured and unstructured assessment of functional abilities, and strategies to ensure access to resources that promote and support vulnerable persons to live as autonomously as possible.

  • Supervision and Program Development (3 Credits)

    This advanced generalist elective expands upon the practice, policy, research,and diversity content of the social work curriculum for their application to social service program design, funding, administrative leadership, and skills for clinical supervision.

  • Socially Just Child Welfare (3 Credits)

    This advanced generalist elective uses an empowerment-oriented approach to the holistic promotion of child well-being. Through the study of historical and current social policies, students critically assess the programs and resources children and families need to thrive in our socially and economically stratified societies.

    Students will critically analyze the role of the government in family life, and the role of social workers in governmental and private child welfare agencies. This course provides an overview of the continuum of care of child welfare practice from entry to exit from an evidence-based, culturally responsive, and multi-systemic lens.

    Through simulation and role play, students will practice evidence-based strategies for the culturally competent assessment and intervention with children, youth, and families involved with the child welfare system focusing on engaging families in assessment, service, and permanency planning.

  • Promoting Health and Resilience Across the Lifespan (3 Credits)

    This course emphasizes the opportunities for anti-oppressive research, policy and social network practice at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels afforded by resilience theory.

    This course draws upon the extensive research and practice literature to provide hands-on strategies to identify and amplify the presence and influence of protective factors to mitigate psycho-social risk factors with high-risk client populations such as homelessness, poverty family violence, child maltreatment, and medical, neurodevelopmental, or mental health problems.

    Through this integrated social science approach, students will use case material from their Fieldwork and hypothetical case studies to simulate trauma-informed,strengths-based assessment, to simulate prevention and intervention strategies, and to engage organizations to adapt policies and procedures to reflect these anti-oppressive principles.

  • Relationship Therapy for Neurodivergent Couples (3 Credits)

    This course synthesizes existing research and best practices in the identification of strengths and vulnerabilities among couples who are diverse by virtue of neurodevelopmental differences, mental health concerns,physical limitations, or other bio-psycho-social factors.

    The course focus is to develop a collaborative assessment of a couple’s needs, and to select intervention and outcomes that are guided by an understanding of the strengths and vulnerabilities that both partners bring to the relationship.

    Interventions will include the integration of relational, multi-systems,somatic, motivational interviewing and structural/strategic interventions to strengthen couples, promote safety, and enhance each person’s well-being.

  • Advanced Clinical Social Work Practice with Neurodiverse Families (3 Credits)

    This course is an advanced skill-based course that extends students' knowledge and application of social policy analysis and advocacy, with practice skills in family systems therapy.

    The course enables family therapists-in-training to assess and develop goals with the family, simulate an actual intervention, as well as evaluate and revise the intervention as needed.

    Throughout the course, students will use research and theory to assess their own—as well as their peers’—skill-building progress. This skills-based course integrates policy, practice theory, and research to reinforce hands-on strategies that promote resilience and well-being among families who are neurodivergent across the family life-cycle.