Direct Practice with Individuals, Families, and Small Groups (Direct Practice)

Students studying outside

The Direct Practice specialization, which is available to students at all program sites (i.e., Pitt-Main, Pitt-Johnstown, and Pitt-Bradford), prepares MSW students for advanced social work practice with individuals, families, and small groups. Students are equipped with the specialized knowledge and skills needed to deliver effective evidence-informed direct practice interventions that embody the values of the social work profession. They become adept at engaging, assessing, intervening, and evaluating practice with individuals, families, and small groups, understanding the importance of identifying clients’ strengths as well as needs. Concurrently, they develop their ability to think critically.

Through their course and practicum placement experiences, Direct Practice students become self-reflective practitioners who display cultural humility in their interactions with diverse client populations. They are prepared to advocate for clients’ human rights and for social, economic, and environmental justice in the U.S. and globally. The Direct Practice specialization prepares MSW graduates for careers in hospitals; mental health, behavioral health, and counseling agencies; child- and family-serving organizations; child welfare; case management programs; senior services; school social work programs; and integrated healthcare settings, among others.

Direct Practice Specialization Curriculum

After having fulfilled generalist curriculum requirements, MSW students pursuing the Direct Practice specialization must complete:

  • Two required direct practice skill courses (SWINT 2082 and either SWINT 2031 or SWINT 2032 or SWINT 2033)
  • A second-level Human Behavior course (SWBEH 2062 or SWBEH 2065 or SWBEH 2066 or SWBEH 2077)
  • A second-level Social Welfare course (SWWEL 2039 or SWWEL 2056 or SWWEL 2057 or SWWEL 2059)
  • A second-level Research course (SWRES 2033 or SWRES 2045 or SWRES 2047 or SWRES 2051)
  • Two direct practice skill elective courses from a menu of possible courses
  • Two elective courses (i.e., additional Direct Practice skill elective courses; additional second-level Human Behavior, Social Welfare, or Research courses; General Elective courses offered by the MSW Program; graduate-level courses offered elsewhere in the University).*
  • 12 credits of Direct Practice specialization field education (SWINT 2099)

*Permission may be needed to take certain courses offered by the MSW Program or by other schools/departments. Students should talk with their academic advisor about their registration options and whether permission may be required to take specific courses.


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Although not required, students can elect to complete one of five Direct Practice certificates, or a MA certificate offered through Pitt’s Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies program.*

Certificate programs are available to direct practice students:

*These certificate programs are not available at all program options. Please visit the MSW Program at Pitt-Johnstown and the MSW Program at Pitt-Bradford for information about certificates available at these campuses.

Dual, Joint and Cooperative Degree Programs

Direct Practice students at the Pitt-Main campus have the option of completing one of the following dual/joint/cooperative degree programs:

  • Master of Social Work/Juris Doctorate (Not accepting applications for the 2023-2024 academic year. Please check back for updates.)

Interprofessional Learning Opportunities

Social workers rarely are employed in settings where social work ethics and values are the only guiding framework for practice.  They almost always work in settings where there are many disciplines, such as hospitals, schools, community behavioral health providers, child welfare providers, or general social service providers.  Direct Practice students will have the opportunity through classroom assignments, practicum experiences, and additional opportunities to learn skills in interprofessional roles, communication, teamwork, and ethics. 

Fellowship Opportunities

Direct practice students at the Pitt-Main campus may also apply to participate in fellowship opportunities within the School of Social Work, as well as some outside it.  Fellowship opportunities typically required additional commitment of time and energy.  They offer the ability to add depth of study and skill development with a population or setting.  They often offer additional professional networking opportunities and stipends.  

Want more information about fellowships? 

For More Information

For additional information about the Direct Practice specialization, please contact:

Professor Elizabeth Mulvaney
Direct Practice Chair

Interested in learning how to apply for admission to the MSW Program?