Are you interested in working from a family systems perspective with clients in a variety of direct-service, private-practice and family-policy settings? A master’s degree in social work with a specialization in Family Systems Practice prepares you for a career in family systems and family therapy.

Family Systems techniques can be applied to working with individuals, couples, families, organizations, constituencies and communities. Training will help you evaluate social systems for bias and cultural responsiveness in a wide variety of settings, including mental health and family services agencies, child welfare, legal systems, schools, treatment centers, private practice and community social service agencies. As you develop an awareness of the systems and assessments that create power imbalances and oppression, you’ll reflect on your personal bias and positionality, cultural bias, assumptions, values and affective reactions that may influence your relationship with families.

The Family Systems Practice Pathway includes focus areas such as:

  • Clinical Focus: Prepare to work as a therapist, case manager, juvenile case worker, adoption social worker or parenting coach, for example.
  • Health & Wellness focus: Prepare to apply your knowledge of family systems as a wellness or behavioral health coach, medical social worker or case manager, for example.
  • Public Impact Focus: Prepare for a career as a policy analyst, program manager, research associate, public educator or community organizer, for example.
two people in front of a laptop

Your Career Options

A specialization in Family Systems Practice offers employment opportunities in a wide variety of fields, including clinical, administrative and academic settings. Family therapy is a field that’s projected to grow by nearly 20 percent in less than a decade. Your social work career could include:

  • Providing individual psychotherapy and couples, family and group therapy
  • Diagnosing and treating mental and emotional disorders
  • Developing and leading community programs 
  • Developing culturally responsive social work practice skills with families
  • Providing behavioral health and recovery-based services in hospitals and medical centers
  • Providing family services in schools, communities, family court, home-based and military settings
  • Working as family policy advocate for regional, national and global social policy change

Because the U.S. government recognizes family therapists as qualified mental health providers, family therapists are eligible to participate in a number of federal compensation and grant programs.

Featured Courses

  • Family Systems Theories | SOWK 4320

    This course introduces systems theory as it is applied to family contexts, which may include traditional therapeutic settings, home-based practices, parenting approaches, family religious/spiritual strength and conflict, and transgenerational family processes. Emphasis is given to the integration of theory, practice and skill development. You will also explore family organization and development and family subsystems as they apply to assessment, case conceptualization and intervention with clients, individuals, couples, families, organizations, constituencies and communities. This course analyzes intersecting issues of power, privilege, and oppression and will require you to examine your own personal characteristics, preferences, experiences, biases, predispositions and affective reactions that influence the professional relationship.

  • Assessment of Mental Health Across the Lifespan | SOWK 4338

    This course focuses on the assessment of psychological, social and biological contributors to mental health disorders in children, youth, adults and older adults. You’ll examine the strengths and weaknesses of the DSM-5 classification system in the context of social work values and ethics and learn about symptoms, theories of etiology, treatment interventions and prognosis within each diagnostic category. You will also learn about assessment tools in the context of gender identity and expression, ethnicity, cultural diversity, sexual orientation and historically oppressed and/or disadvantaged populations.

  • Advanced Skills for Working with Military Families | SOWK 4521

    The course is designed to give students an understanding of the issues military families face and how to apply that understanding to clinical interventions with military families. It also investigates individual service member concerns, spousal/partner relationships and family dynamics surrounding deployment, active duty, and returning home permanently or between deployments.

  • Planning & Program Development | SOWK 4535

    This course will prepare you to engage in strategic planning and program development roles and practice within a social work community, organizational or policy practice setting. You will gain knowledge in the principles of planning, social enterprise, the engagement of stakeholders in planning processes, community collaboration and the elements of designing and implementing programs. You’ll put this knowledge into practice by developing a comprehensive program proposal, applying strategic thinking, planning and critically evaluating research-informed practice and practice-informed research.

  • Interpersonal Counseling Approaches | SOWK 4735

    This course uses the interpersonal models of psychotherapy and neurobiology to examine traditional and contemporary psychotherapy theories and techniques. Interpersonal interventions are grounded within the values, ethics and standards of practice for clinical social work.

  • Family Policies & Services | SOWK 4630

    This course identifies challenges contemporary American families experience and presents strategies for developing policies and services to meet these challenges. You will explore specific policies and services that most affect families as well as broader questions concerning power and its distribution, allocation of resources and the role of government in promoting individual and family well-being.

The focus of social justice within the curriculum, paired with the professors’ approaches, helped hone my interventions with family systems, allowing me to be a change agent with families.

Adam Tannenbaum, MSW ’15, Clinical Supervisor and Program Manager, Adolescent Substance Abuse Program, Denver Family Therapy Center Read More
Adam Tannenbaum

Learn more about the Family Systems Practice Pathway.

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Featured Faculty

Stephen von Merz

Stephen von Merz

Clinical Professor; Adjunct & Curriculum Coord

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Jennifer Bellamy

Jenn Lee Bellamy

Professor; Vice Provost, Faculty Affairs

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Debora Ortega

Deb Marie Ortega

Professor and Director, University of Denver Latino Center for Community Engagement and Scholarship

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Explore some of our field education locations with a focus on Family Systems

  • Brent's Place

    Brent's Place is a long-term home away from home for children and families with cancer or other life-threatening illnesses while they receive treatment at local hospitals.

    In addition to safe and clean housing, they also provide a variety of uniquely tailored programs and services for the entire family designed to help in the healing process.

  • Denver Family Therapy Center

    The Denver Family Therapy Center hosts the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program—an intensive outpatient substance-use program for adolescents. The center takes a systemic family systems therapy approach to treating adolescents who are experiencing issues related to substance use. Interns gain experience in family, individual and group therapy, as well as substance-use treatment. Interns also learn and participate in administrative duties, including billing, managed care and marketing.

  • Warren Village

    Warren Village is a transitional housing program designed to promote personal and economic self-sufficiency for low-income, single-parent families. It integrates affordable housing, supportive family services, life-skills classes, college-to-career development, housing and financial coaching, and onsite child care. Interns participate in case management and family advocacy, conduct biopsychosocial assessment interviews, gain knowledge about community resources and lead life-skills classes.

  • Denver Indian Family Resource Center

    The Denver Indian Family Resource Center strengthens vulnerable American Indian and Alaska Native children and families through collaborative and culturally responsive services. Interns work with families with histories of trauma exposure.

  • Jefferson County Head Start

    Head Start is a no-cost, comprehensive, child-focused and family-centered preschool program for children ages 3–5. It adheres to trauma-informed practices and provides a range of individualized services in the areas of education, early childhood development, medical, dental, mental health, nutrition, family support and parent education. Interns provide mental health services to children in Head Start and consult with parents and teachers to support the social-emotional development of children.

Craig Hall building

Denver Campus Info Sessions

We offer 1-hour, virtual and 3-hour, in-person information sessions for our Denver Campus MSW programs. During these sessions, we will discuss the MSW program, admissions process and financial aid options. There will also be a Q&A where you can chat with current students about their experience at GSSW.

The in-person information sessions include a tour of GSSW and the surrounding University of Denver campus. After the tour, prospective students and guests will receive tickets for a complimentary lunch at DU's Community Commons.


Application Information

Upcoming Final Application Deadline: Fall 2024 Denver Campus Advanced-Standing & Denver Campus MSW Programs