Coping with trauma, balancing mental health needs or helping communities through feelings of isolation and loneliness are all ways a mental health practitioner can affect the day-to-day lives of the people they serve. A master’s degree in social work with a specialization in Mental Health will prepare you to work as a behavioral health clinician, psychiatric social worker or health policy advocate. 

You will learn about clinical interventions, advanced theory and research related to mental health, substance use and trauma. You also will learn about mental health assessment from a culturally responsive framework that considers practitioner and systemic bias and bigotry when developing and assigning diagnoses. You will be encouraged to critically evaluate the cultural relativity of stigma, and cultural contributions to mental well-being, such as poverty, discrimination and crime. Core topics include the assessment of mental health, substance use and suicide risk; and mental health and substance use intervention policy. You will practice clinical intervention and skills from a wide array of theoretical approaches such as solution-focused, trauma-informed and strengths/empowerment. You’ll graduate with the foundational knowledge required to begin your career as a clinical social worker. 

The Mental Health Pathway includes focus areas such as: 

  • Trauma-Informed Focus: Prepare to address trauma as a case manager for people experiencing homelessness or interpersonal violence, a clinical social worker in a hospital or medical setting, a mental or behavioral health therapist at the VA medical center, or a counselor at a community mental health center, for example.
  • Policy Focus:  Prepare for a career working within organizations or government as a mental health policy analyst, grants manager national policy director, for example.
  • Substance Use and Addictions Focus: Prepare to work as a counselor/therapist, certified addiction counselor or substance abuse prevention specialist, for example. 
student in class

Your Career Options

With an MSW specialization in Mental Health, your social work career could include:

  • Conducting clinical assessments and diagnosing mental health and substance use disorders
  • Assessing suicide risk and using interventions for people at risk for suicide
  • Providing counseling, psychotherapy and other clinical social work services
  • Providing trauma-informed mental health care
  • Analyzing existing policies and developing new policies relevant to people with trauma, substance use and other mental health challenges

Featured Courses

  • Intersections of Mental Health, Substance Use & Trauma | SOWK 4345

    This course covers conceptualization, dynamics of and interventions in mental health, substance use and trauma. It examines the independent and intersecting theory bases of mental health, trauma and substance use approaches. Students will explore recent evidence about individual and environmental risks associated with these conditions and evidence about specific therapeutic interventions and the importance of common relational factors. You’ll be introduced to clinical frameworks and interventions such as harm reduction, motivational interviewing, self-determination theory and the transtheoretical model of changes and to promising integrative approaches to respond to client conditions.

  • Suicide Assessment and Interventions | SOWK 4784

    This course builds students' competencies in assessing suicide risk, planning for safety and providing counseling to individuals who are thinking about suicide or have made a suicide attempt. This class examines theories of suicide causation, methods of suicide risk assessment and models of techniques for intervention. Students will learn practices for eliciting sensitive information about troubling thoughts, assessing and documenting a client's level of suicide risk and using cognitive-behavioral and other methods to help reduce suicide risk.

  • Research Dissemination & Public Impact | SOWK 4990

    This course examines strategies for translating research for non-academic audiences. Topics include identifying the best approaches based on audience and goal of dissemination, ethical issues in translating complex research findings, and issues in working with media. A central value of dissemination for public impact is bridging the academy and communities most impacted by the research with particular attention to communities experiencing marginalization.

  • Solution Focused Brief Therapy | SOWK 4700

    This course explores solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) and its application in a variety of settings and populations. Focusing on strategies for assessment, intervention, evaluation and termination, the course applies solution-focused therapy to specific client systems, drawing on knowledge of appropriate techniques, sociocultural factors and types of problems presented. SFBT is an elective course in the Mental Health and Trauma Concentration and the Health Equity & Wellness Concentration.

  • Mental Health and Substance Use Policies | SOWK 4640

    This course provides a comprehensive understanding of policies related to mental health and/or substance use, their historical antecedents and the socio-political forces that influence their development. This course also introduces students to emerging controversies concerning these policies.

  • 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.

An education that emphasized both micro and macro approaches supported me in enhancing my clinical skills while teaching me how to apply them in community, interpersonal and leadership capacities. This gave me a strong foundation to build upon as I stepped into program development and clinical leadership positions.

Kristin Canan, MSW ’14, National Clinical Outreach Director, Recovery Campus Read More

Learn more about the Mental Health Pathway.

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Featured Faculty

Stacey Freedenthal

Stacey Freedenthal

Associate Professor

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Anthony Fulginiti

Anthony Lawrence Rocco Fulginiti

Associate Professor

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Johnny Kim

Johnny Kim


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Autumn Asher

Autumn Asher BlackDeer

Assistant Professor

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Miriam Valdovinos

Miriam Georgina Valdovinos

Assistant Professor

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Explore some of our field education locations with a focus on Mental Health

  • Pennock Center for Counseling

    The nonprofit Pennock Center for Counseling provides accessible, affordable professional counseling to Brighton and surrounding communities. It offers counseling to individuals, couples, children, adolescents and families with such problems as depression, marriage/relationship issues, anxiety and PTSD/trauma. Interns provide individual, couple, family or group psychotherapy to all populations.

  • University of Colorado Hospital, Outpatient Psychiatry Clinic

    The Outpatient Psychiatry Clinic is part of the University of Colorado Hospital Behavioral Health Service Line. The clinic instills and restores hope through integrated, recovery-oriented, evidence-based behavioral health care, learning and discovery. Clinical interns assess and treat patients with moderate to severe mental illness, which often is accompanied by severe psychosocial stressors.

  • Maria Droste Counseling Center

    The Maria Droste Counseling Center bridges the gap in available psychotherapy and counseling services for underserved populations in the Denver area. The center offers therapy for adults, children, teens, couples and families in Korean, Polish, Russian, Spanish and English. Spanish-speaking interns provide counseling to children and their families in a school-based setting.

  • Mount St. Vincent Home

    Mount Saint Vincent Home partners with families and children to strengthen their ability to participate—emotionally and socially—in their community. It offers a wide variety of therapies, including animal-assisted therapy. Interns learn how to effectively help children recover from trauma, mental health issues and social, emotional and behavioral issues.

Recent Stories

Preventing Youth Suicide

Associate Professor Anthony Fulginiti uses social network and machine learning approaches to study suicidal behavior among youth experiencing homelessness.

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Cover of "Loving Someone with Suicidal Thoughts" by Stacey Freedenthal
Loving Someone with Suicidal Thoughts

A new book by Prof. Stacey Freedenthal helps people to talk to their loved ones about suicide.

Read More

Application Information

Upcoming Final Application Deadline: Summer 2024 Denver Campus Advanced-Standing MSW Program

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.