Online MSW Curriculum

Focus on Trauma. Treat the Cause.

The online MSW program at Widener University focuses on improving the lives of those in need through a strong understanding of trauma as a root cause of mental illness. The program features two tracks based on qualifying criteria.

Regular Admission: Students in the regular admission program complete 64 credit hours; 32 of which are core courses, 23 advanced concentration coursework, and the remaining 9 are achieved by choosing three elective courses.

Advanced Standing: Students in the advanced standing program complete 41 credit hours; 9 of which are core courses, 23 of which are advanced concentration courses and the remaining 9 are achieved by choosing three elective courses.

The 41-credit hour Advanced Standing option is available for applicants who have earned an undergraduate degree in social work, within the last six years, from a CSWE-accredited program. It can be completed within just two years. These applicants are eligible to apply to the Advanced Standing option, however, holding an undergraduate degree in social work does not guarantee acceptance.

*Courses with an asterisk below are the required courses for Advanced Standing students in addition to your three elective courses.

Additional Program Options

  • Hybrid Dual Degree: Master Of Social Work / Master of Education, Human Sexuality Studies (H/MSW/MEd)
    To learn more about this unique dual master’s degree click here.
  • Trauma Certificate 
    While earning your MSW, you have the option of also applying for a trauma certificate to deepen your knowledge and direct experience. The trauma certificate includes participation in a two-semester Trauma Supervision Seminar. Click here to request more information and speak with a Program Manager about which option is the best fit for you.

Core Curriculum

This course emphasizes the essential knowledge and conceptual frameworks used in social work to understand and assess human development and behavior in multiple social contexts. The focus is on a normative strengths and resilience perspective. Students are expected to become critical consumers of this knowledge, using it to inform assessment, intervention, and evaluation in their social work practice. Basic concepts of human development and behavior in context are introduced using multidimensional, multitheoretical, and multisystemic frameworks. Elements of diversity and difference such as ethnicity, age, culture, race, social class, gender, sexual orientation, spirituality, genetics, and the social environment are examined to promote the appreciation, understanding, and respect for human difference. This course also looks at how social and economic justice issues impact the development and interaction of the person-in-context. Core competencies and related practice behaviors associated with this course are developed through didactic presentations, experiential activities, class discussions, films, speakers, and online activities.

This course builds on conceptual frameworks of human development, with emphasis on the biological, psychological, and environmental influences on social and emotional disturbances. The course will consider diagnosis and assessment within the framework of culture and life cycle changes. The student will acquire a working knowledge of the DSM-5 and its uses in identifying and classifying mental disorders. Students will also be encouraged to view these disorders within the context of the individual’s culture and environment. This course provides students with the Core Competencies and Related Behaviors for conducting assessment of human psychosocial functioning to inform culturally and socially sensitive social work interventions.

This course welcomes the new MSW student to the profession of social work. It addresses both the educational needs of the students while providing a vehicle for community building to support the Center’s learning environment. Students will develop the interpersonal and communication skills necessary to communicate comfortably with clients, in classrooms, on teams, with work groups, and in client groups. The course will focus on the skills for building collegial relationships, increasing comfort with diversity, handling challenging conversations, and managing conflicts. This course will provide the Core Competencies and Related Behaviors to support field internships, beginning work with individuals and small groups, and navigating agency cultures. This course will have a rich experiential component and will utilize individual interactions between dyads, small group work, and large group work as a class, as well as provide opportunities for self-reflection. It is within the context of these dyads and small groups that students will be able to learn and practice effective communication skills, including empathic listening. In addition, students will be supported and guided in their experience and observation of group dynamics as they pass through the stages in their own small groups. Students will have the opportunity to develop insight into their own style of interaction and the roles they play within groups.

This course is the first of four in the practice sequence. It provides the student with an overview of generalist social work practice with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. The course focuses on the values, concepts, and skills necessary to conduct social work practice from a generalist perspective in the context of a social service agency or program. SW 505 – Foundation Generalist Practice is followed by SW 506 – Foundation Social Work Practice with Individuals, Families, and Small Groups. These foundation practice courses, along with the two foundation field practica (SW 552 & SW 553), provide a solid grounding in generalist social work practice and prepare the student for the advanced concentration in clinical social work practice with individuals, families, and groups. This course will provide the student with the conceptual framework and techniques of the strengths-based approach to assessing client systems and developing appropriate social work interventions. Critical thinking and experiential learning are emphasized throughout the course. Class discussions, readings, exercises, and assignments will be directed at developing a range of social work skills including: a) analyzing and resolving ethical dilemmas; b) developing and sustaining helping relationships with clients systems; c) conducting assessments of various sized client systems; d) selecting and implementing appropriate intervention strategies with individual, family, small group, organizational, and community client systems; e) working with diverse populations; and f) monitoring and evaluating social work practice interventions. The course is a prerequisite of SW 506 and SW 552.

This course is the second of four in the practice sequence. It builds upon the generalist social work practice perspective provided in SW 505 – Foundation Generalist Social Work Practice. The course prepares the student for the advanced social work practice with individuals (SW 630) and families (SW 633) and groups (SW 635) courses. This course focuses on the theoretical basis of direct social work practice with individuals, families, and small groups and on developing the student’s repertoire of direct practice skills. Students explore and develop strategies for engaging in, assessing, intervening with, and evaluating social work interventions with individual, family, and group client systems and with ethnically and culturally diverse populations. Solution-focused, cognitive-behavioral, and psychodynamic interventions are highlighted. Various service systems are also explored to give students exposure to a wide variety of practice areas. Critical thinking and experiential learning are emphasized throughout the course. This course is a prerequisite of SW 552. Prerequisite: SW 505.

This course focuses on general research methods and their application to social work. The course introduces students to the scientific method; culturally competent research; protection of human subjects; survey, experimental, quasi-experimental, and qualitative research designs; evidence-based research; measurement; sampling; questionnaire construction; and qualitative data collection methods. Specifically, the course prepares students to 1) design social work research related to needs assessments, program evaluations, and practice evaluations; 2) appreciate and understand the benefits of evidence-based practice; and 3) develop the ability to critically evaluate and consume social work research. These areas of social work research are fundamental components of social work practice with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities.

This is the first of two core courses addressing the competencies and associated practice behaviors related to social and economic justice. This course provides students with the opportunity to examine and analyze the historical, philosophical, and value base of social welfare and social welfare policy. It helps students to understand and define the concepts of social and economic justice, examine the application/manifestation of these concepts (as well as related concepts such as power, class, oppression, and poverty) in American and world history, and to develop generalist skills and core competencies necessary to analyze, influence, and change policy.

Social and Economic Justice II, the 2nd of two courses in the SEJ sequence, builds on the conceptual areas of SEJ I, but now moves the student into the domain of advocacy, policy change, and community practice. The course provides the student with the opportunity to understand community and communities, analyze community problems, formulate community level interventions, and develop advocacy skills appropriate to such tasks. Prerequisite: SW 540.

This is the foundation year, two-semester field instruction placement. The field placement provides students with the opportunity to apply the basic knowledge and skills of agency-based social work practice from a generalist perspective. The field placement also provides students with the opportunity to apply knowledge gained in the foundation core curricula to social work practice with individuals, families, small groups, organizations, and communities within an agency setting. Students will work in the field 16 hours per week while enrolled in SW 552. The field seminar is completed concurrently with the field placement. The field seminar is designed to support students in the process of integrating knowledge attained in foundational coursework and applying skills to practice in the field. Much of the focus of the seminar will be on reflection of students’ learning and development as professional social workers. Perquisites: SW 505 and SW 506. For more detailed information about the MSW Field Experience, click here.

This advanced standing bridge course is designed to provide advanced standing students with the knowledge base and skills needed for the advanced clinical curriculum courses: SW 630 Clinical Social Work Practice with Individuals, SW 633 Clinical Social Work Practice with Families, and SW 637 Field Instruction III & Seminar. It builds on the generalist social work practice perspective and focuses on the theoretical basis and skills needed to work effectively with individuals and families. Students explore the beginning, middle, and ending stages of practice and the skills needed for creative and effective use of self with individuals and families. Attention is given to ethnicity, race, gender, and sexual orientation. Students also develop knowledge of theory, including ecological, systems, individual and family life cycle, ego psychology, learning, and cognitive theories. Students are introduced to evidence-based practice and qualitative and quantitative methods of research and begin to critically analyze research to inform practice. Class discussions, experiential exercises, role plays, audio/ video recording, assigned readings, and written assignments are directed at integrating the theoretical generalist foundation and developing a range of skills.

Advanced Concentration Courses

This concentration level course is designed to build on the practice of generalist social work by refining and deepening the conceptual and technical knowledge of clinical social work practice with individuals. Students will continue to consider principles and assumptions learned in the foundation year with the goal of achieving synthesis on a more advanced level of knowledge, attitude, skill and method. The clinical processes of engagement, biopsychosocial assessment, worker-client relationship, intervention, evaluating practice effectiveness, and termination are considered with an aim toward greater precision of application. More complex theoretical material and intervention methods as well as case situations are utilized and you are encouraged to reflect on past field experience for integration of material. Throughout the semester, attention is given to issues of gender; sexual orientation; and ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity. This course is a prerequisite of SW 639 and SW 637.

Focusing on social work practice with families, this course expands systemic thinking by introducing multiple models for family work, including Psychodynamic, Bowen, Narrative, Communication, Contextual, Structural, and Solution-Focused, as well as newer models of family work such as Multidimensional Family Therapy. Using these models and their related theories, students will gain a solid foundation for assessment and intervention with families, knowledge of the family life cycle, and the impact of wider systems on a family’s structure and functioning. The definition of family will be inclusive of many different family forms. Students will examine how cultural issues such as class, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation must be considered while assessing a family’s presenting issues, unique strengths, and vulnerabilities. Students will learn to think critically about the relevance of particular concepts and interventions for each family system, including whether certain “Western” concepts apply to all families.

This advanced-level course builds upon the core competencies and associated practice behaviors addressed in the foundational social and economic justice courses. The course presents theoretical and practical materials necessary for all aspects of practice affecting the social service agency. Conceptualizing agencies as the foundation from which most services emanate, this course prepares students both to effectively work within the organizational context, including developing new programs, and to enhance organizational capacity and treat the agency as a “client” when necessary. Course topics include organizational theory and assessment, management, the budgetary process, fundraising, program development, proposal writing, technology, and program evaluation.

These courses comprise the two-semester concentration-level field placement. Students work in a supervised social work setting for three days (twenty-four hours) per week for a total of 680 hours for the year. Field Instruction III and Seminar and Field Instruction IV and Seminar provide students with the opportunity to further examine and integrate the theories and skills of agency-based clinical social work practice with individuals, families, and small groups; to develop and refine clinical assessment, intervention, and evaluation skills; and to consolidate their own identity as a professionally disciplined and self-aware professional social worker. Field Instruction III and Seminar and Field Instruction IV and Seminar build upon the generalist social work practice perspective introduced in the prerequisite courses. Prerequisites: SW 630 and SW 639. For more detailed information about the MSW Field Experience, click here.

This seminar is designed to build upon the clinical competencies and associated practice behaviors of SW 630 Clinical Social Work Practice with Individuals by helping refine and deepen conceptual and technical knowledge of the clinical process in the context of agency-based social work practice. The seminar focuses on issues related to the agency-based social work practice context, considering the dimension of time in terms of how it can be exploited to promote change (short-term treatment) and examining how principles of change are operationalized by social work practitioners applying psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, narrative, emotionally focused, and family systems theoretical orientations to various client populations within different settings. Whenever relevant, students are invited to examine how policy issues, particularly those related to managed care, affect clinical practice. As students become more familiar with alternative applications of the clinical process, they are expected to develop greater clarity about their own clinical skills, strengths, limitations, and interests. This increased professional self-awareness is intended to facilitate students’ autonomy and creative use of the self with diverse clinical populations. Throughout the semester, attention is given to issues of gender; sexual orientation; ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity; and the effects of oppression and discrimination upon clients. Through reading and written assignments, students use research knowledge to understand issues confronting them in their clinical work with clients and to examine and evaluate various intervention strategies with clients. SW 630 and SW 639 are cohort courses. Students remain together as a group for both courses. This course is a corequisite of SW 638. Prerequisite: SW 630.

This course concentrates on the etiology and treatment of traumatic symptomatology. Students explore conditions that contribute to the development of acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, dissociative disorders, and other disorders of extreme stress. Comorbid conditions, including substance abuse and self-harming behaviors, are considered. The intergenerational, socio-cultural, and societal impact of trauma is explored. A strengths-based approach is emphasized. Readings orient students to the assessment of trauma symptoms, as well as to some generally applicable treatment approaches, and to research on the psychobiology of trauma.

Elective Courses (9 credit hours)

This course prepares students to use and integrate the biographical timeline as a multipurpose tool in their clinical social work practice. The tool can be used to understand how to better support a person with challenging behaviors holistically. As a therapeutic modality, it also functions as a team builder, an empathy builder for caregivers, and a systems change tool, as well as a data source for research. While the tool is highly applicable for all client populations, students focus on applying the timeline in their work with children in care and with people who have developmental disabilities or other vulnerabilities who might be less able to advocate for themselves. Students develop their own research questions and design their approach to the timeline and analysis of the results in response to their questions. Prerequisite: SW 506.

Social Work in Prisons and Community Reintegration is a course designed to prepare social workers for working with people who are currently or formerly incarcerated. Class participants will consider: 1) ethical, professional, and personal dilemmas that may arise in this work and ways to maintain social work values while working in settings with conflicting values; 2) issues of oppression and intersectionality and their impact on certain groups' likelihood of becoming incarcerated and the social problem of mass incarceration; 3) practice issues, including identifying and critiquing evidence-based practices with people formerly or currently incarcerated and using trauma-informed and restorative justice approaches as innovative social work practices in criminal justice settings. An emphasis is also placed on social work's role in helping to reform places of incarceration and reintegration so they are more responsive to the needs of people who are currently or formerly incarcerated.

This course will focus on the dynamics of challenges families face, including the various aspects of child maltreatment, substance abuse, mental illness, trauma, domestic violence, homelessness, elder abuse, and care-giving. It will also look at environmental factors influencing families such as poverty, violent communities, racism, and oppression. Students will look at the history of social policy and its current impact on "at risk" families. Students will explore evidence-based and strengths-based treatment modalities to look at ways to help individuals and families overcome challenges and build resiliency. In addition, students will learn about vicarious traumatization and ways to effectively build resilience for themselves.

This course is intended to increase social workers’ capacities to work effectively with individuals who have intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). The course increases participants’ understanding of many of the issues relating to people who have developmental disabilities and who exhibit challenging behaviors. Students examine these issues through the lenses of positive approaches and explore person-centered planning, autism spectrum disorders, understanding the impact of trauma on individuals with IDD, and working effectively with psychiatric needs.

This course will introduce students to a range of theories about substance use disorders, provide an overview of commonly abused substances, and evaluate assessment and treatment strategies employed in work with both individuals and families. Assigned readings and class discussions will explore the special needs and concerns of specific population groups including adolescents; older adults; women; racial and ethnic minorities; and individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. The class will examine psychosocial factors affecting both the identification and intervention for individuals with substance use disorders and their families.

This course is taught in seminar style and focuses upon understanding losses and appropriate interventions for clients who endure loss across the life cycle. These losses include death, community disaster, and chronic illness. The following are addressed: perinatal loss (including SIDS), loss of a child and a child’s reaction to loss, loss of an adolescent and an adolescent’s reaction to loss (sibling, friend, parent), losses in early and middle adulthood (parental loss, spouse/partner loss, and loss of an adult child), loss in later life (including chronic illness and its effect on the individual and family), disenfranchised loss (domestic partners, gay and lesbian partners), the dying patient, end of life issues, community resources (including hospice), and support networks. Theoretical perspectives are drawn from both traditional and postmodern approaches to grief and loss. Issues of cultural diversity are addressed throughout the course.

Human sexuality is one of the basic foundations for life. From before birth, individuals are sexed, gendered, and bombarded with messages about whom they are, who they should be, and how they are expected to behave. In adult life, whether individuals choose to date, to partner, or to remain single; to have children, adopt, or create other forms of family, sexuality is one of the central and organizing components of the human experience. Human sexuality is explored using the weekend course format in three separate sections from a biopsychosocial perspective. The first of these units addresses an overview of sexuality information and functioning. The second examines psychosocial issues as they exist within sexuality. Lastly, the manifestations of human sexuality as they occur within the social work context and subsequent practice issues are investigated.

This course provides students with an opportunity (1) to think through and emotionally experience the place of spirituality in social work practice, (2) to come to an understanding of the meaning and application of spirituality in each student’s own social work practice, and (3) to explore the impact of religion and spirituality on social policy. This course is premised on the view that spirituality is a basic human need whether it is expressed in a formal institutional setting or takes a myriad of other forms. As social workers more and more encounter diverse belief systems, it is important that practitioners at all levels of practice have some understanding of how the adherence to different beliefs affects peoples’ functioning. The course addresses the knowledge and skills needed to work within the spiritual and religious contexts of the “lived” world of clients. The course explores spirituality as a core dimension of human experience and addresses the need for social workers to understand their own beliefs and biases about spirituality and religion and have regard for their own spiritual growth.

The objective of this course is to introduce master level social work students to the interdisciplinary practice of medical social work. Students will become knowledgeable of the variety of roles social workers employ within the medical community. Theories, models of care, and cross-cultural issues will be examined. Students will develop skills in engagement, assessment, intervention planning and implementation, and practice evaluation. Because the populations served in health care settings span the spectrum of severity in both the physical and behavioral health dimensions, students will develop competencies in engaging and supporting patients across a range of health conditions.

This course employs a variety of teaching strategies such as: class discussions, experiential exercises, case examples, and other activities in order to facilitate understanding of the course content and to promote skill development. This course is designed to be practice-oriented and will highlight advanced clinical practice techniques to work effectively with clients and colleagues in a variety of integrated healthcare settings.

Social work with older adults is one of the fastest growing areas of practice in the 21st century. The graying of the baby boomer generation combined with improved medical technology has led an overwhelming number of individuals into the “third age.” Despite the staggering demographic figures and future needs of the “senior boom,” there continues to be a paucity of social work students interested in practice and research with older adults. This course provides students with a comprehensive overview of the field of gerontological social work practice from a research, clinical, and biopsychosocial perspective. Students completing this course are prepared to work with older adults and their informal/formal support systems. They are also prepared to use qualitative methods for the purpose of evaluating efficacy of practice interventions and building knowledge. The content includes theories of aging; biological, physical, and social changes; psychosocial adjustments to later life; conducting a biopsychosocial/research assessment; differential assessment and diagnosis; social work interventions and evaluation of their effectiveness; use of evidence-based practice; addictive disorders; suicide prevention; groups work; spirituality; ethics, dying, bereavement, and advanced directives. Research instruction in qualitative methods and single-system design is interwoven throughout the course. The requirement of conducting a life story research project or focus group is used to emphasize the critical relationship between gerontological social work, human behavior, and research.