Boston University School of Social Work

Online MSW Degree

Curriculum and Course Descriptions

The curriculum at Boston University School of Social Work emphasizes content on diversity, ethics, populations-at-risk, and social and economic justice, which is integrated throughout our foundation and advanced msw courses. 

This online part-time MSW program offers two majors, Clinical and Macro Social Work Practice. Students enroll in required and elective social work courses offered online, complete one or two field internships (depending upon track) within or near their geographic area.

Course Descriptions (courses follow the sequential format outlined below):

WP 700 Social Welfare Policy I (3 credits)
This first foundational course examines the conceptions, scope, history and philosophies of social welfare and the role of social work in development of social policy. 

WP 701 Social Welfare Policy II (3 credits)
Urban poverty is the primary focus of the second Social Welfare Policy course. Students will use a social problem/policy model to explore the causes and consequences of urban poverty and apply the same model to areas of personal interest. 

HB 720 Human Behavior in the Social Environment (3 credits)
The goal of this course is to help students develop a culturally competent framework for analyzing human behavior. This framework will be used as the foundation to create empathic, empowering relationships with individuals, families and groups.

HB 735 Racial Justice & Cultural Intersectionality of Oppression (3 credits)
This course examines racism as a dynamic force influencing social work and focuses on the social, psychological and institutional causes and implications of racism.

SR 743 Introduction to Social Work Research I (3 credits)
The ability to engage in both quantitative and qualitative research is the focus of this introductory course. Research will be applied to inform and evaluate students’ own social work practice.


SR 744 Social Work Research II (3 credits)
Expanding on learned research techniques, students in this course will generate their own research hypothesis and formulate and carry out an analytic strategy to effectively answer the question.

CP 759 Introduction to Clinical Social Work Practice (3 credits)
This course explores the principles and methods for assessment and intervention with individuals, groups and families and is the foundational course for clinical social work practice.

MP 759 Communities and Organizations (3 credits)
Focusing on macro social work, the primary goal of this course is to prepare students for community and agency analysis and to effect change in those settings. The opportunities and limits in the role of change agent are also explored.

CP 770 Clinical Practice with Individuals (2 credits)
In this course, students will assess individual client cases and develop intervention plans using three therapeutic approaches: cognitive, behavioral and psychodynamic. Cases witnessed during field internships are also submitted for analysis and discussion.

CP 771 Clinical Practice with Groups (2 credits)
Group work methods in various clinical and community settings is the focus of this course. Students will learn to incorporate race, culture, gender, class, and social and environmental stressors into decisions regarding group composition, problem solving and successful termination.

CP 772 Clinical Practice with Families (2 credits)
The unique roles, rules and life cycles of family groups is explored in this course as students learn to help motivate families to change by facilitating communication shifts and experimenting with new behavior.

HB 751 Human Neuropsychology (3 credits)
Students develop foundational knowledge in the structure and function of the nervous system with special emphasis on processes underlying common neuropsychological disorders. The course is designed to make basic neuroscience accessible and interesting for students with a minimum of basic science background. We cover basic neurophysiology, neuroanatomy, neurochemistry and nervous system development in the context of neuropsychological disorders to provide a clinical context for material that might otherwise seem overwhelming.

CP 795 Cognitive and Behavioral Treatment (3 credits)
Students learn the theoretical frameworks underlying cognitive and behavioral treatment for adults and children including operant procedures for use with dysfunctional behavior in children. Students learn skills-training, exposure procedures, and cognitive therapy models for several disorders. The course addresses client/therapist issues and the use of behavioral methods in group settings. Students conduct a behavioral analysis and single case study of a current case or problem situation.

CP 809 Alcoholism and Drug Abuse: Identification and Early Intervention (3 credits)
Students learn methods for identification, diagnosis, intervention, and referral of substance-abusing clients and clients with co-occurring mental health problems in a range of settings. The course helps students work with clients who are unaware of their problem or not ready to address it, as well as clients in treatment and those in relapse. Students take drinking/drug histories, assess clients’ stage of readiness for change, estimate problem severity, and negotiate treatment goals. Attention is paid to family issues, relapse prevention, identification and use of evidence-based treatments, and an integrated approach to treatment including use of 12-Step Programs. Students present cases from the field.

HB 723 Adult Psychopathology (3 credits)
This course is to provide students with a framework for understanding human behavior when challenges to healthy adult functioning overwhelm coping mechanisms and resources. A biopsychosocial model of psychopathology is emphasized as we study some of the disorders classified in the DSM-5, including anxiety disorders, mood disorders, psychotic disorders, PTSD, dissociative disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse/addictions. Complex factors in the etiology of various disorders are considered, including genetic, neurochemical, biological, developmental, familial, sociocultural, and political variables that affect the occurrence, presentation, course, and treatment of a problem. While learning the perspective and language of the phenomenological approach outlined in the DSM-5, we also highlight weaknesses and blind spots in the traditional approach to diagnoses. In particular, we explore the impact of oppression and bias on the naming and treatment of mental disorders, including the influences of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, disability, religion, and ethnicity on the diagnostic process. Students learn to consider the DSM-5 classification system as a social construction that reveals as much about the society and its views of human behavior as it does about the clients with whom social workers have contact. While this course is not designed to focus on treatment, students have the opportunity to consider how diagnoses inform treatment and review current research on both biological and psychosocial treatments for different disorders.

CP 785 Family Therapy (3 credits)
This advanced practice course builds on CP 772 and enhances the systemic paradigm shift by providing a broad overview of major family therapy approaches and of contemporary issues in and research on family therapy. Students then concentrate on a few approaches and populations to facilitate developing family-centered therapeutic skills for assessment and intervention. The usefulness of utilizing a systems perspective to address issues in an urban context of social justice, at risk-populations and the effects of oppression will be embedded throughout the specific topics addressed in this course. Attention also will be given to diverse client systems and students are encouraged to bring up families they are working with for class discussion. Students observe and study videotapes of family therapists to practice assessment skills, develop an understanding of evidence-based clinical interventions and build proficiency in helping families with communication, organization and expression of feelings. They also explore and evaluate how the different models fit their own personal style. Class participation, including mini-exercises, role-plays, and discussion, will play a large role in augmenting reading assignments, lectures, and tapes.

WP 705 Mental Health and Social Policy (3 credits)
This course provides an understanding of mental health policy and service delivery in the United States and of the impact of mental health policies on social work practice. It reviews multiple perspectives on mental health and mental illness and the history of social policies influencing mental health care. The class examines current trends in service delivery and financing (such as managed care and health insurance reform) and explores legal and ethical issues in the provision of mental health care. Models of family and consumer advocacy and empowerment are considered.

ET 753 Social Work Ethics (3 credits)
This required seminar is intended to inspire the moral imagination of social work students, and prepare them for competent and compassionate ethical practice as professionals. Social Work Ethics, examines the issues of social work professionalism, the process of becoming a social work professional, the tensions inherent in the goals of social work, and the ways these interrelate to produce conflicts of values and ethics in social work practice. The course focuses on acquiring and practicing the skills of ethical decision-making, including values clarification, application of ethical theory, utilization of codes of ethics, and models of ethical analysis. Both clinical and macro aspects of social work are explored, with an emphasis on the contemporary challenges of practice in multicultural and urban settings. Issues of self-care, impairment, licensure and malpractice, whistle-blowing and other professional challenges are explored. This is an integrative "capstone" course taken towards the end of the program.

FE Field Education 818-823 (variable credit each for a total of 12-14 credits)
Field education at Boston University School of Social Work is a dynamic and integral part of students’ experience in which they learn through hands-on practice with individuals, families, groups, and communities.

FE 825 Field Education Capstone Project (2 credits, required only for students within the Human Service Experience track)
This two-credit project for those students doing the 1,000 hour field internship will be developed collaboratively by the student, field instructor and faculty advisor and will focus on a practice area or issue related to the internship experience. It is broadly defined as a creative opportunity for the student to deepen practice knowledge and skills through research, program development, new services for clients, grant-writing, scholarly writing, or involvement in a special project that goes beyond but builds upon the internship assignments. E-portfolios will be used to showcase each student’s project and competence mastery.

IS 100 Integrative Seminar (0 credits)
The seminars focus on professional development and the role of the social work intern in the agency.  This seminar, which convenes once each semester, is a required seminar scheduled by the instructor.

To learn more about the Boston University online Master of Social Work online courses, please request more information or call 877-308-9945 to speak with an admissions representative right away.

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