Clinical social work in Aotearoa New Zealand: Origins, practice, and future implications


  • Joanna Appleby University of Auckland
  • Barbara Staniforth University of Auckland
  • Caroline Flanagan Registered social worker
  • Clarke Millar Registered social worker



Clinical social work, mental health, counselling, scope of practice


INTRODUCTION: Clinical social work is practised with individuals, groups and families in areas concerned with mental health and counselling for people’s wellbeing. As a field of practice, it has been insufficiently researched and often not understood in Aotearoa New Zealand. This article provides an overview of clinical social work in Aotearoa New Zealand.

APPROACH: This is a theoretical article that discusses the development of social work, and clinical social work, in this country; attention is paid to professionalisation debates and registration. There is an overview of the social work training landscape and post-qualifying mental health specialisation options, with a brief discussion about the New Entry to Specialist Practice model for social workers. Theoretical underpinnings of clinical social work interventions are canvassed, including systemic models, recovery approaches, strengths-based models, indigenous models, narrative therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and dialectical behaviour therapy. Four vignettes of clinical social work are presented, before a discussion about the future implications for clinical social work in Aotearoa New Zealand.

CONCLUSION: Clinical social workers have a range of knowledge and skills to work with people in mental distress. A challenge is issued to clinical social workers to continue to uphold social work values within multidisciplinary mental health services. The development of a clinical scope of practice in the context of recent mandatory registration for social workers is recommended.


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How to Cite

Appleby, J., Staniforth, B., Flanagan, C., & Millar, C. (2020). Clinical social work in Aotearoa New Zealand: Origins, practice, and future implications. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 32(4), 103–115.



Original Articles II