The Smith College School for Social Work started in 1918 under the name, Smith Psychiatric Training School. This school grew out of a summer program to prepare clinical social workers to address the burgeoning needs of World War I veterans suffering from shell shock. With an incoming class of 60, the School grew quickly and was recognized as a leader in clinical social work. By the 1950s, the School had expanded its focus to include social work research, social welfare, interdisciplinary collaboration, and international social work. Today, the School is recognized for its a concentrated block curriculum on community-based clinical social work with unparalleled depth and rigor. Throughout the years, SCSSW's coursework shifted alongside changing cultural, political, and economic environments, but its commitment to being a leader in clinical social work education has never wavered. Today, the Smith College School for Social Work is the premier clinical social work graduate school, with a strong commitment to anti-racism.
In 1918 the Smith Psychiatric Training School was founded, pioneering efforts in trauma work with veterans, and enabling young women to learn psychiatry in an academic climate where educating women in psychiatry was seen as too "radical". The School was first accredited by the Council on Social Work Education in 1919.
In 1930 the School held its first "Supervisor's Conference", planting itself firmly from the beginning in a commitment to maintain close working relationships with those who supervise students in their internships. That same year, the widely respected professional journal of clinical social work, Smith College Studies in Social Work, was first published. In 1939, the School offered its first multicultural course, "Culture as a Determinant of Behavior", taught by the noted social anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski from the University of London.
In 1943, the demands of World War II led the School to adjust its curriculum from 24 months to just 15 months—though the 24-month curriculum was reinstated in 1946. The Program of Advanced Study, initiated in 1948, later developed into what is today the SCSSW PhD program.
Throughout the 1950s into the 1990s, the School continued to take the lead in the social work community, expanding its program based on the shifting needs of a changing political climate.
While the School maintained its commitment to veterans, the 1950s was marked by an increasing interest in interdisciplinary collaboration; the expansion of research as an area of focus in social work education; expanded social welfare curriculum offerings; and increasing interest in international social work, including the admittance of students from abroad.
In concert with the Civil Rights Movement, SCSSW expanded its commitment to the issue of multicultural practice. Starting in the 1960s, course work on socio-cultural, economic and political environments was intensified. Courses were added on group work, clinical social work and families, and issues of sexual orientation.
In 1994, the SCSSW faculty made a public and formal commitment to work continuously toward becoming an anti-racism institution.
SCSSW School Today
Today, the School continues to be a leader in clinical social work education. In both the Masters and PhD programs, students and instructional faculty come into residence on Smith's campus for 10 weeks of coursework, for three consecutive summers. Classroom learning, meals shared in the dining hall, attendance at lectures, and student activities—on and off campus—all offer great opportunities for rich interaction between approximately 400 students and faculty. The tight-knit nature of the community is also welcoming to alumni, a significant percentage of whom participate in School event around the year.
Across the years, teaching clinical social work practice at Smith has always begun with an appreciation for the complexity of human behavior and the interplay of psychological, developmental, social, and cultural variables. Students are taught to approach clinical practice from an understanding of a range of theories within these areas and current research and with a deep appreciation for the relationship between the social worker and the client, not only in the delivery of services but as a mechanism to promote healing and growth.
Starting in 1931, the School offers a rich, active continuing education program for professionals around the country. The school offers two specialized certificate programs: Advanced Clinical Supervision and End-of-Life Care (co-sponsored with Baystate Health).