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Army Air Force Navy

Social Work Officer

OFFICER | Full Time

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As a member of the military, Social Work Officers deliver professional social work services in a military setting to support the morale, efficiency and mental health of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members and their families. Social Work Officers offer clinical social work services similar to community mental health and social services agencies.

As well as the full range of challenges common to Canadian society, CAF members and their families cope with additional stresses associated with frequent moves and separations. These stresses can give rise to social and family circumstances that involve complex social work interventions.

The primary responsibilities of a Social Work Officer are to:

  • Provide clinical intervention services
  • Assist in the resolution of compassionate situations
  • Consult with and advise leaders on the social circumstances encountered by personnel in their units
  • Investigate and report compassionate situations
  • Deliver preventive and rehabilitative programs in the areas of:
    • Pre- and post-deployment stress
    • Suicide prevention
    • Family violence

Work environment

Social Work Officers work in an office at a base, wing or garrison, and deploy overseas on operational missions. They may be required to collaborate with civilian social agencies to develop appropriate referral contacts and to remain abreast of current professional development and social legislation.

If you chose a career in the Regular Force, upon completion of all required training, you will be assigned to your first base. While there is some flexibility with regards to postings (relocations), accommodations can’t always be made, and therefore, you can likely expect to move at some point in your career. However, if you decide to join the Primary Reserve Force, you will do so through a specific Reserve unit. Outside of training, your chosen Reserve unit will be your workplace on a part time basis, and you will not be obligated to relocate to a different base. As part of the Primary Reserve Force, you typically work one night per week and some weekends as a minimum with possibilities of full-time employment.

Career Overview


Canadian Armed Forces Recruiting Videos




Reviewed – 29 Mar 23


CAPTAIN GRACE McRAE: I'm Captain Grace McRae from Halifax, Nova Scotia. I'm a Social Work Officer, currently posted to 14 Wing in Greenwood.


NARRATOR: Social Work Officers in the Canadian Armed Forces provide frontline clinical services to support the morale and mental health of members and their families, as well as administrative services that contribute to the operational readiness of the Forces. They’re part of the Canadian Forces Health Services Group, where they work as part of a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health nurses, addiction counsellors, clinical chaplains and medical officers to deliver care to military personnel.


CAPTAIN GRACE McRAE: We do everything from clinical services, doing frontline therapy with members, to being managers and HR supervisors. So our portfolio is really quite diverse. We also do all of the operational screening. So whenever a member is deploying or coming back from deployment, we see them and we ensure that they're in good health, psychosocially and mentally. And then as well, we do certain administrative pieces such as social work reports.


Social Work Officers offer clinical social work services similar to community mental health and social services agencies in civilian settings. 


CAPTAIN GRACE McRAE: The difference between the CAF and my life before the CAF in non-profit is definitely that I think I have a richer opportunity to intervene with people because I'm not struggling to have them fed, clothed, employed, to have access to the medications that they need, to medical care – so we can really get into their issues kind of at the ground floor instead of being kind of consumed with meeting their basic daily needs.


Social Work Officers also have the complexity of working with members who have had trauma from experiences in the military. In addition to trauma therapy, they also do general psychosocial counselling with members who are going through things that may not be as long-term, with the goal of helping the member get back to their operational capability.


CAPTAIN GRACE McRAE: Social Work Officers in the overall mental health team – oftentimes, we will be team leads or mental health managers, which is really kind of cool because when I think about my past civilian workplaces, very rarely was a social worker in charge of everybody. So it's been very cool for me to grow not only as a clinician, but also as a manager and an administrator.


NARRATOR: Most Social Work Officers begin their military career with a four-year posting at an Army base, an Air Force wing, or with the Navy on the east or west coast. They start off with six months to one year of on-the-job training. This is an opportunity to learn the inner workings of a mental health department in the Canadian Armed Forces and the role of a Social Work Officer within the organization. Officers work with other healthcare professionals and develop relationships with civilian social agencies in the area where they work.  


There’s a lot of opportunity for professional development and Social Work Officers are encouraged to continue their learning on an ongoing basis. 


CAPTAIN GRACE McRAE: When I finished Basic, I was immediately posted back to Halifax to start what we would call our OJT, or our on-the-job training. And that was a 12-month period where I was mentored by a captain social worker – I was a lieutenant at the time – and we did everything from clinical encounters, where I got to learn how we interview members and what our appointments look like, all the way to our health record system and how we take notes, what language we use, and how to kind of liaise with doctors and nurses through that. That 12-month period is kind of designed to get people feeling a bit more confident, but obviously our profession is like constant learning, so there's really no kind of end to our training, if that makes sense.


Once they’re fully trained and qualified in the occupation, Social Work Officers have the opportunity to become a Psychosocial Team Lead where they are in charge of a multidisciplinary group of clinicians delivering clinical care. Social Work Officers can also deploy on domestic and international operations.


CAPTAIN GRACE McRAE: My favourite moments aren't so much like those big institutional things where, you know, you get a cool experience or you get to go abroad. It's really like when someone’s sitting in front of me and I see them have an a-ha moment where I say something that just kind of latches on right in their brain and they're like, “Yep, I'm going to implement that. And you've really helped me.” That's like, what makes it all worth it.


Related Civilian Occupations

  • Social Worker


After enrolment, Social Work Officers attend Basic Military Officer Qualification training at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, for 12 weeks. Topics covered include general military knowledge, the principles of leadership, regulations and customs of the CAF, basic weapons handling, and first aid. Opportunities will also be provided to apply such newly acquired military skills in training exercises involving force protection, field training, navigation and leadership. A rigorous physical fitness program is also a vital part of basic training. Basic officer training is provided in English or French and successful completion is a prerequisite for further training.

Following Basic Military Officer Qualification training, official second language training will be offered to you. Training could take from two to nine months to complete depending on your ability in your second language.

Learn more about Basic Training here.

Social Work Officers must complete the Common Health Services Officer (CHSO) course which is an eight-day e-learning course available on the Defence Learning Network (DLN).  The CHSO course introduces Social Work Officers to Canadian Armed Forces policies and procedures as well as HR management of military members and civilian personnel.

Social Work Officers are posted to a base to complete 12 months of on-the-job training, where they expand and broaden clinical social work practice approaches under the supervision of a more senior Social Work Officer.

Social Work Officers may be offered the opportunity to develop specialized skills through formal courses and on-the-job training, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Training
  • Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
  • Emotional Focused Therapy for Couples

Entry plans

The minimum required education to apply for this position is a Master of Social Work degree from an accredited Canadian Social Work Program, a current unrestricted license (active status) to practice as a social worker from a provincial or territorial regulatory authority/association and a letter of 'good standing' from that authority. You will also require two years of clinical experience within the last five years. The minimum requirements for Social Work Officers are fixed and equivalencies are not accepted.

The ideal candidate will already have a Master of Social Work degree from a recognized Canadian university, are registered with the professional social work association of a Canadian province or territory, and meet the required clinical experience outlined above, the Canadian Armed Forces may place you directly into the required on-the-job training program following basic training.

Foreign education may be accepted.

Subsidized Education for Entry Level Masters (SEELM)

If you have a Bachelor of Social Work degree from a recognized Canadian university, the CAF will pay successful recruits to complete a Master of Social Work (MSW) program at a Canadian university (the program must be on campus; distance learning programs are not subsidized). They receive a full-time salary including medical and dental care, as well as vacation time with full pay in exchange for working with the CAF for a period of time. If you apply to this program, you must have proof that you have been accepted without condition in an accredited Master of Social Work (MSW) program, having a focus on clinical practice, at a Canadian University.

For further information, please contact a Canadian Forces Health Services Recruiter:

Learn more about our Paid Education programs here.