ASWB Exam: Medical Conditions

By Heidi Tobe on March 2, 2020

As a clinical social worker, you are expected to have some basic knowledge of medical conditions. It is important to be aware of medical disorders that can impact or present as psychological disorders. This comes as a surprise to some of our customers preparing for their ASWB social work exams who often see this as being outside of their scope of practice. While we should never make medical diagnoses or recommendations, we do want to make sure we know when to refer clients back to a physician for further evaluation.

Ruling Out Medical Conditions

Why is it so important to rule out underlying medical conditions before engaging in therapy? Imagine being a client who presents for therapy for depression. This client consistently shows up each week for therapy. They invest their time, money, emotional and mental energy. No matter what they do, though, their depression doesn’t get any better. After months of therapy, they go to their annual physical only to discover they have Type 2 Diabetes. They work with their doctor to manage their new diabetes diagnosis, and their depression symptoms subside.

Doctor and patient shaking hands

Best Practice with Medical Conditions

A number of disorders can present with psychological symptoms. Everything from fibromyalgia to diabetes to hypothyroidism to lyme disease can impact mental health and mood. It is best practice as social workers to refer clients to a medical doctor to rule out any underlying medical condition when new symptoms present. We should make this referral anytime a client presents with new physical, behavioral, or emotional symptoms that haven’t been checked out by a doctor. We want to rule out any underlying biological cause before beginning treatment to avoid treating a physical condition as though it is a mental health condition. 

Let’s test your knowledge on this topic with a FREE ASWB practice question:

ASWB Practice Question

A social worker meets with a 22-year-old woman who reports she is experiencing increased feelings of anxiety, agitation, and irritability. What should the social worker do NEXT?
A. Consider a diagnosis of hyperthyroidism

B. Refer the client for a psychiatric evaluation

C. Complete a biopsychosocial assessment

D. Refer the client for a medical evaluation

(scroll down for answer)















The correct answer is D, to refer the client for a medical evaluation. The client reports increased feelings of anxiety, agitation, and irritability. Before doing anything else, we want to discuss the need for a medical evaluation to rule out a possibly underlying medical reason for her condition. While we aren’t expected to know any and every medical condition, we are expected to know that a medical referral for new symptoms is best practice. A is outside of our scope of practice; it wouldn’t be our job to consider this specific medical diagnosis, but to refer her to someone who can rule out this and any other underlying biological cause for her symptoms. B is incorrect, because while at some point we may make a referral to a psychiatrist for medication, it is not what we would do FIRST. C could occur after we do D.

ASWB Masters and Clinical Exam Preparation 

How did you do with this month’s free ASWB practice question? Do you feel confident about approaching medical disorder questions on the exam? TDC offers a quick study on the most common mental disorders that present as mental health conditions. We also offer a number of practice questions showing how this topic may show up on your exam.

If you’re preparing for your masters or clinical level ASWB exams, TDC has programs that will get you ready to pass your exam with CONFIDENCE. Our comprehensive, online courses give you everything you need to be successful on the exam without overwhelming you with unnecessary information that isn’t going to show up on the test. We balance content and reasoning skills and have helped THOUSANDS of social workers successfully pass their licensure exams. The best part? We are with you until you pass. You never have to pay for an extension and you can email a coach who is a licensed clinical social worker (and has passed their exam with at least a 90%!) anytime questions come up.

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