Clinically trained social workers are the nation’s largest group of mental health service providers. Social work is considered one of the five core mental health professions by federal law and National Institutes of Health. With more than 200,000 in the field, there are more clinical social workers than psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychiatric nurses combined.
Who Are Social Workers?
Social workers are highly trained professionals working to improve the quality of life and well-being of others through direct practice, crisis intervention, research, community organizing, policy change, advocacy, and educational programs. Social workers are dedicated to the pursuit of social justice and strive to help those affected by poverty, disabilities, illnesses, divorce, unemployment, and other personal problems and social disadvantages.
Being a social worker requires extensive knowledge of human behavior and development, as well as social, cultural, and economic institutions and the ways in which they interact. Most social workers will hold at least a bachelor’s degree in social work or related field, though many (especially clinicians) will hold a master’s degree and valid license to practice.
A good social worker will often possess a high degree of compassion and empathy, a passion for helping others, strong interpersonal and problem-solving skills, and good listening and organizational skills.
What Do Social Workers Do?
Social workers fight for social justice, equality, and the overall well-being of people in need. Social workers are responsible for many of the liberties we have today. These include:
- Civil rights for all citizens regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, faith, etc.
- Medicaid and Medicare programs that provide disadvantaged groups access to health care
- Child abuse and neglect prevention programs
- Unemployment insurance, disability pay, worker’s compensation, and social security
- Humane treatment for those with mental health conditions and developmental issues
Clinical social workers diagnose and treat mental health conditions as well. They provide individual, family, and couples therapy, and they assist with depression, anxiety, family problems, and other mental health or behavioral issues. They may work in private practice or at a mental health or therapeutic facility. Social workers host support groups, create treatment plans, and facilitate interventions when necessary.
Some common duties of a social worker include:
- Identifying and reaching out to those in need.
- Assessing people’s needs and implementing a plan of action.
- Helping people adjust to major life changes.
- Responding to crisis situations.
- Connecting people with important resources and support.
- Evaluating social services and support programs.
- Providing advocacy for people when needed.
- Following up with people to ensure circumstances are improving.
Where Do Social Workers Work?
There are several common areas of focus in the social work industry:
- Alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs
- Children, adolescents, and young adults
- Child welfare
- Physical health
- Mental health
- Private practice
- School social work
- Social and economic justice and peace
- Social work and the courts
A good social worker will often possess a high degree of compassion and empathy, a passion for helping others, strong interpersonal and problem-solving skills, as well as good listening and organizational skills.Social work is unique in the way it can be found in most aspects of community life. Social workers are employed in schools, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, hospices and nursing homes, private practices, government institutions, correctional facilities, law offices, military organizations, public welfare agencies, nonprofit organizations, and some private businesses and corporations.
Even when social workers are employed in office, they may spend time traveling to visit with people in need. School social workers may also travel from school to school or hospital social workers from hospital to hospital.
Why Social Work Is in Demand
According to the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics, overall employment of social workers is expected to grow at a rate of 19% between 2012 and 2022. The demand for health care social workers is expected to grow by as much as 27% during this same time period—a rate much higher than the average growth rate for all occupations. One reason for the increase in demand is due to the aging of the baby boomers, who will soon need long-term care and assistance.
Social workers in the mental health and substance abuse fields will also be in high demand, with a 23% increase in employment expected by 2022. More people are expected to seek mental health treatment, and people who have a substance addiction are increasingly sent to treatment programs rather than jails or prisons.
How to Become a Social Worker
Those interested in entering the social work profession should first prepare for admission to the program of their choice by gaining valuable volunteer experience and obtaining professional references in the field.
A bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for an entry-level social work position, but most employers prefer a graduate degree. A master’s level education in social work is a requirement for clinical licensure in most states.
An undergraduate degree in social work is not necessary to gain admittance to a master’s program; virtually any bachelor’s degrees will suffice. Upon graduation, a few years of supervised work is necessary to gain licensure.
When to Reach Out to a Social Worker
- You’re seeking therapy or treatment for depression, anxiety, or another mental health condition.
- You’ve recently undergone a major life change (divorce, death of a loved one, etc.) and need support.
- You have witnessed child abuse or neglect.
- You need geriatric assistance for an elderly family member.
- You are coping with a drug or alcohol addiction.
- You are finding it difficult to cover the costs of basic needs (food, shelter, water, or others).
- You or a loved one is battling a major illness.
- You have recently become unemployed or disabled.
- Your child is experiencing behavior problems at school.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Social Workers. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm
- National Association of Social Workers. (NASW). Social Work Profession. Retrieved from https://www.socialworkers.org/pressroom/features/general/profession.asp
- National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Social Work History. Retrieved from http://socialworkers.org/pressroom/features/general/history.asp
- National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Who are Social Workers? We Help. Retrieved from http://www.naswdc.org/pressroom/2011/HSH-FactSheet2011.pdf
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