Social workers are genuinely unsung hero’s in our society that works at the state, federal, and government levels. They work in several areas helping in situations from protective child services to helping clients with terminal illnesses. They advocate awareness on many issues, like social reforms, minimum wage, equal rights, and other areas. If you want to help people, communities, and families function in a healthy environment, this may be the job for you.
Watch a video to learn what a social worker does.
How to Become a Social Worker
Social workers are required to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in sociology or psychology. The bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) will get you into entry-level administration positions. You can use a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as social science, public policy, or psychology, to land a position as a social worker as well. A bachelor’s degree in social work helps you get mental health assistant or caseworker positions. The program educates you about diverse populations, social welfare policy, human behavior, and ethics in social work and will require you to finish supervised fieldwork or an internship.
Many social workers however, continue their education to earn a Master’s degree. You can go from a Bachelor’s degree to a Master’s degree in one year in some programs. Master’s degree courses often offer leadership and managerial skills that are not included in undergraduate programs.
Clinical social workers must have a Master’s degree in social work (MSW) and take two years to complete with programs focusing on management skills and developing clinical assessments. You will need a supervised practicum or an internship. They also include an internship in a social work field under the supervision of a licensed professional. Many states also require social workers to get licensed or certified to practice. High school students interested in this career can take sociology, economics, and government. They can also take geography and culture and English and political science.
There are also clinical social workers and there are additional steps necessary to take. First, every state requires clinical social workers to be licensed and many states require licensure or certification for non-clinical social workers. Clinical social workers need a Master’s degree in social work and a minimum of two years of supervised clinical experience after graduation. After graduation, you must pass the clinical exam to be licensed. You can contact the Association of Social Workers Boards for information on regulatory licensure boards in your state. You can also find additional information at the National Association of Social Workers.
No matter the type of social worker you become, there are certain skills all social workers must possess. Communication skills are vital and you must listen and understand the clients’ problems to help them. You need to problem solve and give practical and creative solutions to your clients. Your clients can also get stressed in a difficult situations, so you need patience, compassion, and empathy. Interpersonal skills are necessary to work with different people and develop good relationships with clients and colleagues. Organizational skills are also essential to managing multiple clients and recording documentation.
Interview with a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
Social Worker: Haley N, LCSW
Online Therapist & Clinical Director
How did you become a therapist?
I became a therapist by attending graduate school at Columbia University in social work. After grad school, I went on to Yale to work on the clinical faculty of the Yale Child Study Center where I received my post-masters clinical training and passed my clinical licensure exam. After being a therapist in clinics for several years, I decided to open up an online private practice and now I work with an amazing company called ThriveTalk.com.
What do you like about being a therapist?
I get to help people make positive changes in their lives every day. It’s incredibly rewarding to have the training and skillset to sit with people during some of their darkest moments in life. I get the honor of not only supporting people during their hard times, but helping to give them new perspectives and skills to transform their life by rising above their circumstances.
What aspect of your career surprised you?
I wasn’t prepared for how emotionally taxing it can be to provide therapy to other people. Therapists need to be in therapy in order to manage their emotions and energy around the work that we do. It’s important to practice what you preach.
What advise would you give others who may be interested in becoming a therapist?
If you’d like to become a therapist and help others, the best thing to do is to go to therapy yourself and also do some volunteer work with people who have mental illness or are in a difficult life situation. After 6 months of doing both of these things, you will know for certain whether the mental health profession is for you.
Interview with a Non-Clinical Social Worker
What does a typical day in your profession look like?
Mostly in the office, approached many times during the day by five social workers who want to discuss their clients and their case management of clients. I give advice and feedback and my own point of view and make suggestions. I record and find data I review their work. I answer phone calls from stressed clients, hoping to get some sort of assistance. I speak to people from the community about government services availability.
What do you enjoy most about social work?
I enjoy the ability to assist people who are in need. I enjoy using my influence to get social workers to see things differently. I am able to form long term associations and friendships with coworkers. Good hours, decent environment, good benefits.
What do you find challenging about social work?
There is not a lot of creativity. It is a bit repetitive.
What personal characteristics do successful people in your career field possess?
They are organized, intelligent, able to empathize, and nonjudgemental.
5. What advice would you give others who are interested in pursuing your profession?
To get a master’s degree in social work after they are sure they like the field and then to read and stay educated about the field.
Job Description of a Social Worker
A social worker helps people solve problems and learn to cope with everyday life challenges in a variety of situations. They help people and families from all walks of life and help communities cope with the complex challenges they face daily. They identify their clients’ needs, analyze the situation, and provide assistance through support networks. They work with those dealing with disabilities, serious illnesses or addictions, as well as helping vulnerable children and their families. They also help individuals and families adjust to divorce, unemployment, and changes brought about by illness.
Clinical social workers (CSW) respond to crises situations like endangered children, battered women, or mental health emergencies. Clinical social workers are licensed to diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders and provide therapy to families, couples, and individuals. They design strategies to help clients cope with challenging situations and refer them to further resources.
Clinical social workers work with other healthcare professionals to create plans to treat their clients and adjust their programs depending on progress.
There are also additional specialties in social work. Child family social workers help vulnerable children when they are in danger, neglected, or abused. They help families that need housing or services like food stamps. The worker sometimes helps with adoptions, locating foster families, and reuniting families. School social workers are involved in the schools by assisting students in improving their social development and academic performance. They work closely with the teachers, school administration, and parents to design strategies best suited to the student. The social worker faces problems with students, such as bullying, recurring absences, and aggressive behavior. Healthcare social workers help patients deal with illnesses that affect their lifestyle and families from the hospital to the home. They set them up with information on available services, for instance, support groups. The worker guides them in managing illnesses or diseases. Healthcare social workers interact with doctors and other professionals to comprehend the effects that disease and illness have on the mental and emotional health of the patient. The healthcare social worker may specialize in geriatric social work or hospice and palliative care. They may also work in mental health and substance abuse. Mental health and substance abuse social workers are involved with patients’ dealing with addictions or mental illness. They offer information on support groups, 12-step programs, and other services to help them cope.
Social Worker Career Video Transcript
In an ideal world, every family would be stable and supportive, and every child’s needs would be met. But in reality, families who live in poverty, with mental illness, chemical abuse, or other issues, may need the help of child, family, and school social workers to find their way. An important role of these social workers is to help clients understand the range of services available to them, connect them to organizations and programs that will help them, and teach them how to advocate for themselves in the future. Good record keeping of conversations and activity is critical.
Child and family social workers protect vulnerable children and help families function more effectively. They often connect families with housing, child care, and welfare assistance. They may promote better parenting skills, coordinate adoptions, and find foster homes for abandoned or abused children. School social workers deal with problems like bullying, truancy, and teenage pregnancy, and they may also advise teachers. Some travel to multiple schools in a school district. Child, family, and school social workers work for government agencies, non-profits, school systems, and in residential facilities.
A bachelor’s degree in social work is the most common requirement to enter the field, though many also earn a master’s in social work. While the work can be emotionally taxing, child, family, and school social workers help lighten the load for struggling children and families, and give them hope for a brighter future.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Social Workers.
National Center for O*NET Development. 21-1021.00. O*NET OnLine.
The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.