I’m curious about a career in social work. It seems like a very rewarding line of work, because social workers get to help people in all sorts of ways. But when I say all sorts of ways, I mean all sorts of ways – and, to be honest, sometimes I get confused about what social workers actually do. I know some work in schools and others with mental patients, for instance. Is there anything typical of all types of social work? What different things can social workers do?
Social workers do indeed help people in all sorts of different ways. But there are also plenty of myths and misconceptions about social workers, as well as a fair degree of confusion about what it is that they actually do.
The common thread running through social work is that they help people, of course, but there are two general types of social work that we should make a distinction between.
Direct-service social workers are professionals who help people during difficult times in their lives. They may, for instance, help refugees get settled in their new cities, or help impoverished people look for work. Work like this requires more than a good heart: a great direct-service social worker needs superior people skills, to say nothing of good coordinating and organizational skills.
Clinical social workers, on the other hand, deal specifically with people suffering from mental health, behavioral, or emotional issues. They can even diagnose such issues and help doctors develop treatment plans. In some ways, a clinical social worker’s job resembles that of a psychologist, except that a social worker tends to address a person’s behavioral problems in the context of society, using more direct means to help their clients adjust to and cope with the world around them.
Clinical social workers may work in a private practice, maintaining their own offices. They may also work in medical facilities. Direct-service social workers may work either in an office or on-site in places like schools, colleges, and military bases.
If you’re interested in a career in social work, you’ll want to make sure that your academic background suits your career goals. Becoming a Doctor of Social Work by securing a doctorate in the field is a good idea for those who wish to work as clinical social workers; a graduate degree of some type is essential. For some direct-service social work jobs, on the other hand, an undergraduate degree may be sufficient.
We recommend that you seek out social workers who are doing the sorts of jobs that you might be most interested in. Ask them about their day-to-day tasks to get information that’s more detailed than what we had the space for here. And remember, of course, that you don’t need to know exactly what sort of social work career you want while you’re still training to become a social worker!
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” – Anne Frank