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What Is a Social Worker?

By

Social Worker

Social workers strive to improve the lives of individuals and improve society as a whole. Learn more about a career as a social worker.

Heriberto Herrera

Are you looking for a career that is rewarding yet challenging? Do you want to contribute to society by helping people overcome difficulties and improve their lives? Social work is an exciting career area that is highly related to psychology. While many people who work in this field start by earning an undergraduate degree in social work before moving on to graduate school, some psychology majors opt to switch to a social work master's program after earning their degrees.

So what exactly is a social worker? These mental health professionals help people with a wide range of issues, including psychological, financial, health, relationship, and substance abuse problems. Learn more about what social workers do, the educational requirements, and the projected job outlook for the field.

Fast Facts About Social Workers:

  • Social workers held approximately 595,000 job in 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • Most jobs in the field require a Master's degree in Social Work.

  • Social workers are employed in a variety of settings, including hospitals, mental health clinics, schools, nonprofit agencies, and government offices.

What Do Social Workers Do?:

The field of social work utilizes social theories to understand human problems, to help improve people's lives, and to improve society as a whole. Many who work in this field specialize in particular areas, such as helping children, assisting those life-threatening problems, or aiding people in overcoming addictions.

Social workers:

  • Act as advocates for their clients
  • Educate clients and teach them new skills
  • Link clients to essential resources within the community
  • Protect vulnerable clients and ensure that their best interests are observed
  • Counsel clients who need support and assistance
  • Research social problems to look for remedies

Where Do They Work?:

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, five out of every ten social workers are employed in the health care and social assistance sectors. This might include hospitals, mental health clinics, and private practices.

Another three out of every ten social workers are employed by government agencies at the state and local levels. Professionals who work in government positions might conduct child welfare assessments, help individuals in need of public assistance, and work with people who have come into contact with the criminal justice system.

How Much Do Social Workers Earn?:

Salaries can vary based on various factors, including geographic location, educational background, and specialty area. According to the National Association of Social Workers , those just starting out in their career with an undergraduate degree in social work earn around $30,000 per year. Those with a master's degree typically average around $40,000 to $50,000 depending upon experience.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports the following median yearly earnings for different specialty areas in social work:

  • Child, Family and School Social Workers: $37,480
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers: $35,410
  • Medical and Public Health Social Workers: $43,040

Training and Educational Requirements:

In order to become a social worker, a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree is the minimum requirement. However, some individuals with psychology, sociology, and education degrees are able to find entry-level jobs in social work. If you are interested in providing therapy services, then a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree is required. Are you interested in teaching at the university level or conducting research? Then you will need to earn a doctorate degree in social work (DSW).

Requirements vary by state, but most states require social workers to be licensed, registered, or certified in their field. For example, becoming a licensed clinical social worker generally requires taking an exam and completing at least two years of supervised clinical experience.

Specialty Areas

  • Medical and public health social workers offer psychosocial services to individuals, families and groups who are affected by acute, chronic, and terminal illnesses. These services might involve providing psychological counseling, connecting clients with resources in the community, and helping families who are caring for a sick loved one.

  • Child, family and school social workers work with children and families. Some work in school settings to help children with academic, social, and emotional issues. Others may work with foster children, help arrange adoptions, and assist single parents.

  • Mental health and substance abuse social workers assess and treat individuals suffering from mental health problems or addiction and substance abuse issues. Social workers in this specialty area may provide crisis counseling, individual therapy, group therapy, skills education, and psychosocial rehabilitation services.

Job Outlook for Social Workers

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that social work careers are expected to grow faster than the average over the next ten years. While it is predicted that employment opportunities in urban areas will be more competitive, the Department of Labor suggests that job demand will also be good in rural locations.

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