Becoming a Social Worker

What training is needed to become a social worker?

Those interested in learning about how to become a social worker should keep in mind that educational requirements include a bachelor's degree in social work, which is required to get a foothold in the social work profession. However, in some states a master's degree in social work is necessary for certification as a licensed clinical social worker.

A bachelor's level social work degree is not required for admission to a social work master's program. Indeed, no particular undergraduate major is required, although students with a thorough background in the social sciences will find it easier to grasp the principles of social work at the graduate level. In addition, those thinking about attending graduate school in social work should keep in mind that many master's programs grant credit and advanced standing to students with bachelor's degrees in social work. Thus, choosing social work as an undergraduate major could reduce the time it would take to complete the master's degree.

Common undergraduate majors for students preparing to pursue an advanced degree in social work school include psychology, sociology, anthropology, and political science. Coursework in programs leading to the master's degree in social work includes classes in human behavior and development, social welfare policy, social research methods, and ethics. Accredited bachelor's programs in social work require their students to complete at least 400 hours of supervised fieldwork. Accredited master's

What personal qualities should a social worker have?

Social work is an ideal professional field for individuals with a sincere desire to help others and effecting social justice and positive social change. Social workers should be good listeners who are sensitive to the needs and problems of others. Functioning professionally as a social worker requires patience and persistence. Although many clients come to social workers voluntarily to seek help on their own, social workers often work with individuals who have been mandated by hospitals, school officials, courts, or government agencies. Clients may resist the efforts a social worker makes to help them, and the social worker must be prepared and equipped to handle the resulting frustration. In addition, social workers need to be highly responsible individuals who can handle working under pressure. Because social work sometimes involves crisis intervention and other urgent responses to client problems, the work can be stressful. In addition, because social workers deal with highly sensitive information pertaining to their clients, they must have a firm grasp of the ethical issues implicated in social work practice and take matters of privacy and confidentiality very seriously. Above all, social workers should be caring and empathic people.

How does one become certified or licensed as a social worker?

Every state, and the District of Columbia, has a process in place for the registration, licensure, and certification of social workers. Each jurisdiction also has specific rules regarding the use of professional titles such as "clinical social worker" and "licensed clinical social worker." In addition to a degree from accredited school with a social work program, most states also require two years or 3000 hours worth of supervised clinical experience or the equivalent before granting a social work license. In some states, it is legal for individuals with training in social work, but without the full credentials necessary for licensure, to go into private practice as counselors and psychotherapists as long as they disclose this fact to clients. However, the specific procedures that govern the profession and dictate how one becomes a social worker varies from state to state.

What is necessary for certification as a social worker and advancement in the social work field?

A master's degree is almost always required for certification as a social worker and meaningful advancement in the field. Teaching and research positions, as well as high-level administrative positions in government agencies and large, prestigious institutions, may require a doctorate in social work. Salary increases, as well as movement up through the ranks in the social work field, are highly dependent on the amount of actual work experience an individual social worker has. Some social work programs will encourage becoming proficient in a second language, such as Spanish. While not necessary in most cases, this can have the benefit of increasing employment opportunities for social workers.

In addition to a degree from an accredited social work program, a certain amount of clinical experience in the social work field and supervised work experience is also necessary for certification and licensure. Some states also require candidates for certification or licensure to pass a certification examination.

Furthermore, most governmental organizations and other bodies that certify and license social workers require them to demonstrate an impeccable character and high moral standards. Social workers are generally required to undergo background checks before being certified and licensed and again when they apply for employment. If an individual knows of anything in his or her background that could raise red flags, it should be brought to the attention of licensing board officials or potential employers before a background check is conducted.

Disclaimer: Program outcomes vary according to each institution's specific curriculum, and employment opportunities are not guaranteed.

Social Worker Schools

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