Social Worker Career

What are some typical career paths for social workers?

The variety of social work jobs available for talented individuals hoping to build a career in the social work field is breathtaking. Social work offers a specialization that will suit the interests and abilities of every social worker. Some social workers choose to spend most of their time engaging in clinical psychotherapy with individuals. Others prefer to work with groups in contexts that involve community organizing, education, or the provision of social services. The employers of social workers are as varied as the opportunities available.

What services do child, family, and school social workers provide?

Individuals who enjoy working with children may choose to pursue social work programsthat offer courses in the specific needs of children and families to become school social workers. Child, family, and school social workers provide clinical counseling and other social services to children and their families in order to prevent or address family dysfunctions while fostering the emotional health of the children and encouraging their academic success as students. Social workers specializing in this area may work for social service organizations or adoption agencies. They may help single parents obtain necessary services for their families and facilitate adoption and foster home placement. Other social workers are employed by schools, both public and private, where they counsel students with personal and behavioral problems ranging from teenage pregnancy, to poor academic performance, to substance abuse.

What services do medical and public health social workers provide?

A social work specialty that is closely allied with medicine and healthcare is medical and public health social work. Medical and public health social workers provide counseling, education, and other services to those suffering from or vulnerable to illness and disability. They may also provide services and support to the families of patients and other caregivers. Within the field of medical

What services do mental health and substance abuse social workers provide?

Through a specialized mental health school of social work, graduates with a desire to engage in psychotherapy often pursue training in the field of mental health and substance abuse. Mental health and substance abuse social workers treat and counsel individuals suffering from a wide range of emotional problems and psychiatric disorders, including addiction. Social workers in this particular specialty spend most of their time on the job providing direct psychotherapy services to patients in either a one-on-one or group setting.

Case management, client education, and crisis intervention are other key components of the work performed by social workers that concentrate in this area. Psychiatric hospitals, outpatient clinics, and residential facilities for the mentally ill and disabled may employ mental health social workers. In addition, many social workers in this particular specialty are in private practice. Social workers who specialize in substance abuse and addiction issues frequently work for hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and social service agencies.

What other social work jobs are available?

As educators, social workers may teach social work courses at the university and graduate school level both in social work school and in general liberal arts or social science programs. They may also engage in public education on important social, cultural, and health issues. For instance, a social worker employed by a non-profit organization that is devoted to reducing the incidence of AIDS in the general population could help the organization conduct educational outreach workshops for individuals who are members of populations that are particularly susceptible to the transmission of HIV.

There are also a number of social work jobs available in administrative capacities. Social workers who go into the field of administration may serve as deans or academic officials at colleges and other schools. They may work in hospitals or clinics. They may oversee the operation of governmental or non-profit organizations devoted to providing social services and public assistance to specific groups and individuals. Not all social workers work directly with people. While many social workers are in the field working to help their clients who are struggling with personal and social problems, others are at work in a research capacity, trying to devise new and better solutions to those problems. For instance, some social workers may specialize in working with the homeless. They may refer the homeless to shelters and transitional housing and they may identify resources and assistance programs that will help a homeless individual adjust to a new apartment and job. However, social workers that function as researchers and policymakers work on developing programs that social workers in the field will later implement. They may propose model legislation or devise strategies for social service agencies and non-profit organizations.

What kind of environment do social workers work in?

Many social workers, particularly those who work as psychotherapists, substance abuse counselors, medical social workers, and school social workers, spend most of their workday in an office. Social workers who work as psychotherapists in private practice may see and counsel several clients each day in their offices. Other social workers, such as child and family social workers that work for child protective agencies, may travel to their clients' homes. Social workers who are employed full-time generally work a standard forty-hour workweek. However, many social workers that provide psychotherapy will stay at the office well into the evenings or on weekends to accommodate clients who work the day shift and can only come to appointments during non-work hours. In addition, because social workers often deal with troubled individuals, particularly those suffering from mental illness and addiction, they must often address emergencies that occur outside regular work hours.

How do social workers take care of their own emotional needs?

Those interested in knowing how to become a social worker should be well aware that it is a challenging field. Social work jobs can be rewarding but also very stressful. Social workers see the worst aspects of human behavior, including domestic and child abuse, mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness. They often work with populations of clients that have experienced trauma such as foster children and crime victims.

Sometimes a social worker's desire to help others exceeds his or her ability to do so. Consistent exposure to emotionally disturbing social problems can become draining for even the most objective and knowledgeable of social workers. Thus, the phenomenon known as "burn out" is an occupational hazard in the social work field. Social workers should keep this in mind and do what they can to form a secure and supportive professional and personal network before any problems start. Talking to other social workers that have had similar experiences, joining support groups for mental health professionals, and pursuing continuing education classes on dealing with work-related stressors can all help a social worker avoid job-related burnout.

Is private practice an option for social workers?

Private practice is an attractive option for many social workers, particularly those who work as therapists, as is the case with mental health social workers. Those aspiring social workers that would like to go into private practice should keep in mind that they are likely to attract more clients and achieve professional success if they have a master's degree and a considerable amount of work experience before starting off on the own. In fact, some states require social workers that serve as therapists to have a master's degree.

Social workers who open their own offices often start out by working in a private group practice where they can observe first-hand what is necessary to run a therapy-related business. They also gain valuable experience in their chosen field while in proximity to other social workers that can answer questions and provide support. Most important, they develop a roster of patients and other personal contacts that they can draw upon when they leave the group practice to start a private practice on their own.

Social Worker Schools