How To Become A Social Worker
Career Video: Social Worker
Do you love to help people? Are you concerned with family services, community health, and individual coping abilities? Do you have a desire to help families, communities, and individuals improve functioning, while advocating for and locating essential resources that will lead to mental, emotional, and physical development? If you enjoy working directly with others who are in need, you may be interested in becoming a social worker.
Why Become A Social Worker
Social workers have complex jobs that involve a mixture of counseling and gathering resources to aid their clients. Social work is assistance granted to people in need of supportive and psychological services. People may need these services for a range of reasons that arise from a number of mental, emotional, or physical health challenges. Social workers provide assistance to help their clients cope better with stressful situations and advocate for supportive accommodations.
The objective of social work is to support and guide individuals, families, and groups toward optimal social functioning. They work to enhance and create environments that foster this growth and support entire communities in need. Social workers must know and understand human development, which include behavioral, emotional, physical, and mental aspects. They must be aware of cultural, religious, economic, and other facets of society that affect an individual and are a part of their clients’ identities. They assist the members of the public from all backgrounds and experiences, and help those individuals find the correct psychosocial services for their individual needs. Social workers advocate for their clients and social justice, finding resources and connecting them with people who may further help with their challenges.
Social work can be challenging but rewarding. This line of work directly benefits people who are unable to resolve their problems and cope with their difficulties. Not only does social work directly benefit clients, but the advocacy and support afforded to them may help their friends and family members as well. Because each client has individual needs, practitioners must be capable of fulfilling many roles and exhibit particular qualities that enable them to perform their job:
- Clear communication (reading, writing, listening, and speaking)
- Decision making and judgment
- Problem solving and critical thinking
Social Worker Work Environment
Every aspect of society requires social work:
- Administration, Policy, and Research
- Child, Family, and School
- Clinical (mental health and psychiatric)
- Medical and Health
- Substance Abuse
- Military and Veterans
- Palliative and Hospice
Social workers provide services at schools, hospitals, mental health facilities, senior living centers and nursing homes, private practices, prisons, elected offices, military and veterans’ agencies, corporations, child welfare agencies, colleges and universities, substance abuse clinics, rape crisis centers, and in their clients’ homes.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that social workers comprise the largest group of mental health providers. Over 200,000 (more than psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychiatric nurses combined) social workers represent mental health providers and this field is one of the five core mental health professions.
Many agencies and organization utilize the services of social workers. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Red Cross are top employers of these professionals. Hundreds of local, state, and national elected offices employ social workers for advocacy and contributions to policy making.
Social Worker Salary
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (USBLS), the median annual salary for a social worker in 2012 was $44,200. Salaries for this type of work depend upon geographical location, employer, and type of social work.
Salaries per field (2015)
- $58,560 for all other fields of social work
- $52,380 for healthcare social workers
- $42,350 for child, family, and school social workers
- $42,170 for mental health and substance abuse social workers
Social Worker Career Outlook
The job outlook for social work employment is positive, as the profession is expected to grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024. Because the public demand for social services and healthcare will continue to increase, the field will need experienced and trained social workers.
Job growth per field
- Child, family, and school social work = 6 percent
- Healthcare social work = 19 percent
- Mental health and substance abuse social work = 19 percent
- All other social work fields = 4 percent
Social Worker Degree
Social workers are trained professionals who have earned degrees in social work (bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate), and many positions require special licensure.
Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree. The most common requirement for entry level employment is having a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). It is possible, however, for employers to accept an undergraduate degree in a related field, such as sociology or psychology.
BSW programs are designed to train students to become direct-service social workers, such as case workers or mental health assistance. In these programs, students will learn about diverse populations, human behavior, social welfare policy, and other related subjects. Each degree requires supervised internships.
Step 2: Obtain a master’s degree. Many other places of employment, such as schools, private practices, and mental health facilities, require a Master of Social Work (MSW). Clinical social workers must have an MSW as well as two-years of supervised clinical experience, post-graduate work.
While most MSW programs take two years to complete, some programs only take one if students already have a BSW. In an MSW program, students learn about clinical evaluations, and students take on many supervisory duties. At the end of a program, students will complete a supervised internship.
Note: It is not necessary to have a BSW to enter into an MSW program; however, it is recommended that a candidate have an undergraduate degree in a related social sciences field.
Step 3: Obtain licensure and/or certification. Each state requires a license or certification to enter employment and each state has its own requirements regarding licensure. Clinical social workers must be licensed to practice, which requires an MSW. In addition to an MSW, graduates must complete 2 years or 3,200 hours of supervised clinical experience. Each candidate for licensure must pass the appropriate state clinical examination.
The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) can inform aspiring social workers about licensure, certification, and examination requirements, per field, per state.