What does a Social Worker do?

What is a Social Worker?

There are two main types of social workers: direct-service social workers, who help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives, and clinical social workers, who diagnose and treat mental, behavioural, and emotional issues. Social workers work in a variety of settings, including mental health clinics, schools, hospitals, and private practices. They generally work full time and may need to work evenings and weekends.

What does a Social Worker do?

Social workers help people cope with challenges in every stage of their lives. They help with a wide range of situations, such as adopting a child or being diagnosed with a terminal illness. Social workers work with many populations, including children, people with disabilities, and people with addictions. Direct-service social workers typically do the following:

  • Identify people who need help
  • Assess clients’ needs, situations, strengths, and support networks to determine their goals
  • Develop plans to improve their clients’ well-being
  • Help clients adjust to changes and challenges in their lives, such as illness, divorce, or unemployment
  • Research and refer clients to community resources, such as food stamps, child care, and healthcare
  • Help clients work with government agencies to apply for and receive benefits such as Medicare
  • Respond to crisis situations, such as natural disasters or child abuse
  • Advocate for and help clients get resources that would improve their well-being
  • Follow up with clients to ensure that their situations have improved
  • Evaluate services provided to ensure that they are effective.

Clinical social workers typically do the following:

  • Diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders, including anxiety and depression
  • Provide individual, group, family, and couples therapy
  • Assess clients’ histories, backgrounds, and situations to understand their needs, as well as their strengths and weaknesses
  • Develop a treatment plan with the client, doctors, and other healthcare professionals
  • Encourage clients to discuss their emotions and experiences to develop a better understanding of themselves and their relationships
  • Help clients adjust to changes in their life, such as a divorce or being laid-off
  • Work with clients to develop strategies to change behavior or cope with difficult situations
  • Refer clients to other resources or services, such as support groups or other mental health professionals
  • Evaluate their clients’ progress and, if necessary, adjust the treatment plan.

Many clinical social workers work in private practice. Some work in a group practice with other social workers or mental health professionals. Others work alone in a solo practice. In private practice, clinical social workers often do administrative and recordkeeping tasks. Among these tasks is working with clients and insurance companies to receive payment for their services. In addition, social workers market their practice to bring in new clients and to network with other professionals who may recommend them.

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How to become a Social Worker

A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is the most common requirement for entry-level positions. However, some employers may hire workers who have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as psychology or sociology. BSW programs prepare students for direct-service positions such as caseworker or mental health assistant. These programs teach students about diverse populations, human behaviour, and social welfare policy. All programs require students to complete supervised fieldwork or an internship. Some positions, including those in schools and in healthcare, frequently require a master’s degree in social work (MSW). All clinical social workers must have an MSW.

MSWs generally take two years to complete. Some programs allow those with a BSW to earn their MSW in one year. MSW programs prepare students for work in their chosen specialty and develop the skills to do clinical assessments, manage a large number of clients, and take on supervisory duties. All programs require students to complete supervised fieldwork or an internship.

A BSW is not required to enter MSW programs. In fact, a degree in almost any major is acceptable. However, coursework in psychology, sociology, economics, and political science are recommended. Licensure varies by jurisdiction. All regions have some type of licensure or certification requirement. All require clinical social workers to be licensed. However, some regions provide exemptions for clinical social workers who work in government agencies.

Becoming a licensed clinical social worker usually requires a master’s degree in social work and two years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience after graduation. After completing their supervised experience, clinical social workers must pass an exam to be licensed.

Although most jurisdictions also have licenses for nonclinical social workers, these licenses are often optional.

What is the workplace of a Social Worker like?

Social workers typically work in the following settings:

  • Hospitals and clinics
  • Nursing homes
  • Community mental health clinics
  • Private practices
  • State and local governments
  • Schools
  • Colleges and universities
  • Substance abuse clinics
  • Military bases and hospitals

Although most social workers work in an office, they may spend a lot of time away from the office visiting clients. School social workers may be assigned to multiple schools and travel around the school district to see students. Understaffing and large case loads may make the work stressful.