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.
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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:
Clinical social workers typically do the following:
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.
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.
Social workers typically work in the following settings:
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.
The median annual wage of social workers was $42,480 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $26,710, and the top 10% earned more than $70,390.