Anyone who pursues social work, whether as a profession or a passion, is a social worker. And in generic and quite self-explanatory terms, social work involves helping people out in their everyday lives, especially the vulnerable ones facing physical, personal, or social challenges.
While anyone can volunteer to become a social worker to serve humanity, a professional social worker is tasked with assisting individuals and families improve their quality of life by easing their access to life’s basic amenities such as food, shelter, and safety.
Social workers work very closely with the people they’re assigned to serve. These professionals analyze the needs and environments of their clients, their personal challenges, their family and social connections, and work within set systems and policies to help the clients recover and return to a normal life.
Some of the most common challenges that social work professionals help people overcome include trauma, addiction, abuse, poverty, and unemployment. Working closely with these clients, social workers not only get to the bottom of their problems but also connect them to the right resources.
The service is provided based on the challenges the client is facing regardless of their educational background, socio-economic status, cultural origin, religion, or disability. But these backgrounds are factored in to devise a treatment protocol to which the client would respond more effectively.
While there are many types of social workers, the two main types include Direct-Service Social Workers and Clinical Social Workers. While the Direct-Service Social Workers help people overcome challenges in their everyday lives, the Clinical Social Workers work to diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.
Other types of social workers include Child, Family & School Social Workers, Medical & Public Health Social Worker, Mental Health & Substance Abuse Social Worker, Community Social Worker, and Military Social Worker.
These social workers extend support to those children and families that are facing social or psychological challenges at home, school, or in their communities. A social worker specializing in this domain will be responsible for assessing the needs and challenges of such people and connect them to the right academic and living options for an improved lifestyle.
Social workers specializing in this domain work exclusively with people suffering from chronic illnesses and acute health issues. This type of social worker will arrange medical referrals and counseling for their clients, besides helping them access the right public resources and healthcare services. Working with hospitals, govt agencies, and other healthcare facilities, these professionals also help communities to curtail the spread of diseases and overcome epidemics.
Social workers specializing in this area work with clients with a history of substance abuse or psychological problems. They’re responsible for coordinating and/or providing counseling, rehabilitation, and therapy to drug addicts and people with mental health problems.
This type of social worker operates on a macro level, providing communities with the right resources to improve lifestyles as well as the social justice environment. Instead of working one-on-one with clients, they work holistically with community groups to develop and execute social programs.
Since military services come with their own challenges, these social work professionals work with military professionals all through their service including transitioning, service, and post-service periods. The responsibilities of these social workers include assessment of wellbeing, identification of mental health problems and post-traumatic stress, and recommendation of recovery plan.
Also Read: Social Work Case Management Guide
A clinical social worker is one of the most sought-after and highest-paid social work professionals. Clinical social work is regarded as a profession with higher stakes and greater responsibilities and requirements. Formally known as Registered Clinical Social Worker (R.C.S.W.), a clinical social worker diagnoses and treats a variety of mental health and family dynamic challenges.
Some key responsibilities of a clinical social worker include assessment and diagnosis of psychological conditions, providing clients with necessary therapy and psychotherapy, administering and coordinating interventions and treatments, and oversee complete case management of the clients. It’s important to note that it’s illegal to use the term ‘clinical social worker’ unless the professional has met all the educational, professional, and experiential requirements.
Social workers in the two broad domains of the profession have varying responsibilities and requirements. While the goal and passion are the same, i.e. serving humanity, the responsibilities differ to enable these professionals to provide better, more focused services.
As mentioned above, a direct-service social worker helps people solve and cope with their everyday challenges. The responsibilities of a direct-service social worker may include: finding the people in need; assessing their needs, situations, strengths, and support networks; developing recovery plans; connecting them to suitable medical and public resources; responding to crisis situations, and closely following up for progress evaluation.
A clinical social worker, on the other hand, tackles mental, behavioral, and emotional challenges. Their responsibilities include: diagnosing and treating mental, behavioral, and emotional problems; assessing client backgrounds to understand their needs, developing and coordinating treatment plan with doctors and other healthcare providers, connecting clients to the right resources, encouraging clients to open up and share their emotions, and closely monitoring progress.
As mentioned earlier in this piece, there are two broad branches of social work, namely the Direct-Service Social Workers, and the Clinical Social Workers. To start a career in the prior category, no advanced degree is required and people with general educational backgrounds are often free to start a position as a direct-service social worker.
But for clinical Social Workers, the requirements and responsibilities are much tougher. To be a clinical social worker, one is required to earn a master’s degree in the field. Plus, they’re also required to earn state-specific licensure to be able to practice as a clinical social worker. Once these prerequisites are met, clinical social workers are free to pursue jobs in this niche industry.
But these tougher requirements for clinical social workers also come with bigger perks. This is a highly sought-after profession that was also named one of U.S. News & World Report’s Best Healthcare Jobs and 100 Best Jobs overall for 2015. And in 2015, a clinical social worker in the US earned a median annual salary of $50,820.
Like any other professional, social workers also mostly work from their offices at the place of their employment. But, due to the nature of their job, it’s not uncommon to find them away from the office as they’re required to provide services at a place of the client’s preference. For instance, a Child, Family & School Social Worker may be assigned to multiple schools in the district at the same time so they may be found moving around frequently.
Most typically, social workers are employed at hospitals & clinics, nursing homes, community mental health clinics, state and local governments, schools, colleges and universities, substance abuse clinics, military bases and hospitals, and more. Many social workers are also found in private practice. Some salient job roles for social workers may include Direct Support Professionals, Caseworkers, Case Managers, Program Coordinators, School Social Workers, and more.
If you have the right mix of attitude and aptitude, social work can be a promising area to explore. But first, you must be driven by the passion to help others, and making a living out of it should always come secondary. Once you have what it takes to enter and excel in this expansive domain, opportunities can be endless.
The profession of social work offers a wide array of opportunities in different settings and specialties. You can find progressive careers with healthcare providers, educational facilities, rehabilitation centers, government agencies, military services, and more. Moreover, being a social worker will mean that you’re in for constant growth.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 13% employment growth rate for all social workers from 2019-29, which is higher than average employment estimates for other fields. Especially for clinical social workers, job prospects look great given the constant rise of the healthcare industry.
According to recent statistics, social workers enjoy decent earnings in different roles and positions. The national average salary for Direct Support Professionals is around $62,473 per year. Caseworkers earn up to $45,692 per year. Case Managers earn an average of $38,788 per year. Program Coordinators take home $47,250 per year. While the national average salary for School Social Workers can be $59,903 per year.
But the one thing that social work aspirants, especially clinical social workers, must keep in mind that jobs in social work are tough and often exhaustive. Expectations, responsibilities, and requirements in this domain are much greater than any other job. In simpler words, it’s not one of those comfortable 9-5 desk jobs and could keep you on your toes.
Like everything else, technology is disrupting and transforming the social work industry too. While nothing can change or replace the human connection that’s the cornerstone of social work, technology can enhance how the services are delivered to those in need and how they are managed more efficiently than before when conventional methods were mainstream.
There are many areas of social work where technology is playing an integral part to deliver enhanced results, helping social workers, caseworkers, and case managers to perform their jobs faster and smarter. Right from needs assessments to the development of treatment strategies and progress monitoring, everything is being enhanced by the smart, cutting-edge case management software of today.
Technology is especially playing a crucial role in today’s Covid-19 pandemic that has disrupted life beyond imagination and exhausted the strongest of healthcare infrastructures. As people are advised to stay home and practice social distancing, visits to hospitals, clinics, schools, and other such pandemic hotspots are highly discouraged unless absolutely necessary.
Here are some ways that technology is helping social workers perform human services more effectively:
Thanks to telehealth, social workers can now consult with clients remotely, from the comfort and safety of their homes or offices. This not only facilitates social workers but also provides convenience and safety to clients who otherwise would be at high health risk if they visit healthcare facilities in the current scenario.
Today, a number of state-of-the-art software solutions exist, developed exclusively for social workers and case managers to organize, manage, analyze, and monitor client data with high precision and efficacy. This advanced and collaborative software brings the entire case to the case manager’s fingertips, enabling them to yield desired results.
Technology is also helping social workers perform effective and dependable researches faster than before. A number of web-based resources, for instance, provide case managers with necessary information crucial to the interventions. Besides keeping them current in the field, these resources also give them insights into different similar interventions and their results.
There are many social work-related educational programs that can now be taken online. This is particularly important in today’s ensuing health crisis as these programs allow you to earn required educational credentials from the comfort and safety of your home, or while working a full-time job.
Increased penetration of technology and the internet has made it easier for professionals to find suitable jobs in related fields, including social work. In fact, a majority of job searches are performed online today. Social work career aspirants can also look for suitable careers online and land a job that promises constant learning and growth, on both personal and professional levels.