What is Social Work?
Social work involves helping people find resources they need to overcome obstacles or difficult life situations. Social work is people helping people to organize or obtain access to programs or services that can make lives easier. Social work sometimes involves counseling to assist individuals in understanding efficient ways to cope with unexpected changes in their lives or life circumstances. There are three main areas of social work and these are:
- Family and Children
- Medical and Public Health
- Mental Health and Substance Abuse
Social workers involved in the area of family and children services often are involved in finding safe places for abused women and children, or foster homes for abused children. Family and children social workers are often involved in assisting in school programs that address learning disabilities, or issues such as bullying. There are also social workers who are involved with assisting the elderly to obtain assistance and safe housing. Social workers may work as private counselors or as part of the Family and Children’s services within a government or county organization.
Medical and public health social workers are active in counseling people with long term or critical illness. They assist in finding services to assist in adapting to physical limitations, direct support groups, or make referrals to classes or organizations within a community that can offer further assistance. Social workers help families of those with critical illnesses find support. They often teach or direct individuals to groups that can help families learn coping mechanisms to deal with the stress that long-term illness brings.
Mental health and substance abuse social workers work in a clinical capacity. They work to assist those struggling with mental illness, addictions, or psychological challenges such as anxiety disorders. Social workers in this area often set up community outreach programs to identify people in need of assistance and try to show them there is help available. Social workers often teach workshops or classes designed to assist individuals and families healthy coping skills or life skills.
To be involved in helping people at such critical times you need a minimum four-year social work degree and depending on the area of social work you are wishing to enter, additional certification or education may be required. To obtain your social work degree within four years you need a specific course of study. Classes will include psychology, social studies, sociology, economics, ethics, and other classes specified by your area of interest. Many social workers continue to pursue a social work degree at the Master’s level or even a doctorate.
Social workers are found in a wide variety of work settings. With a degree in social work, your career in social work may involve positions in hospitals, clinics, mental health clinics, community outreach programs, schools or even your own private practice. Direct-service professionals are those involved in helping individuals deal with problems in daily life. Direct service workers are also sometimes called human service workers. Direct-care social workers usually must have a bachelor’s degree in social work but some specialized positions may require a Master’s degree in social work. Other certifications may be required in some areas.
Clinical social workers are those involved in the assisting individuals diagnosed with emotional, behavioral, or mental issues. Clinical social workers are required to have a Master’s degree in social work and continued education and certification on a regular schedule. In addition to a degree in social work, social workers must also be licensed by the state in which they work.
Direct-service social workers who have several years’ experience and wish to obtain a Masters may find it helpful to check into an online social work degree. Most programs offering an online social work degree offer flexible scheduling, individualized mentoring, and affordability. You may also obtain an online social work degree at the Bachelor level if you have entered social work with a degree in a related field such as psychology. Research any online social work degree programs to be certain they offer the education and course work needed for any specialized areas you may be pursuing.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the years ahead will bring a demand for more social workers in the field of health care and family services. The National Association of Social Workers has resources and guides to help you determine if this field is right for you.