Social Work Careers

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Some people long for a career where they can actively help others. If you find yourself in this camp, you might be a great candidate for a social work career. There are many specializations and work settings within the umbrella of social work.

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What Types of Social Work Career Can I Pursue?

  • Adolescent Specialist: Adolescent specialists help teens and young adults adjust to the physical and emotional changes that come with moving toward adulthood. They may work with adolescents who have behavior problems, mental illness, or family issues, to provide support during times of transition.[1]
  • Child and Family Social Workers: Child and family workers are employed in family services agencies and government offices to help children and families. Depending on their workplace, they may do a variety of tasks. For example, some in private adoption agencies facilitate the adoption process. Others in public agencies make sure that at risk children are being treated well at home, and they may remove children from abusive situations. Others counsel families during divorce, help parents find low-cost child care, and help families access social services.
  • Gerontological Social Workers: Gerontological social workers are professionals who work specifically with the elderly. They help older adults adjust to the physical and psychological trials of aging, and they help them find useful services, like in-home care or food assistance. Gerontological social workers also help the elderly and their families navigate assisted living and skilled nursing facility options.[2]
  • Healthcare Social Workers: Healthcare social workers assist people who are facing illness or recovering from an injury. They may provide information on the patient's diagnosis or treatment plan, and they may help patients adjust to the psychological affects of illness. They may help those being released from a healthcare facility find community services or medical equipment that they need for their recovery.
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers: These social workers may provide therapy or guidance to people facing mental illness or addiction. Depending on the social worker's training, he or she may lead group therapy sessions, provide information on psychology and addiction, or help patients find additional support through groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.
  • School Social Workers: These social workers are employed in K-12 settings to help children do their best in school and progress academically. They work with administrators to implement programs like anti-bullying campaigns. They also counsel children who are experiencing behavioral problems or issues at home. School social workers may assist teachers in making their classrooms more conducive to learning.

What Training Will I Need to Become a Social Worker?

There are two major ways to enter the social work profession. The Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) is a four-year program that allows graduates to become direct-service social workers. Direct-service social workers cannot provide mental health diagnosis or treatment, but they do help clients access useful services or make changes to improve their lives. The BSW degree includes courses in psychology and sociology, such as childhood development, adolescent development, marriage and family in society, and abnormal psychology. Students also learn the practical skills of interviewing clients and managing cases.

The Master of Social Work (MSW) is the other training option. These degrees take two years for people without a BSW; those with a BSW can complete the program in one year. The MSW degree prepares graduates to take the licensing exam to become clinical social workers. Clinical social workers have many of the skills of licensed therapists: they can diagnose patients with mental and behavioral problems, and they can also create treatment plans.[3]

What Job Outlook Can I Expect as a Social Worker?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the social work field will have faster-than-average job growth in the coming years. Healthcare social workers will see especially fast job growth as the baby boom population ages and uses more healthcare services. In addition, the stigma of seeking mental health assistance has decreased, and more people will be seeking treatment for mental illnesses and substance abuse.[4]


  1. ^Types of Social Work Positions. University of Missouri School of Social Work. Accessed May 8, 2013.
  2. ^Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Published March 29, 2012.
  3. ^Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Published March 29, 2012.
  4. ^Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Published March 29, 2012.

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