Home Consumer Education So You Want to Be a Professional Helper – How About a Career in Social Work?

So You Want to Be a Professional Helper – How About a Career in Social Work?



If you’ve ever thought, “I want to help people,” maybe a career in social work is just what you are looking for. This month (March), is National Professional Social Work Month, so it’s a good time to give this some thought.

Many college students who started out thinking they wanted to major in psychology, sociology, or human services found out that what they really needed was a social work degree.

“But I don’t want to work with abused children,” you might say. Get rid of that old stereotype right now. While some professional social workers do work in child protective services and other roles with abused children and their families, the field of social work is much, much broader than that. And, in fact, many of the caseworkers who work in the important field of child protection are not actually trained social workers.

So, what does a professional social worker do?

Well, that’s a question that could take several days to answer. As publisher and editor of the online magazine, The New Social Worker (www.socialworker.com), and editor of the book Days in the Lives of Social Workers, I am constantly reminded of the wide variety of career paths social work offers. A professional social worker might work in direct practice in fields of child and family services, mental health, health care, schools, or aging. Social workers in direct practice meet with people to determine their needs by gathering information for a “psychosocial” assessment. Then they work with the clients and other professionals to develop a plan of ongoing treatment or services to help meet those needs.

So, a social worker in a senior center might help older people in the community through the maze of options for health care, connecting them with home health services, Meals on Wheels, or transportation to medical appointments. A social worker in a hospice setting might provide counseling to a dying person and his or her loved ones. A social worker in a school might work with students to find out what issues (at home or at school) are contributing to the student’s faltering grades and/or increasing absences from school.

Not all MSWs and BSWs work in direct practice, though. Some work in state government policy offices, advising governors on state aging policy, for example. Others work as community organizers, helping tenants fight for the rights they deserve. Some are administrators of nursing homes and other small and large agencies. Some are even members of Congress.

There are so many different kinds of social work that I have already filled two books with stories of them, totaling 89 different settings. And I’m working on a third one now in the series of Days in the Lives of Social Workers books.

If you are interested in becoming a social worker, there are a few practical things you should know:

1. Undergraduate (BSW) and graduate (MSW) social work degree programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. You can find a listing of accredited programs at the CSWE Web site (www.cswe.org).

2. Each state has its own licensing law for social workers. In general, to become a professional, licensed social worker, you will need a CSWE-accredited degree, plus a passing score on the licensing exam used by your state, and (in some cases, depending on the level of licensure) the required amount of supervised social work experience.

Not sure if you have what it takes? Accredited social work degree programs always include a “field placement” component, in which you will get a chance to intern in a real agency. This gives you a chance to “try out” your skills and learn in a closely supervised setting. The field placement is an excellent place to learn and grow. It can (and should be) challenging to the student. THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER has addressed the challenges in articles such as “My Field Placement–Why Do I Hate It So?”

Want to explore more about the exciting profession of social work? See the following Web sites:

THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER Online–http://www.socialworker.com

This site provides a FREE electronic version of the quarterly magazine devoted to social work careers, The New Social Worker. Also, to kick off Social Work Month 2007, the site now offers the Social Work Podcast by Jonathan Singer, LCSW. Listen to full-length lectures on a variety of social work topics!


This is THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER’s online job board for professional social workers and employers.

Council on Social Work Education–http://www.cswe.org

Find a listing of accredited social work degree programs.

Association of Social Work Boards–http://www.aswb.org

Find out about social work licensing.

National Association of Social Workers–http://www.socialworkers.org

This is the largest professional association of social workers in the U.S.

Help Starts Here–http://www.helpstartshere.org

NASW’s consumer education site about various social work issues.

Days in the Lives of Social Workers–http://www.daysinthelivesofsocialworkers.com

This site provides information about the Days in the Lives of Social Workers book series.


Source by Linda Grobman


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