What Is Social Work?
Social work is a helping profession; the main goal of social work is to improve a society’s overall well-being, especially for the most vulnerable populations.
You may be wondering, “Why social work instead of other helping professions?” Social work’s distinguishing characteristics are its emphasis on the person-in-environment model and its emphasis on social justice. In other words, social workers not only consider individuals’ internal struggles, as other counselors might, they also work with people to examine their relationships, family history, work environment, community environment, and the structures and policies that impact themin order to identify ways to help address a problem or challenge. Social workers also do not limit their work to individuals; they work with individuals, couples, families, groups, neighborhoods, communities, and organizations.
Social work practice is also strengths-based. Social workers help people or groups identify their problems, determine their skills and capacities, what they are doing well, and how that was accomplished, and then analyze ways that those strengths might be applied to the identified problems.
Social Work Jobs
Social work is an incredibly broad and diverse field; it offers an almost limitless range of career options. Social workers work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, non-profit organizations, mental health centers, schools, advocacy agencies, community organizations, and government offices.
Many social workers work directly with clients who are individuals, families or small groups. These social workers help clients cope with problems such as poverty, abuse, addiction, and mental illness by providing counseling, connecting clients with service providers, and empowering clients to meet their own needs.
Other social workers choose to work with communities, organizations or governments. These workers advocate for vulnerable populations, fighting to end the inequalities and injustices they see in their communities. They create policies, break down barriers, and drive reform.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social work employment opportunities are expected to grow at a rate of 25% between now and 2020, which is faster than average. This means it’s a great time to become a social worker. Demand will be particularly high for social workers employed in the fields of healthcare, substance abuse, and social services (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012-2013).
With a degree from an accredited school of social work, you can enter any of the following fields:
- Mental health services
- Military social work
- Adoption and foster care
- Family preservation services
- Child protective services
- Homeless services
- Hospital social work
- Health and wellness services
- Outpatient health services
- School-based social work
- Psychiatric hospital services
- Domestic violence services
- Services to persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities
- Services to older adults
- Faith-based services
- Advocacy services
- Grant management
- HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment services
- Addictions prevention and treatment services
- Services for justice-involved persons
- Crisis intervention
- Hospice and palliative care
- Nonprofit management and support
- Community organizing and intervention
- Housing services
- Guardian ad litem
- Disaster relief