The Foundations of Social Work

Social work is a career with a wide range of professional opportunities. You can find a social worker anywhere from schools and prisons to hospitals and government agencies. So what exactly is social work? Any work that is carried out by a trained professional with the goal of alleviating the conditions of those in need of help or welfare is considered social work.
Modern social work grew out of attempts to heal social problems and misfortunes. Poverty has been the biggest social illness that social work has tried to heal, but assisting those with mental health issues has also been a large part of their history.

About 100 years ago, social workers were helping veterans who had been traumatized in World War I. Today’s social work is not only geared at serving the disadvantaged, but the sick as well. Some even offer counseling services through their own private practices.

What Do They Do?

Social workers help people overcome some of life’s most difficult challenges: poverty, discrimination, abuse, addiction, loss, unemployment, disability, and mental illness. They help prevent crises and counsel people to cope more effectively with the stresses of everyday life.

The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that the field of social work is rapidly growing in the United States. The profession is expected to grow by 12% between 2014 and 2024. Social workers generally work full time with a median salary of $45,500 per year.

Social work can be classified in different ways. Social workers at the micro level work with individuals. Macro social workers institute change on an organizational level: institutions, communities, and even global policies. Social work programs emphasize looking at human behavior in a societal context.

Child, family, and school social workers provide social services to improve the social and psychological functioning of families. They often work for individual and family service agencies, schools, or State or local governments. They may also assist single parents, arrange adoptions, or help find foster homes for neglected or abused children. Some even specialize in services for senior citizens. Through employee assistance programs, social workers may help people cope with job-related pressures, personal problems affecting the quality of their work, or discrimination in the workplace.

Medical and public health social workers provide psychosocial support to people, families, or vulnerable populations so they can cope with chronic, acute, or terminal illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, or AIDS. They also advise family caregivers and counsel patients. Medical and public health social workers may work for hospitals, nursing and personal care facilities, individual and family services agencies, or local governments.

Other types of social workers include social work administrators, planners and policymakers who develop and implement programs to address issues such as child abuse, homelessness, substance abuse, and poverty. These workers research and analyze policies, programs, and regulations. They identify social problems and suggest legislative and other solutions.
Many social workers pursue clinical social work. In short, clinical social workers are mental health practitioners. They sometimes compete with counselors and even psychologists for jobs and clients. However, they often bring a unique perspective to the role.

Who is a Social Worker?

Social work is a profession for those with a strong desire to help improve people’s lives. Social workers are highly trained and experienced professionals. According to the National Association of Social Workers, only those who have earned social work degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral levels—and completed a minimum number of hours in supervised fieldwork—are professional social workers. Social workers not only need clinical and practical knowledge, but their personality, demeanor, and attitude must also be professional in order to successfully aid and work with the public.

As a social worker, you can serve as a positive role model by being fully accountable. This means conducting yourself ethically and responsibly, while being dependable, punctual, and sensitive to confidential issues.

Because you are helping those who are disadvantaged or sick, social work is a caring profession that requires an empathic approach. Understanding individual needs and concerns is an important part of being able to make the right choices for your patients. Taking the time to listen will help you get to the real issues.

A big part of a social worker’s job that works specifically in hospitals or with patients, will be helping clients make the proper decisions about their treatment plans. This is particularly true if you are working with children who need an advocate. Using good judgment will keep you from reacting emotionally, and make it easier to provide evidence-based social work services.
Flexibility is also needed in many aspects of a social work career, from being adaptable to changes in the profession, to focusing on any new education or training you might require. You’ll have to be comfortable working in different environments with new people over the course of this career.

Learn More

Enter a dynamic and diverse community of scholars and students committed to social justice and individual, family and community well-being with Rutgers University’s Master of Social Work online program.


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