Social workers aim to help others by improving their well-being and interpersonal and social situations. There are many areas of social work and an array of social worker fields. It’s a misconception that social work is only involved in child welfare. In reality, social workers work in a variety of settings.
This article will explore the various social work specializations, including mental health, healthcare, criminal justice, child welfare, substance abuse, government agencies, and more. If you are interested in discovering what you can do with your social worker skills, then here is what you need to know.
What Is Social Work?
Social work is the practice of improving the welfare of people by using professional principles to guide them to the right services. Social workers are responsible for helping families, individuals, and groups of people deal with their problems and improve their lives.
Social workers also need specific observational skills, communication skills, listening skills, and organizational skills. They tackle human problems in all areas of a community, with each social work specialization focusing on a different area. Social workers can be found in schools, hospitals, mental health clinics, politics, the military, prisons, and corporations.
What Are the Different Fields in Social Work?
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Those who have a degree in social work or a related form of study can go into various specializations. Below is a brief list of the different areas of social work.
- Clinical Social Work
- Child, Family & School Social Work
- Veteran Social Work
- Healthcare Social Work
- International Social Work
- EAP Social Work
- Social Justice
- Trauma and Disaster Relief
- Mental Health
- Administration and Management
- Community Organization
- Substance Abuse
- Public Welfare
Social Work vs Therapist
Social workers and therapists perform slightly different functions. A therapist typically deals with individuals, groups, or families in terms of psychological issues, mental health disorders, and behavioral patterns. While social workers can do this, they provide a broader range of services, which usually include community-based interventions.
The main difference is that a therapist is generally sought out by the client, whereas in most cases a social worker is assigned to a client in need. Another difference is that becoming a therapist requires more rigorous study than becoming a social worker.
What Field of Social Work Pays the Most?
Those working in corporate or medical social care tend to earn the most money. The median Medical Social Worker, for example, makes a salary of $59,420 per year. Someone in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility, meanwhile, earns a salary of $58,560 on average.
These social worker fields are compensated more generously than social workers in general. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary across all areas of social work is roughly $50,470.
Social Work Specializations in Detail
A social worker has the potential to work in different sectors, which provides exciting opportunities for those who choose it as a career. Below is a closer look at the sectors, what each of them entails, and the different career possibilities for each.
Child, Family, and School
Youth social workers protect the most vulnerable, helping families get the resources they need to raise their children in safe and loving homes. Social workers ensure children receive adequate food, schooling, housing, and medical care.
Many social workers choose to work as school guidance counselors to help children stay on track with their grades and provide emotional support.
Other roles include education specialist, school crisis counselor, adolescent specialist, case manager, child advocate, children’s service specialist, family advocacy representative, and foster care specialist.
Veteran/Military Social Worker
These social workers either help bridge the transition to civilian life for veterans or lend support to families of military personnel during deployment. In some cases, they work in private practices or other military-focused organizations.
Healthcare Social Worker
Those working in healthcare provide direct help to those in hospitals or medical settings. They collaborate with medical teams to further patient treatment and provide support in the form of social and psychological assessments.
Healthcare social workers can also work in specialized units like hospice care, neonatal care, transplant centers, and emergency rooms, or they might be general practitioners. They can also find employment opportunities doing academic research, developing administrative programs, or advancing the healthcare policy agenda.
Other roles include clinical social worker, counselor, HIV mental health coordinator, medical social worker, outpatient health specialist, patient advocate, pediatric social worker, and psychiatric social worker.
Criminal justice jobs in social work are for those interested in the law enforcement side of social care. They play an essential role in the corrections and legal system. They advocate for those accused of crimes, support the incarcerated, and support family members who are impacted by imprisonment.
These social workers require a thick skin, as they will sometimes work on cases of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence.
Clinical/Mental Health Social Worker
Social workers with a Master of Social Work (MSW) can provide psychotherapy and even diagnose mental health disorders. Psychiatric social workers specialize in mental health services and must have a clinical social work license.
Mental health social workers provide psychosocial assessments and therapy as they work alongside the patient’s medical team. Psychiatric social workers often work at hospitals, outpatient centers, and private practices.
The many exciting challenges of public welfare social work require good leadership skills and creative thinking. These social workers are responsible for coordinating income support to those in need, typically the elderly, disabled, unwell, and children. A public welfare social worker aims to promote self-sufficiency and independence.
They take on roles such as human resource management.
Community organizers champion the rights of individuals and communities as they strive to achieve social justice. Community organizing and advocacy use people power as a lever to counterbalance the influence of more wealthy and privileged groups.
Other roles are community outreach worker, community health worker, fundraiser, grant writer, policy planning specialist, and public health manager.
This area of social work involves helping individuals who suffer from substance abuse. Substance abuse social workers aid in planning and implementing interventions, provide recovery counseling, and support their families. They also keep the individual’s life afloat well into recovery, helping with things like resources, employment, and housing.
Social workers who wish to work on international development services operate in communities, orphanages, refugee camps, hospitals, and schools. They also support national governments, intergovernmental organizations, and non-governmental organizations in enhancing social well-being.
This is an exciting area for social workers with an interest in politics, leadership, and activism. They can become involved in social and legislative issues, public office, and policies.
Potential roles include budget analyst, director of government relations, planning specialist, public affairs specialist, public health manager, research analyst, campaign manager, and an elected official.
Administration and Management
Social work administrators can work in either public or private agencies. Many of the skills required for this role are similar to administrators in other organizations. The key difference is that social workers need knowledge of social policy, social services, and human behavior.
Other roles are director of social services, outpatient manager, program director, social service manager, case manager, and vice president.
How to Become a Social Worker: Step-by-Step
To become a social worker you typically will need to get a bachelor’s degree in social work. But you can also gain a degree in the humanities and then do a MSW, or become a social work assistant without a degree. In that case, the social worker assists other social workers in helping clients.
- Develop empathy. Before enrolling in a social work program, consider how interested you are in this human service. Consider whether you want to impact people’s lives, go to their homes, and help create actionable steps to solve their problems.
- Bachelor’s degree. If you decide it’s for you, the next step is to enroll in a social work degree program. Typically, you need a certain amount of field hours to apply for your license, and you can study the subject at a university, college, or online.
- Social work license. The license is required to practice as a social worker. After you fulfill the requisite number of hours and pass a board exam, you will be awarded your license.
- Specialization. After some time working in the field, you can begin to consider which direction to take in your social work career.
- MSW (optional). This optional step is for those of you who wish to work in a clinical setting. The master of social work is a master’s degree in social work that will give you the expertise to work as a clinical social worker.
What Are The Social Worker Skills Required?
Below are the top skills that employers seek when hiring social workers. To find more details on specific social worker fields, search for job listings in that particular sector.
- Written communication
- Verbal communication
- People skills
- Planning skills
- Organizational skills
- A positive approach
- Social work expertise
- Ability to work under pressure
Conclusion: Advice for a Future Social Worker
Your specialization choice will depend on who you are, what difference you wish to make in the world, and whichever field interests you the most. Although the prospect of more money can seem enticing, the long-term reason to choose a social work field is that you love it.
No matter which you choose, you will meet a vast number of different people, gain skills to help them de-escalate their stress, and help them navigate their emotions or the oppressive systems in which they are trapped. It is one of those jobs where every day feels different, with the days when you have successfully helped someone feeling the best.
One big piece of advice is to be sure you have a support system and the proper routines for managing the stress you will feel on the job. Another one is to listen to people and understand that you aren’t there to fix everything, but rather to empower them to turn things around for themselves.
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