What is Social Work?
Social work is a broadly defined profession encompassing many different kinds of professionals who all serve people in need. The International Federation of Social Workers calls social work “an interrelated system of values, theory and practice.” Social workers are unique in the way that they look at many different aspects of a problem, from the individual to the societal, from the psychological to the political. Common ways of serving clients include providing counseling, therapy and education, as well as connecting clients to appropriate public or private resources.
Types of Social Workers
There are many different type of social workers but here are three examples of the type of work that they do.
- Child, Family and School Social Workers help children, families and the elderly work toward resolving their problems. They help place children in foster care and assist parents looking to adopt. They connect struggling parents with resources to help better care for and raise their children. They work with students and teachers to address bullying, learning disabilities and other problems. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, child, family and school social workers are the most common kind of social worker.
- Medical and Public Health Social Workers help the seriously ill and those with chronic health problems to find adequate care, access public resources like medicare and medicaid, and find services like nutrition classes and nursing care. They often play a key role in helping clients to navigate and coordinate the numerous health care and public service systems that provide care together. Medical and public health social workers also offer counseling to clients and their families about coping with the effects of illness.
- Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers help people with a wide variety of mental health and substance abuse problems. Therapy is one common way for social workers to help clients address those problems. Helping people to find financially accessible rehabilitative programs or long-term mental health care is another way. Mental health and substance abuse social workers may also participate in outreach and preventative programs, which seek to locate people in need and address problems before they become dire, respectively.
Where Do Social Workers Work?
Because addressing the way that clients interact with their environments and communities is so central to their jobs, social workers can be found in a wide variety of institutional environments. Most social workers spend the majority of their time in an office, although many also visit clients off-site. Schools, hospitals, mental health clinics, prisons, military barracks, senior centers, corporations and public social agencies all employ social workers. Licensed social workers also set up their own private practices, operating independently of other institutions.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States is home to more than half a million social workers and the field is quickly growing. Read more about how to become a social worker.