Social work is often divided into three broad practice categories: macro, mezzo and micro. Macro level social work is interventions provided on a large scale that affect entire communities and systems of care. Mezzo social work happens on an intermediate scale, involving neighborhoods, institutions or other smaller groups. Micro social work is the most common practice, and happens directly with an individual client or family. Regardless of which level a social worker pursues, a Masters in Social Work degree will strengthen their knowledge of their practice and broaden their career possibilities. These three levels of social work practice at times overlap and always influence each other, so it is important to understand the distinctions between these social work approaches.

Macro Social Work

The practice of macro social work is the effort to help clients by intervening in large systems. Examples include lobbying to change a health care law, organizing a state-wide activist group or advocating for large-scale social policy change. Macro practice is one of the key distinctions between social work and other helping professions, such as psychiatric therapy. Macro social work generally addresses issues experienced  in mezzo or micro social work practice, as well as social work research. Macro practice empowers clients by involving them in systemic change.

Mezzo Social Work

Mezzo social work practice deals with small-to-medium-sized groups, such as neighborhoods, schools or other local organizations. Examples of mezzo social work include community organizing, management of a social work organization or focus on institutional or cultural change rather than individual clients. Social workers engaged in mezzo practice are often also engaged in micro and/or macro social work. This ensures the needs and challenges of individual clients are understood and addressed in tandem with larger social issues.

Micro Social Work

Micro practice is the most common kind of social work, and is how most people imagine social workers providing services. In micro social work, the social worker engages with individuals or families to solve problems. Common examples include helping individuals to find appropriate housing, health care and social services. Family therapy and individual counseling would also fall under the auspices of micro practice, as would the medical care of an individual or family, and the treatment of people suffering from a mental health condition or substance abuse problem. Micro-pracice may even include military social work, where the social worker helps military service members cope with the challenges accompanying military life and access the benefits entitled to them by their service. Many social workers engage in micro and mezzo practice simultaneously. Even the most ambitious macro-level interventions have their roots in the conversations between a single social worker and a single client.

Further Reading

  • Become a Social Worker
  • Earn Your Master of Social Work
  • Social Work Salaries
  • Social Work Scholarships

  • Subscribe to Social Work License Map’s newsletter for current information on becoming a social worker, including social work programs, certification, careers and much more!