What Is Social Work?
- Civil rights
- Unemployment insurance
- Disability pay
- Workers’ compensation
- Reduced mental health stigma
- Medicaid and Medicare
- Child abuse and neglect prevention
Three Levels of Social Work
- Micro social work: At the micro level, social workers provide one-on-one, family and small-group services addressing a wide range of social issues. These may include housing support, substance abuse counseling and mental health therapy.
- Mezzo social work: Social workers who operate at the mezzo level work with groups of people, such as in a school, prison, hospital or neighborhoods. They may help students struggling academically, address substance abuse recovery with prison inmates or help coordinate care for patients who are admitted to hospitals for long-term care.
- Macro social work: Macro-level social work encompasses policy-making, research and community-based initiatives. Social workers at this level of practice are more likely to focus on and help address larger societal issues like homelessness, substance abuse, healthcare and more.
What Is a Social Worker?
Is a Career in Social Work Right for Me?
- Does diversity drive you or is your cultural competence what draws others to you?
- Do you currently spend your spare time mentoring disadvantaged youth or supporting children and adolescents who have experienced trauma or abuse because of family members?
- Are you emotionally resilient, and do you seek out challenges in the workplace, always proposing new solutions?
- Are you praised for your patience, professionalism and ability to read people?
What Does a Social Worker Do?
Possible Careers in Social Work
- Military social worker. Through counseling and support, military social workers educate and work with members of the armed forces, as well as veterans and their families, to help them with the unique challenges they face.
- Community social worker. Instead of working with individual clients, community social workers assess a group as a whole and implement measures and changes for everyone’s benefit. Community social workers prepare and administer new programs or work on allocating resources to the community.
- Mental health social worker. Those living with mental health disorders often need the support and attention that social workers can provide. Mental health social workers spend their time assessing and treating people with behavioral and emotional issues, providing feedback and assistance to address their mental health.
- School social worker. Most primary and secondary schools have a social worker who functions as an advocate for students. School social workers engage directly with the teachers, parents, administrators and staff to make sure students can thrive inside and outside of the classroom setting. These social workers develop relationships with families, recommend community resources and extend support for mental health services and crisis management.
Social Worker Skills
- Empathy. This quality enables social workers to put themselves in their client’s shoes. Having empathy can help a social worker have a deeper understanding of a client’s problems.
- Organization. With the many daily responsibilities they have, social workers can benefit from being extremely organized. The amount of paperwork and caseloads can add up from networking, calls, billing and arranging services for multiple clients.
- Communication. Social workers should be clear, concise and transparent with clients and their families or care providers, as well as with their colleagues. Strong communication can help to mitigate misunderstandings and break down other communication barriers.
- Problem-solving. No case is the same and a social worker is often working hard to find the best solution in a difficult situation. A good problem solver can help clients obtain the best services and support needed.
- Patience. As a social worker, you will work with diverse clients. Maintaining patience and the ability to understand clients from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds are core components of social work practice.
Social work scholarships are available to help students with the cost of earning a degree. Student loans and grants are also available to help cover the cost.
The salary of a social worker can range depending on the field, tenure and education achieved. According to the BLS, the median annual pay for a social worker in 2022 was $55,350, with the highest 10% of social workers earning more than $87,300.
You can reach out to healthcare providers, your health insurance company or search a referral service/national professional organization like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) or the American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work (ABCSW).
As of 2022, the BLS estimates that there are 728,600 social workers employed in the United States. The most recent BLS data suggests that by 2032, there could be more than 782,000 social workers.
A social worker assists people in a wide range of settings, from mental health clinics to schools and hospitals. Social workers can work with individuals, organizations or large communities and assist with a variety of problems, from addiction to chronic illness and child support services.
Social workers do more than go out into the field to work with people in need. From promoting core values of empathy and compassion to framing research within their discipline and informing policy, social workers address and advocate for human rights and social justice. They work to strengthen individuals and communities.