Social work is a profession devoted to helping people function the best they can in their environment. This can mean providing direct services to people in their homes or places of work, helping people through social service organizations, and working for policy change to improve social conditions.
Social workers help clients deal not only with how they feel about a situation but also with what they can do about it. For example, a social worker helping a parent who is overwhelmed by the stress of single parenting might be involved in any of the following ways:
In addition, a bachelor’s level social worker might refer the client to a social worker with a Masters in Social Work (MSW) degree in order to receive counseling to manage the immediate stress.
In addition to direct practice work with clients, social workers work for social change. The victim of an assault benefits not only from therapy but also from efforts to curb neighborhood crime. The client who experiences difficulties in daily functioning because of family conflict, or because of mental health needs, also benefits from efforts to improve services for families, or to expand behavioral health services.
Social work involves working with people at the individual, family, group, community, and societal levels. Social workers can be found directing social service agencies, writing grants, forming and conducting support and educational groups, improving the way communities function, and working directly with people of all ages—from children and families to senior citizens.
Few occupations can match the varied work environments available through social work, which offers a broad range of opportunities and settings. Social workers are found in public agencies, private businesses, hospitals, clinics, schools, nursing homes, private practices, child welfare and police departments, courts, and countless other interesting workplaces.
Social workers are managers, supervisors, and administrators. They serve at all levels of government. They are educators. They are therapists and researchers. More and more, they are also elected political leaders and legislators.
A social work major from an accredited undergraduate Social Work (BSW) program has many benefits. Only social work majors can become licensed social workers in most states. Most graduate social work programs will give advanced placement credit to students from a BSW program, which means either fewer courses needed to earn an MSW or more flexibility within the MSW program.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015), social work employment is expected to increase by 12 percent through 2024, a higher rate than the average for all occupations. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) reports a median social work salary of $55,000, with 50% of social workers earning between $41,000 and $71,000 (NASW, 2010).
Perhaps more importantly, social workers find great meaning in the work they do helping others. Here are several quotes from practicing social workers:
“I wanted to provide people with the opportunity to speak and express their emotions and their feelings in a place where they were going to be heard. That’s what got me into social work. I wanted to help people who aren’t heard in their lives and who come from circumstances in which they haven’t even been seen. Incarcerated people are an unheard, unseen population…I felt the need to get out there and give people half a chance, especially juveniles… Self-empowerment is one of the principles of social work practice, to make people feel like they can and do have the strength to do what they need to do to take care of themselves.” (Andrea Kushner in LeCroy, 2012, p. 15, 18).
“The difference between sociologists, psychiatrists, and social workers is that social workers are social engineers…We are the ones who can go out and do the programmatic changes and the policy changes. We are here to look at how society and the community fit together, to identify what barriers exist for people…This is the reason I love social work: I am able to say that we have made things better. We, social workers, are the leaders of this change for the better.” (Anita Royal in LeCroy, 2012, p. 36).
“I ended up with a job at a homeless shelter for runaway kids because I needed more money…I realized when I got that job, though, that it wasn’t just to pay the rent; I felt fulfilled.” (Hannah Freese in LeCroy, 2012, p. 39).
“I’m an advocate for social change. I want to change the world and make it a safer place. I work as the advocate in a small, rural community. That means that I provide support groups, domestic violence counseling, transfer to shelters, transport to courts, legal advocacy, social services, and referrals for all of the county.” (Linda Boles in LeCroy, 2012, p. 53).
“There are millions of other stories that have great meaning to me. Like when kids look at you and they know that you care about them. They hear that you are on their side and that you understand them, that you care about them. I think back to that time when I went out and took some kids out of a foster home where there had been some abuse, and this little kid looked at me and said, “Thank you.” And you go, “Wow! This is what this is about.” That’s not a big gigantic success story, but it was a moment that I have never forgotten.” (Michael Pesce in LeCroy, 2012, p. 63).
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. (2015). Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-2017 Edition: Social Workers. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm
LeCroy, C. W. (2012). The call of social work: Life stories. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
National Association of Social Workers. (2010). Summary of Key Compensation Findings Prepared for the 2010 Social Work Congress, April 2010. Retrieved from http://www.naswdc.org/pressroom/2010/salarystudy2010.pdf