What are Social Workers?

Social Work

If you're looking for a career with meaning, action, diversity, satisfaction, and an abundance of options, consider social work. Social workers are people who care about people, who want to make things better, who want to relieve suffering, who want their work to make a difference.


Social work is a profession devoted to helping people function the best they can in their environment. This can mean providing direct services or therapy directly to people (called "clients"). It also can mean working for change to improve social conditions.


The phrase "in their environment" points to a distinguishing characteristic of social work-one that sets it apart from other helping professions. 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 man suffering stress stemming from single parenting may be referred by a social worker to a child care agency. The social worker also might help him explore flextime with his employer and might work with a coalition of local employers to make flextime and child care more available. In addition, the social worker might provide therapy to help him handle the immediate stress.


Many social workers work for social change as well. The victim of an assault benefits not only from therapy but also from efforts to curb neighborhood crime. The client under stress because illness has devastated the family finances benefits from efforts to reform the nation's health care system.


From NASW "Choices: Careers in Social Work"



Where can I work with a degree in Social Work?

  • Adoption agencies
  • Nursing homes
  • Businesses and Corporations
  • Police departments
  • Child welfare agencies
  • Prisons/correctional facilities
  • Community mental health centers
  • Private practice
  • Probation offices
  • Courts
  • Psychiatric hospitals
  • Family service agencies
  • Public welfare agencies
  • Foster care organizations
  • Schools/school districts; colleges and universities
  • Labor unions
  • Senior centers
  • Hospitals and clinics
  • State and federal legislatures


Adult and Child

Myths concerning Social Workers

"Social workers do not earn much money."

Professionally trained social workers have good income potential. There are a number of variables that affect our compensation level. These variables include your field of practice, the geographic region of the country in which you live, the auspice (public sector, private non-profit) of your practice, and your years of practice experience. In a survey conducted by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the social work professional organization, the median income for members in 2001 was $49,500. The data show that 11 percent of NASW members earn more than $80,000; 18 percent, $60,000 to $79,999; 20 percent, $50,000 to $59,999; 21 percent, $40,000 to $49,000; 23 percent, $30,000 to $39,000; and 6 percent, under $30,000. Our students report beginning salaries from $28,000 to $38,000.


"Social Work is depressing because you are involved with other peoples' problems. "

Social workers work with individuals, families, and communities to address significant needs. Compassion is an important resource. If you are to be an effective in your work with clients, however, you cannot become entangled in their struggles. Through your professional training you learn to manage your feelings and to merge your compassion with knowledge and skills, enabling you to help clients mobilize constructive solutions.


" To provide mental health services you need a degree in psychology."

Over 60 percent of mental health services and psychotherapy is provided by master's level social workers. Social workers are the clinicians of choice because they view clients within their environment, taking into account personal and significant relationships, economic and social conditions, and physical health. Social workers build on strengths and assist clients in working on constraints that impinge on their well being.


"Social Workers work primarily with the poor."

Social Work has a strong commitment to work with the poor and the vulnerable and to advancing social and economic justice. Social workers also work with people from various socioeconomic groups in a diverse range of settings including school settings, child and family service agencies, early intervention programs, mental health agencies, prevention programs, community-based health agencies and hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation settings, advocacy agencies, community development organizations, and private practice groups.


"Most social workers work in government agencies."

Although many people believe that most social workers are employed at local, state, or federal government agencies, NASW survey data show otherwise. Almost three-quarters of all social workers work in private organizations.



Would I be a good Social Worker?


Wondering whether a career in Social Work is right for you? Take this quiz and find out!


Social Work Careers Quiz



Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Dept of Labor


National Association of Social Workers www.socialworkers.org

Council on Social Work Education www.cswe.org

Providence College http://www.providence.edu/Social+Work/Careers/Myths.htm



Perhaps the greatest strength in the Social Work Program is field instruction.

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