Social work is a practice-based profession that broadly aims to promote social change and development through the empowerment of both individuals and communities. It focuses on people and their circumstances, so it involves the understanding of human development and behavior and the social, economic, and cultural factors that influence everybody. Through their hard work, social workers can have serious positive impacts on people’s lives. For example, progressing civil rights, disability pay, child abuse and neglect prevention, and the reduction of the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
The three levels of social work
Micro: in which social workers are involved with one-to-one, family, and small-group services helping people with a range of social issues such as housing support, problems with mental health, and substance abuse counseling.
Mezzo: in which social workers work with groups in various places, including prisons, hospitals, and schools, coordinating care for patients admitted to hospitals for long-term care.
Macro: this level of social work encompasses research, policymaking, and community-based initiatives, focusing on societal issues such as homelessness, discrimination, and abuse.
Social workers work with different populations and people, focusing on those who are vulnerable, living in poverty, or oppressed, and aiming to improve overall well-being. They may participate in legislative processes resulting in the formation of social policies or working on the ground with individuals and groups. A social worker could deal with the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of emotional, mental, and behavioral issues or focus on research and development for wider programs to help the community.
Different types of social work
Child, family, and school social workers help children, family members, and school staff to resolve problems, sometimes connecting with parents who are struggling to help them care for and raise their children. They also work alongside students and teachers to help address issues such as bullying.
Medical and public health social workers help those who are ill or who have chronic health problems to access adequate care and public resources such as Medicare and Medicaid and play an important role in supporting their clients as they navigate their way through the services and support they need.
Mental health and substance abuse social workers help people by sourcing the right kind of therapy and assisting clients in finding financially accessible rehabilitation programs and long-term mental health care.
Benefits of becoming a social worker
Social work is a profession ideal for those who want to help others and make a positive impact on their community. It attracts people who want to help the most vulnerable and make positive changes.
There are a variety of environments in which social workers can be employed, such as hospitals, schools, government organizations, advocacy agencies, health centers, and non-profits. Within these, social workers can focus on specialties that utilize their passions and strengths, such as direct client care, grant writing, or policy development.
Social workers strive to make a positive impact, solving problems and finding ways to prevent future problems for both individuals and communities. Often improvements take a while to come to fruition, and with that comes a sense of fulfilment and purpose from being part of positive change and seeing this change happen as a result of the hard work of you and your colleagues.
Social work professionals spend a lot of their working day out and about in the community and with clients, rather than sitting at a desk, and there is often not a typical day – they could be attending court hearings, supervising visits, or advocating for clients. This varied working life is attractive to many people who do not want to have a typical, regular nine-to-five job.
Social work also provides opportunities for professional development, enhancing education and skills and allowing for advancement within the profession. Gaining the right qualifications and committing to lifelong learning can pay dividends within the field, whether that be taking courses or keeping on top of cultural and professional shifts by reading a variety of literature from various sources.
The employment prospects within the profession are good. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment of social workers is expected to grow 9 percent between 2021 to 2031, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Approximately 74,700 openings are projected on average over that decade.
How to become a social worker
Most social work positions require a Bachelor’s in Social Work degree (BSW) from an accredited school. This allows candidates to apply for entry-level social work jobs in many states. Many social workers have advanced degrees, such as a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) or a doctorate.
Generally, it takes four years to become a social worker with a BSW degree and two to three more years to gain an MSW. As well as this, students must complete fieldwork. Clinical social workers usually require at least 3,000 supervised clinical hours of fieldwork to get licensed. This can vary between states, so it is important to research what is needed in different locations.
Cleveland State University’s Master’s in Social Work online offers two specializations for students to choose from – that of Clinical Social Worker or Advanced Generalist Social Worker. Clinical social work focuses on the assessment diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness, emotional, and other behavioural disturbances. Generalist social work has a range of applications within various workplaces such as agencies, advocacy groups, healthcare, and community organizations.
The coursework is 100% online, with 900 field practicum hours in the community, and the degree can be done either full-time or part-time allowing candidates to balance their professional and personal lives in a way that suits their needs. The degrees are designed for individuals with a bachelor’s degree in any field who are looking for stimulating, rewarding, and meaningful careers within the field of social work.