It is a job that seems to have no clearly defined role and it is a job that is always seemingly changing. So, if you want to become a social worker, it can be a bit tricky, not only to identify which area you want to work in but also to get an idea of what this role in these areas involves.
There are, in short, five different specialties in social work. Depending on your interest, you may decide to blend two of them or you may focus solely on a single area.
This article provides a brief introduction to the different types of social workers in the US, allowing you to identify which area might be the right one for you to train in.
What Is A Social Worker?
Before that, it is important to try and identify what a standard social worker job involves and what is needed to train as one.
Social workers aim to help people overcome the stresses of everyday living and they tend to focus on groups that are vulnerable. There is a lot of information that has to be considered when you are a social worker, and this is a job that has a lot of workplace fatigue and stress. It is important when working as a social worker to take care of yourself, so you should read about self-care for social workers.
The area of social work is roughly divided into two groups: direct service and clinical.
Clinical social workers are a bit more medically-based and are usually involved in the diagnosis and treatment of mental, emotional, and behavioral issues. This can be in adults, children, or teenagers.
Direct service social workers are a bit more general. They can work with people of all ages and could be called in to help in cases where there is child neglect or abuse. Or they may be in charge of helping an elderly person be discharged from the hospital to the community.
Most social workers will have a qualification in social, psychological, or physical health. Some may have a qualification in the area of social work itself, and for some roles, licensure is needed for them to operate. This will be discussed in more depth in the next part of this article.
Types Of Social Workers
So, which type of social worker role might be the best suited for you?
School Social Worker
A school social worker may be employed by an individual school or they may operate across an entire district. They will aim to work with children from kindergarten to grade 12. Based on what is needed, their roles may alter drastically.
If you want more information about the variability of this role, search for the National Association of School Workers. In the majority of cases, school social workers will be involved in providing training to teachers, school workers, and parents. This could be in relation to child psychology.
They will also be involved in conducting assessments, which can include potentially looking at barriers to academic performance, such as dyslexia and autism spectrum diagnoses. They may also seek to help their parents. They may be involved in devising treatment plans or education plans for children to help them with their mental health or peer issues. They may be required to conduct home visits too, to assess the environment that the child is being raised in, or to meet with the child’s siblings or carers in their own home.
This role can take on more of a school counselor tone. So, you may want to take on additional training to help you connect better with your most vulnerable students and to develop your skill set.
Mental Health And Substance Abuse Social Worker
As service providers for mental health and substance abuse support, social workers make up the majority in the US. As the name suggests, this group tends to focus on people who are currently engaged in mental health or substance abuse programs.
Some mental health social workers can work for a psychiatric hospital and may help patients with leaving the hospital and going into the community, which will involve liaising with nurses and doctors within an acute patient setting. Alternatively, they may work in an outpatient setting, which can involve ensuring that the service users are accessing all of the services that they need, such as housing and benefits.
This role may, once again, come across as one relating more to therapy. For some mental health social workers, additional training is key to helping provide support for vulnerable people.
Relating to substance abuse, a social worker may be working for an outpatient service or they work for the police or the courts. In some cases, they may be called upon to take part in court proceedings for their service users, where they may be required to provide evidence in the form of a written testimony.
This role is very challenging, as it involves a lot of knowledge and understanding of mental health disorders, medications that those with mental illness may be taking, and of course, a working knowledge of the benefits system – while also knowing how to work with potentially aggressive or difficult people.
Clinical Social Workers
Clinical social workers can work in many different environments. They may work in hospitals, or they may work in community mental health centers. They can also work in private practices, such as doctors’ surgeries.
They are usually responsible for conducting group therapy, as well as individual or family therapy. Like mental health social workers, they will also be involved in the diagnostic aspects of mental health with their service users and the treatment plans.
They are a bit more autonomous, and their services can range from assisting their clients with daily chores, such as shopping or paying bills, to helping them to gain access to therapy for severe mental health issues.
Child And Family Social Worker
This is one of the most popular areas of social work. Sadly, it is also one of the toughest, as it can involve distressing case studies relating to children and abuse.
Child and family social workers may work in hospitals or may be part of a government program. They can also work for schools.
Their job role is a bit more involved than some of the others, as they have a duty to protect children. So, they may be responsible for counseling parents through tough financial or emotional times. They can also help families with children to find housing, as well as make sure that they have access to all of the benefits that they are entitled to. This role may also involve placing abused children in foster homes or other safe environments. There can be a happier side to this job too, as child and family social workers are also usually involved in the adoption process, and they can help to ensure that the children are happy in their new home. Many child and family social workers report a high level of job satisfaction, as they have helped to get children out of unsafe environments, and they can now help them to get their lives back on track.
Health Care Social Worker
A health care social worker is the broadest of the social worker roles. They can work in clinics or as part of patient outreach, and they typically work with the widest range of clients, from the elderly to the extremely mentally ill. So, they have to be adaptable!
The responsibilities may involve helping patients to navigate the healthcare system, irrespective of the reasons why. It may be due to physical health or mental health. They can refer their clients to specific services, such as drug rehabilitation programs or employment programs. They can also help family members. In some cases, one person may have a chronic health condition and their family may need to undertake training to help keep the person safe, which can be organized by a health care social worker.
They also usually oversee case files, which can include ensuring that children are safe in their homes or that children are attending school.
Is Social Work For You?
In the US, it is estimated that social worker roles will increase by 12% by 2024, due in part to the rising population numbers and governmental programs investing more money into this area.
However, when you look into this area, it should be more than a job. You should want to be looking for a role where you can help society’s most vulnerable people to not only survive but thrive, which is extremely challenging work and takes a lot of resilience and dedication to excel at.
It may take thinking outside the box while aiming to get the best outcome for your client. If you are a hardworking, dedicated individual who cares about people, then social work may be the perfect job for you.