How Do I Become a Social Worker?

If you’re interested in working with people and helping them work through problems and issues, you may be asking yourself, “How do I become a Social Worker?”

A social worker is a professional who seeks to improve the quality of life for individuals, families and groups facing life challenges. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics differentiates between two divisions of social workers. Direct-service social workers help people cope with everyday problems, while clinical social workers are capable of diagnosing mental, emotional and psychological issues. The National Association of Social Workers differentiates social work from related fields based on its emphasis on actively changing a situation. In addition to helping a client come to terms with a problem, social workers may also find emotional support groups, educational courses or financial assistance to help improve the situation.

When an individual has a problem, direct-service social workers may be involved in the whole process, beginning with recognizing that a client needs help. Direct-service social workers develop plans for how to help a client, connect the client with resources and organizations that can offer further assistance and follow up with the client during and after the treatment process.

Clinical social workers are considered part of the healthcare field. Like clinical psychologists, they provide therapy, including counseling, to individuals or groups dealing with mental, emotional and psychological issues. Many clinical social workers are employed in healthcare settings like hospitals, where they work with patients and their loved ones in adjusting to traumatic injuries and diagnoses of illness. Clinical social workers also provide therapy in private practice settings and treat patients suffering from emotional disorders, like anxiety and depression, and those struggling to cope with stressful life changes, like change in marital or employment status.

Social workers find employment in many different settings, including hospitals, schools, police departments, courts and other agencies. Some social workers are employed by private businesses, others by the government, and still others are self-employed. Many social workers specialize in a particular field, such as child and family social work, school social work, healthcare social work, and mental health and substance abuse social work.

Social workers must be good listeners and should enjoy interacting with people in a compassionate manner. They should be innovative and resourceful in finding help for their clients. Because they have a number of clients’ cases to manage, they need strong organizational and time-management skills to balance their responsibilities.

Aspiring social workers begin their education by earning bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) from an institution accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Obtaining an advanced degree, like a master’s degree in social work (MSW) or doctorate in social work (DSW), can significantly boost a social worker’s earning potential and potential for advancement. Only a candidate who holds an MSW or higher-level degree can become a clinical social worker. Social work education may begin with a liberal arts background but also requires many hours of field experience under the supervision of a seasoned social worker. In addition, social workers who have completed their degree programs must apply for licensure, registration and certification as required by the state in which they intend to work.

Featured Degree Programs