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How to become a social worker

Published: Tuesday 2nd February 2021

Social worker talking to a mother and her children on a couch

Have you been wondering how to become a social worker? You’re not alone! There are so many people looking to get into this amazing field, with its high levels of careers prospects and job satisfaction. 

Here’s how to become a social worker.

What is a social worker?

A social worker is someone whose job it is to help people cope with the various challenges they face in their personal lives, and to help offer solutions. They often specialize in fields such as addiction, mental illness, child protection, and other areas. 

Some social workers work in a clinical setting and can help diagnose people with mental health conditions and other behavioral and emotional issues.

The work you do will depend on the field of social work you decide to go into. For example, you could be a healthcare social worker, helping patients understand their illnesses and helping them make appropriate adjustments to their lives. 

In this kind of social work, you work very closely with community organizations to help provide your clients  with support, and with hospital and/or clinic staff for guidance on how to help your clients make adjustments to their illness. It would also be your responsibility to help your client’s extended family deal with difficulties that may arise from the illness.

On the other hand, if you became a school social worker, your role and duties would be completely different. 

In this role, you would work with students, families, and teachers in order to help a student improve their academic performance and social and emotional development. In this role, you will often deal with young people who display aggressive or anti-social behaviors which are detrimental to their school performance. 

What education do I need to become a social worker?

Middle-aged social worker talking to an elderly woman on a couch

The education you will need will depend on the type of role you want to take. While most social workers have a bachelor’s degree, some people who want to work in a clinical setting will need to earn a master’s in social work and have at least two years of supervised experience. 

While it is less common, some employers will hire people with related degrees, such as in psychology or sociology. Check with the Council on Social Work Education to see if your program is accredited. 

Do I need other experience and certifications?

To operate as a social worker, you will need to achieve a social work licensure in the state where you work. Licensing requirements vary by state. To check your state’s requirements, visit the Association of Social Work Boards.

Main duties

In general, a social worker will, no matter their position:

  • Identify communities and individuals in need of help
  • Assess the needs of service users and come up with appropriate actions to help them achieve their goals
  • Help clients deal with difficult life situations, such as bereavement, relationship breakdown, illness, and unemployment
  • Keep up to date with the latest research in the field
  • Respond to clients in crisis and respond accordingly
  • Maintain cases files and update them as required

Where are all the social work jobs?

Social worker sitting across from a young girl and talking to her

You can work as a social worker almost anywhere. Although most social workers work in an office, many will spend a lot of time out of the office visiting clients. You will be required to go where the work takes you. For instance, as a healthcare social worker, you may be assigned to various clients in several hospitals. 

You may also be able to work remotely as a social worker if your duties can be sufficiently completed online. This could apply to social workers whose work involves a lot of counselling and/or psychotherapy services. 

Salary

The mean annual wage for a social worker in the US is around $50,000. Clinical social workers tend to make more as their positions require more education and training.

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