Introduction to Social Work

What is Social Work, anyway?

Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that prioritizes human well-being and aims to help meet basic and complex needs of all people, with a particular focus on those who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty. Social work differs from other professions because it focuses both on the person and their environment. 

While there are many different areas of social work practice, there are two primary areas of focus in the field: clinical and macro. There are many career paths in both clinical and macro roles, and both types of social workers make a difference in the world, but they do so in different ways. 

Clinical social work refers to social work roles that revolve around assisting individuals (also called direct services). This usually involves working with clients, and could be in a variety of settings including community organizations, therapy, schools, children and family services, and programs and resources that help with housing and other needs. 

Instead of focusing on the small-scale work of social work practice with individuals, macro social work emphasizes the large-scale efforts of advocacy, social justice and public policy. Macro social workers use their passion for social justice and their knowledge of social work theories and practice to work for improvements in social service programs and social policies. Common roles in macro social work can include community organizers, policy analysts, and legislative advocates.

Here are some resources to continue learning about the vast field of social work:

The job of a social worker is often considered both rewarding and emotionally taxing. Having strong interpersonal skills, exercising empathy, and being an effective communicator, listener and critical thinker, are important aspects of the job. 

How do you become a Social Worker?

A bachelor’s degree in social work (or related field such as psychology or sociology), is the most common requirement for entry-level administrative positions. A Bachelor’s degree prepares students for direct-service positions such as caseworker or mental health assistant. However, clinical positions require a master’s degree in social work (MSW), which generally takes 2 years to complete. MSW programs prepare students for macro or clinical social work in their chosen specialty. 

Is social work right for you?

Social work is just one way of making a difference and helping others, and it’s a discipline and practice that has many career paths. A training in social work equips you with a big toolkit to which you can bring to a wide variety of roles. Here’s a few questions to ask yourself if you are considering pursuing the field of social work:

  • Does diversity drive you or is your cultural competence what draws others to you? 
  • Do you currently spend your spare time mentoring disadvantaged youth? 
  • Are you interested in supporting children and adolescents who have experienced trauma or abuse?
  • Are you emotionally resilient and driven to finding new solutions to challenges and social problems?