Why Social Work Might Be the Career for You

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 25, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

For many professionals, finding a job that enables them to help others is a top priority. Social workers dedicate themselves to communities and individuals who benefit from compassionate and expert guidance. If you're interested in a career where you can empower other people and improve their quality of life, you might benefit from learning about the role of a social worker. In this article, we review what social work is, its importance, why you might choose to become a social worker and the different types of social work to consider.

Related: What Is a Social Worker? Types of Social Workers and Social Work Environments

What is social work?

Social work is a profession encompassing a variety of practices that address the challenges different communities and individuals face. Social workers might specialize in helping certain demographics, such as children or senior citizens, or they might work with a variety of clients, from the developmentally disabled to families in need of counseling. In each case, social workers learn about the emotional and physical conditions of clients, identify obstacles to overcome and organize the resources that can lead to meaningful improvements. Resources could include counseling, group programming, government assistance or referrals to other facilities or professionals for further support.

Why is social work important?

Social workers serve critical functions in their communities, performing important duties such as:

Providing representation for vulnerable people

Social workers operate with the firm conviction that all people deserve to be treated with dignity. Their work recognizes that many individuals and communities cannot speak for themselves or take action to improve the condition of people like themselves. Without social workers, communities and governments wouldn't sufficiently meet or learn about the needs of these groups. Here are several communities who rely on social workers to ensure they receive just and humane treatment:

  • Children: Children are often too young to seek protection from abusive circumstances or to recognize their own developmental needs.

  • The developmentally disabled: Some conditions prevent individuals from developing the linguistic, cognitive or physical abilities that self-advocacy or expression requires.

  • Senior citizens: Senior citizens might have limited mobility or declining cognitive function that makes it difficult for them to represent their needs or protect themselves from substandard living conditions.

  • People living in poverty: Those living in poverty may not have the financial resources to secure the services or protections that form the foundation of a healthy and fulfilling life.

  • Those living with a mental illness: Mental illness may affect people's ability to engage in the activism or self-care that can better their condition or the conditions of people who share their experience.

  • Non-English speakers: People who can't speak English may have difficulty accessing important services or representing their interests as employees, citizens, residents or community members.

Securing access to critical services

Typically, people don't know the precise details of the critical services they need until they need them. For instance, someone who becomes unemployed may not know how to access unemployment benefits if they've always had a job. If a parent has a child with a developmental disability, they suddenly have to learn a tremendous amount of information about how to meet the child's needs.

Social workers recognize that when an urgent situation arises in someone's life, meaningful and compassionate support leads to much better outcomes. They have expert knowledge of the public and private services available to community members and help individuals access them in a timely, low-cost manner.

Related: 23 Social Work Skills To Highlight on Your Resume (With Examples)

Offering community

Facing a challenge that most others haven't can be an isolating experience. Social workers create environments and communities where people can meet others like them and bond over their shared difficulties while offering each other mutual support. For example, social workers might arrange group programming for individuals with autism so they can learn alongside autistic peers not present at their school. Social workers research, organize and guide these life-changing communities.

Why choose social work as a career?

A career in social work can be highly rewarding. Here are some considerations that might encourage you to work in the field:

Job opportunities

As the general population ages, the demand for social workers is increasing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment in the field to grow by 13% between 2019 and 2029, more than three times the average rate for all other professions. However, the growth in demand for social workers extends beyond senior citizens. Other reasons for expanded demand in social workers include:

  • Reduced stigma surrounding mental health

  • Reduced stigma surrounding substance abuse disorders

  • Criminal justice policies directing more people to treatment programs

Related: 9 Social Work Interview Questions (With Example Answers)

Diversity of specializations

Social work offers the opportunity to study and engage with many topics that might interest you. Social workers develop expertise in mental wellbeing, physical health, politics, government, communication and motor skills, child development and criminal justice. Many clinics encourage their social workers to work in several of these areas at once, providing a breadth of professional experience few other professions can match.

Opportunity to affect change

If you want to pursue a career path where you can affect change in the world, social work is an excellent option. Whether you're interested in helping individuals, improving the wellbeing of a specific community or advocating for changes in government policy, you can achieve your goals as a social worker. Some social workers focus on research, developing the treatments and therapies of the future.

Meaningful challenges

Many professionals want to find work that challenges them to grow and learn, but some professions create stresses that don't feel connected to a meaningful purpose. Being a social worker is certainly a challenge that requires patience, respect and dedication. There may be emotionally challenging moments when clients don't respond well to their counseling or experience tragedy. However, as a social worker, you know that your work changes people's lives for the better and embodies selflessness, service and ethical conduct.

Types of social work

Here are the different types of social work that improve clients' lives:

Mental health and substance abuse disorder counseling

Social workers support people recovering from trauma, managing depression and anxiety or learning to live with other mental illnesses. They provide crisis intervention if a client experiences a sudden and emotionally troubling experience, helping them restore calm and productively address the situation. Social workers may also counsel people who have a substance abuse disorder. They address the emotional and behavioral conditions that make ending a substance dependence more challenging.

Often, these clients require services beyond social work. If so, social workers identify proper courses of action and direct clients to resources such as rehabilitation centers, housing, psychiatrists and physicians.

Read more: 15 Types of Social Work Jobs

Family counseling and child social work

Social workers provide counseling to families whose members have difficulty with healthy communication. They teach each individual to better represent their emotions and actively listen to what their family members are trying to say. Where domestic conflicts involve abuse, social workers protect survivors. For children, they might arrange for adoption or foster care. With adults, they help them navigate the situation safely and direct them to other professional services they might need, such as medical care or legal aid.

Community advocacy

Social workers develop expert knowledge of their communities' needs. They're often the first to recognize when institutions are engaging in troubling practices or when the government doesn't fulfill its responsibilities. For instance, a social worker might realize a school isn't offering enough support to children with learning disabilities or that a department of labor is failing to process unemployment claims quickly enough. To change these undesirable conditions, some social workers specialize in advocacy, meeting with members of government and leaders in the private sector to share their insights and appeal for change.

Developmental disabilities

Every developmental disability presents unique challenges to those who live with it. Social workers offer programs that teach coping strategies and life skills in both individual and group settings. They create individualized support plans that, depending on the disability, can help people improve their ability to communicate, care for themselves, work or socialize.

Related: 20 Social Work Jobs That Pay More Than $40,000

Healthcare

Serious health issues rarely only require medical treatment. Illness can affect people's emotional wellbeing, careers and financial stability. Finding the right medical personnel and facility can itself be a time-consuming and stressful challenge. Social workers help clients address these concerns. They support patients and their families as they locate essential services and handle the side effects of treatments. They also communicate with other medical professionals to create comprehensive treatment plans. Some social workers who focus on healthcare work in administration or research, creating policy proposals and studying how to better help future patients.

Military social work

As a community, military members particularly benefit from social work services. After returning from deployment, they face a unique set of challenges. Many have to cope with traumatic experiences or injuries. Others may be unsure how to return to civilian life and transition into a new career. Social workers help active and former military handle these stresses so they can successfully reintegrate into society.

Related: Top Social Work Skills for Success (Plus How To Develop Them)

Senior citizen social work

Elderly members of a community require specialized social work services that recognize their specific challenges. Many senior citizens need help to maintain their independence. Others experience physical and emotional challenges associated with aging, such as limited mobility or losing friends and loved ones. Social workers who serve this community might work in long-term care facilities or provide outpatient services.

School social work

School social workers care for the array of needs found in most student populations. They help children develop behavioral and social skills, provide counseling to individual students, assist with special needs programs and ensure that the school district recognizes and addresses any concerns about children's home environments.

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