How to Become a Social Worker
A degree in social work can lead to a variety of careers, all of which aim to assist those who are struggling with issues like mental illness, substance abuse, or poverty. In order to find creative and helpful solutions, social workers look at society's problems through various lenses, like the individual's perspective, society's view, political vantage points, and psychological angles. By educating or counseling clients in a group or one-on-one environment, social workers provide valuable services to the community. A bachelor’s degree from a school accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the minimum requirement for an entry-level position in this field. Most states also require a social work license.
Social Work Degrees and Licensures by State
How to Become a Social Worker
To pursue a career in social work, it is necessary to earn an initial license. This gives licensees the title Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker and allows first-time social workers in most states to work under the supervision of an approved Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Pursuing a master’s degree or doctorate degree opens the door to more advanced positions and allows a social worker to become a Licensed Master Social Worker or a Licensed Clinical Social Worker down the line. To obtain any of these licenses, one must pass a comprehensive exam.
To get licensed, aspiring social workers must first earn a bachelor’s degree. A Bachelor of Social Work is a four-year degree program that provides students with skills such as problem-solving, case management, crisis response, and utilizing community resources. Students are required to complete supervised fieldwork in an internship often in line with their chosen concentration. Depending on the state, students can obtain their initial license after they have earned their bachelor's degree and find a job where they can work under supervision.
The next step would be to look into graduate programs while gaining experience in an entry-level position. Depending on state regulations, a Master of Social Work may be required to work in some clinical and administrative fields. A graduate degree in social work focuses on professional policies and field practices, as well as human behavior and environment. Students will be able to dive deeper into their preferred focus and are required to complete fieldwork hours through an internship. Upon completion of a master’s degree, students can become a Licensed Master Social Worker, which allows them to work without supervision.
Social Work Careers
Depending on state requirements and education level, a social worker offers specialized care to those facing specific obstacles. They work in a number of settings, including one-on-one, group, family homes, and at the community level. A social worker's job often involves helping clients transition from a care facility back to their daily lives. A social worker will often work alongside school counselors, teachers, parents, and mental health specialists to better facilitate clients’ needs. Here are some of the most common social work careers.
Clinical Social Worker
A clinical social worker is a broad term referring to someone who offers counseling services to those in need. Some of the most common issues addressed by clinical social workers are poverty, medical problems, mental health, addiction, and learning disabilities. In addition to providing counseling services, they will act as advocates for their clients and connect them with resources and services that can offer further assistance. Specializations in this area include child social work, child welfare social work, family social work, geriatric social work, substance abuse social work, and school social work. Pursuing a career as a clinical social worker requires a Master of Social Work degree as well as an advanced license that adheres to state requirements.
Child Social Worker
Child social workers focus on the well-being of children and work to improve outcomes for at-risk children in vulnerable situations. A child social worker typically works in a school, state agency, family service agency, or the federal government. Their clients are often children who are at risk of neglect or abuse and have a disability or behavioral issues. For this reason, a child social worker should be patient and compassionate as well as highly observant. For most roles in this field, only a bachelor’s degree and an initial license are necessary, but many child social workers choose to earn a graduate degree to advance their careers.
School Social Worker
Working within a school setting, school social workers assist teachers, parents, and students in addressing any issues that are interfering with a child’s schoolwork. They work with the general student population, as well as students with special needs, to resolve social, emotional, and behavioral issues. There’s a wide variety of responsibilities for school social workers that largely depend on the level of the position, but some duties include evaluating students for substance abuse and suicidal thoughts, offering family or group therapy sessions, making home visits, and providing referrals to relevant resources. Since there are so many different levels to this position, the education needed to pursue a career as a school social worker ranges from a bachelor’s to a doctorate.
Medical Social Worker
A medical social worker works in a medical setting such as a hospital, hospice, outpatient clinic, or long-term care facility assisting patients with health related issues. They assess a patient’s emotional, environmental, and social needs, and work with members of a healthcare team to come up with a continuing care plan for after the patient is discharged. A medical social worker is also responsible for arranging in-home medical assistance or equipment needs for patients, as well as helping them obtain financial assistance and health insurance coverage if needed. Additionally, a medical social worker is responsible for providing patients with individual counseling and leading support group discussions. To be considered for a position in this field, most states require candidates to have a master’s degree, at least 3,000 supervised clinical hours, and the appropriate license.
Psychiatric Social Worker
Psychiatric social workers are responsible for assisting patients and patients' families with mental health issues. Like medical social workers, psychiatric social workers evaluate each patient’s individual circumstances and come up with a care plan that includes counseling, support services, and treatment options to better assist their transition out of an inpatient program. A psychiatric social worker is also qualified to offer patient therapy sessions, run support groups, and help family members deal with their relative's mental illness. Those taking this career path will need to earn a master’s degree in social work or a related field like psychology or sociology. While each state has different licensure requirements, a psychiatric social worker occupation often requires a master’s degree and two years of previous supervised clinical work to become a Licensed Master of Social Work.
Mental Health Social Worker
Pursuing a career as a mental health social worker involves working with clients who are experiencing mental illness, substance abuse, unemployment, or poverty. They assist their clients by offering group counseling and one-on-one therapy sessions that teach basic life skills, encourage the development of support systems, and promote community involvement. Those who are successful in the field have advanced problem-solving, interpersonal, and organizational skills, and are excellent listeners. Mental health social workers will find employment in prisons, hospitals, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and rehabilitation centers, depending on their level of education. Some jobs in this field only require that candidates have a bachelor’s degree, but most prefer a master’s degree with a focus in psychology, mental illnesses, or counseling.
Healthcare Social Worker
Healthcare social workers work in medical fields assisting patients with terminal, acute, or chronic illness cope with their condition. For this reason, it is an advantage to have patience, emotional strength, and critical thinking skills. The responsibilities of healthcare social workers involve assisting patients with gaining access to better healthcare, educating them on community mental health programs, and informing them of services designed to help them find housing, legal aid, financial assistance, education, and job opportunities. While working in hospitals, mental health clinics, private practices, schools, and human service agencies, it is common for healthcare social workers to collaborate with other healthcare professionals to come up with the best care plan for their patients. A master’s degree and advanced state licensure are required for most jobs in this field.
Hospice Health Social Worker
Specializing in end-of-life care, hospice social workers serve to manage the comfort and well-being of their dying patients. They are trained in multiple techniques to reduce emotional distress and stress while also offering their support, relevant resources, and symptom management. Hospice social workers work to support the family members of the patient by helping them cope and find appropriate grief counseling. They are also responsible for assisting the patient and family with paperwork pertaining to end-of-life wishes, health insurance, funeral planning, and arranging community services, like emergency alert systems and food delivery programs. A career in hospice social work requires a bachelor’s degree in most states as well as initial licensure. Some choose to earn a master’s degree and pursue upper-level administrative jobs with higher salaries.