Taking a career decision is not an easy task when you have to choose between many options available to you; especially when you are in the early phase of your career when high paying jobs seems lucrative.
If you are a person who would like to earn by helping others or making some impact on the lives of others; social work is a career for you. Having stated this, what is social work?
Social work is a specialized and skill-based profession in which professionals work in a variety of fields. They basically work with people to solve their personal or social problems at the micro-level and inclusive development at the macro level.
Some important facts you need to know before choosing social work as a career are enlisted below.
Areas of Practice
Unlike other professions, viz. Law, medicine, etc. Social workers work in a variety of fields and settings since it deals with human problems. Few of the areas are as follows:
Old age brings with it a number of issues which needs to be addressed. Social workers look into the health, family and social security of the elderly. This area of practice is emerging, especially in the individualistic societies where the elderly are often provided institutional care.
Clinical and Mental Health
Another area of social work practice is hospitals where they work as paraprofessionals. Professionals who specialize in psychiatric social workers are employed in the area of psychiatry.
Besides the physical ailment, some disease brings with them, the patients also need social and emotional support. Social workers play a vital role in this area.
Women and Children
Another very broad and important area where social workers contribute is working with vulnerable women and children. There are different types of problems faced by this group at the individual and community level. Interventions are made at the various aspects of their issues at various levels (e.g. Child marriage and child sexual abuse, domestic violence and gender-based violence, women empowerment)
Social and Community Medicine
This branch of social work addresses the social aspects of any disease or disorder, viz, HIV/AIDS, Cancer, acute mental disorders. These types of illnesses are associated with some degree of stigma and discrimination in society.
Social workers, mainly work for the prevention and awareness generation at the community level and rehabilitation of these individuals after their treatment. Social workers are also involved in advocacy activities to fight for the rights of such vulnerable group.
Addiction, be it drugs or alcohol; leads to many social and family problems. Youths especially adolescents are the most vulnerable group. Social workers work in de-addiction centres and also aid in rehabilitation after the treatment.
Disasters often occur in our environment in various forms, e.g., earthquakes, cyclone, landslides etc. Social workers actively work for the disaster victims, be it natural or accidents.
Rehabilitation is one of the most important aspects when working with victims of the disaster. Social workers work with a team of professionals of the different field for the relief of the victims.
School Social Work
Schools hire social workers to look into the psycho-social needs of the children. Cases of bullying, truancy, academic lag etc. Are common in schools which has to be dealt with professional expertise.
With many communities in several countries facing the wrath of civil wars, people flee their country and take refuge in other countries. Refugees have their own set of problems in the host country which the social workers strive to address.
The issue of refugees is administered by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) which has its offices in various countries who accept refugees.
Levels of Practice
Since social work believes in inclusive growth, it works on various levels. When social workers work with individuals to solve their problems it is called micro practice.
Here the social workers work with an individual and deal with his/her specific problem. When they intervene with families or small groups it is known as meso practice. Here the social workers deal with problems which are common to several groups of people.
When social workers work towards solving social problems and promote change in the community, society or global level it is called macro practice. Agencies and organizations collaborate together to address the issues of communities and a large group of people.
They focus to bring change in the political and policy level through advocacy and social action.
Educational/Professional Degree and Training
The minimum requirement to become a social worker is a BSW degree. Further specialization can be done at the MSW level. In most countries, one needs to obtain a license from an accrediting body (e.g CASW, NASW, CSWE) to be able to practice in that country.
Educational Institutes offer a social work program in regular as well as in distance and online learning; field training being the core part of the curriculum. A further research study can also be taken up at the PhD level.
Skills Required for Practice
A career in social work requires certain skills, specifically people skills, to carry out their profession.
Few are mentioned as follows:
Active Listening Skills
This skill is most important, especially when working with individuals. When a person with a problem comes to a social worker, he or she is under some degree of stress. Some may immediately start talking about their problem while some may be hesitant to share their issue.
When the social worker actively and patiently listens to the person (the client), a sense of trust develops and the client feels that somebody is there to listen to them, and from here the healing process starts. The gestures, postures and facial expressions of the social worker play a vital role in exhibiting active listening skills.
Another very fundamental skill for a social worker is to have empathy. It plays a vital role in the problem-solving process of a client. An empathetic attitude helps the worker to gain insight into the issue and intervene accordingly. It also prevents the worker from getting emotionally involved during the problem-solving process.
Networking skills are the key to provide effective intervention. Social workers need to be aware of the community resources in order to connect their client to them when required. Often social work agencies collaborate to address some issues holistically.
The social worker needs to know every aspect of the problem and for this, he or she has to ask some questions to the client. It needs a certain degree of skill as to how to put the question to the client to get the desired information.
This skill helps the social worker to speak for a specific social cause and influence policy-making leading to a systematic social change.
This fast-changing world often witnesses emerging of new types of problems that need to be addressed in a planned way. A career in social work is a decently paid job and surely it is a fulfilling career since it is a helping profession.