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There’s no shortage of positions in social work available for people willing to expend a lot of their professional time and energy to helping others.

To break into this field, you can utilize continuing education programs in social work designed for working adults. There are nearly 650,000 active, licensed social workers, with 59 percent getting their master’s of social work before entering the field.

Social workers are saints in disguise, so to speak. So, what kinds of work do social workers do? Here are a few, which are only the tip of the iceberg.

Serve Rural Areas

As with teaching, there is always plenty of work to be done. There are a plethora of government-based resources in the form of grants and programs specifically aimed at increasing the number of social workers in rural areas, areas with relatively few government resources.

Much of the U.S. population gravitates toward urban areas, leaving many rural communities scrambling for qualified social workers. These social workers need a broad background in social work, everything from directly helping people to trying to change policy through advocacy.

“In a rural setting, a social worker has to be an all-arounder,” said Goutham Menon, professor and director of the University of Nevada, Reno’s School of Social Work. “You cannot just be one thing. That is, I cannot just specialize and say, ‘I will only work with kids.’ In rural settings, they don’t have that luxury of having specialized treatment options.”

People in rural areas have a limited amount of resources at their fingertips. A counselor or drug/alcohol center may not be within a two hour drive.

A social worker can act as an intermediary to provide resources and referrals to give people the care they need. A whole small community can be impacted by a tragedy, for example.

Although approximately 18 percent to 22 percent of individuals in America live in a rural community, the social work profession has historically focused more on urban environments despite the challenges that exist.

Domestic Violence Victims 

Social workers help abused women or men find options for shelter and safety. They’re the people who respond to individual needs when it is time to look for solutions to the problems the victim is facing. They also help the victim, perpetrator, and children involved to change the family dynamic.

Helping people rebuild their lives is not an easy task, and can be stressful and draining. But helping victims change their lives in meaningful ways is a rewarding career experience for the dedicated. 

According to the National Association of Social Workers, they offer screening for domestic violence, make plans to protect the victim, and help find housing, counseling, and other services. Knowing domestic violence and abuse case law is also required.

School Social Workers

There’s a wide range of jobs available for school social workers, which could be why it is a common field of study within the social work paradigm.

Working with students, parents, teachers, and school administrators to ensure academic and personal success are a few of the duties of school social workers. Students have a lot of pressure coming from different angles, so a school social worker is another person a student can have on his side.

In an educational environment, school social workers address bullying, violence, school attendance, learning disabilities, substance abuse, etc.

They can also make home visits, provide counseling, make referrals for those facing economic hardships and emotional issues, and provide opportunities for other students to get involved in mentoring and peer counseling.

People person

Health Care

There are many types of social workers specializing in the healthcare social work umbrella.

Specialized fields of healthcare social work focus on specific populations during different times of their lives, and a master’s degree is usually required for healthcare social workers.

If someone is diagnosed with cancer, for example, a medical social worker counsels patients throughout the diagnosis and treatment stages. They help patients make plans for coping with illness. They also help patients get their ducks in a row in terms of education, counseling, discharge planning, and referrals to other services.

A geriatric social worker assists elderly people and their families in-home healthcare and meal delivery services. Sometimes a geriatric social worker will ensure a smooth transition into assisted living or nursing care facilities. An aging Baby Boomer population is creating a large demand for geriatric nurses.

Mental Health Advocates

Clinical social workers are the largest group of professional mental health advocates in the U.S., providing over half of all counseling and therapy services. They treat mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse problems; plus provide coping skills for individuals, couples, and families.

Clinical social workers can either work in the general field at private practices, mental health agencies, in-patient residential treatment centers, and hospitals, or specialize in some of the areas mentioned above, including child welfare, family practice, and rural communities. Mental health social workers are also known as psychiatric social workers.

It can be tough for psychiatric patients to be reintegrated back into their families and society. Through individual or group and family therapy, social workers help set patients up for success by connecting them to community and hospital resources.

Being a social worker is one of the many careers to have in the mental health field. If you enjoy helping others, have the personality and education required, you can find a satisfying career while positively impacting people’s lives.

As for social work in general, it’s a field that covers a wide variety of career options. It all depends on the type of degree you get and what you’re passionate about. Maybe you want to work with specific groups of people or in a particular work environment.

But don’t expect to get rich in the field of social work.

According to U.S. News, the average salary for child and family social workers was $46,610 in 2015, which is a higher average salary than a mental health counselor at $45,080 and a substance abuse and behavioral counselor at $42,920. Marriage and family counselors earn about $53,500 and clinical social workers make about $54,000.

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