Social workers tackle poverty, advocate for the vulnerable and support mental health. Simply put, they change the world. As the nation grapples with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, communities across the nation rely on social workers for guidance and support.
Few professions offer such a wealth of opportunities to make a difference. Tackling social ills — such as opioid addiction or interpersonal violence — demands strength and endurance, but the benefits of being a social worker are undeniable. Consider what makes social work a truly rewarding career.
1. Social Workers Make a Positive Impact
A social worker’s overarching mission is to improve the quality of life for individuals, families and communities. To that end, social workers help people meet basic needs with services such as:
- Mental health care
- Crisis intervention
- Employment counseling
- Case management (services that link clients to systems and resources to address their various needs)
These services are instrumental in empowering people to overcome their struggles related to poverty, substance use, inequitable access to care and similar issues. For example, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, social workers have redoubled their efforts to find resources for combating food insecurity, a problem 1 in 8 people in the U.S. will likely face in 2021, according to Feeding America. Social workers have helped people access health care and delivered counseling care through telehealth services to heal the depression and stress many have experienced due to social isolation, job loss and other life disruptions stemming from the pandemic. Social workers have counseled people grieving loved ones lost to the pandemic, as well.
Social work gives special attention to vulnerable and oppressed communities. Social workers not only support individuals and families but also advocate for societal reform. For instance, social workers confront racism at the individual and institutional level. By developing programs that explore the effects of racism, sexism and homophobia in people’s lives, social workers inspire individuals to see and address the internalized messages of oppression that hold them back. Moreover, by advocating for an end to systemic racism and oppression, social workers bring greater equity to the lives of many. This helps abolish unjust practices, such as the disproportionate incarceration of people of color or unequal access to basic rights such as health care and quality education.
2. Every Day Is Different
Another benefit of being a social worker is the career’s dynamic nature. The day-to-day responsibilities of social workers vary widely. Some days, social workers meet with families or individuals to discuss financial strategies, an upcoming court hearing or subsidized housing options. Other workdays may be spent in community outreach and building connections.
A social worker’s clientele may shape the way they spend their workday. Social workers who serve people experiencing homelessness may travel to shelters, parks and soup kitchens to build relationships with clients and help these individuals transition to permanent housing.
Social workers in child welfare, on the other hand, often divide their time between making home visits, coordinating services for children in foster care, supervising visits between children and their families, and attending court hearings.
Even for clinical social workers in private practice, no day is like the next. These social workers vary their application of therapeutic techniques, such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy or mindfulness-based stress reduction, depending on the situation. Issues they address — substance use, marital problems, post-traumatic stress disorder — vary as well.
3. Many Opportunities for Specialization
Social workers are often motivated by causes they care about. One of the many rewards of being a social worker is that practitioners can act on their passion for an issue. As an example, social workers with a concern for people with dementia can work with these individuals in a skilled nursing facility or memory care unit. Similarly, those wanting to help people cope with life-altering health diagnoses can choose work in a hospital or hospice care facility.
Social workers inspired to work with children can apply to positions in schools, while those devoted to addressing interpersonal violence may be drawn to roles in rape crisis centers or child welfare organizations. Professionals driven to improve public health and disease prevention will likely gravitate toward work in a community health organization or hospital setting.
The possibilities abound. Social workers can even carve out spaces in unconventional areas. One social worker, after recognizing that her clients struggled with practical money management skills, established a center for financial social work. The organization helps teach individuals skills that support their long-term financial well-being.
Other areas aspiring social workers can consider include:
- Policy advocacy
- Adolescent psychotherapy
- Family therapy
- Support for those with developmental disabilities
- Community organizing
- Justice and corrections
4. Flexible Hours
Social work can be demanding, but social workers can find roles that suit their lifestyle. For example, school social workers typically work a standard eight-hour day and take summers and holidays off. Clinical social workers typically work regular shifts, and social workers in private practice set their own hours. Social workers can also find many opportunities for flexible schedules, part-time work and contract work as an alternative to a traditional full-time role.
5. Social Work Is a Growing Field
Social workers can expect promising job growth in the years to come. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the number of jobs in social work to increase 13% by 2029, which is more than three times as fast as the average growth rate projected for all occupations. While growth will vary by area, employment in all social work sectors is expected to rise, with some areas — such as substance use and mental health — projected to grow 17% or more.
Forge a Meaningful Career in Social Work
Social workers transform lives and reshape communities. Their intervention has a ripple effect on society as a whole, inspiring people to join in making the world a better place. The many benefits of being a social worker, ranging from diverse potential career paths to a healthy job outlook, make this field attractive, but its power to inspire change makes it meaningful and satisfying.
Discover how Virginia Commonwealth University’s online Master of Social Work prepares graduates to experience the biggest reward of being a social worker — enabling individuals, families and communities to thrive for the good of all.