What They Do: Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives.
Work Environment: Social workers work in a variety of settings, including mental health clinics, schools, child welfare and human service agencies, hospitals, settlement houses, community development corporations, and private practices. They generally work full time and may need to work evenings, weekends, and holidays.
How to Become One: Although some social workers only need a bachelor’s degree in social work, clinical social workers must have a master’s degree and 2 years of post-master’s experience in a supervised clinical setting. Clinical social workers must also be licensed in the state in which they practice.
Salary: The median annual wage for social workers is $50,390.
Job Outlook: Overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 12 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations.
Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of social workers with similar occupations.
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Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. Clinical social workers also diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.
Social workers typically do the following:
Social workers help people cope with challenges in their lives. They help with a wide range of situations, such as adopting a child or being diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Advocacy is an important aspect of social work. Social workers advocate or raise awareness with and on behalf of their clients and the social work profession on local, state, and national levels.
Some social workers—referred to as bachelor's social workers (BSW)—work with groups, community organizations, and policymakers to develop or improve programs, services, policies, and social conditions. This focus of work is referred to as macro social work.
Social workers who are licensed to diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders are called clinical social workers (CSW) or licensed clinical social workers (LCSW). They provide individual, group, family, and couples therapy; they work with clients to develop strategies to change behavior or cope with difficult situations; and they refer clients to other resources or services, such as support groups or other mental health professionals. Clinical social workers can develop treatment plans with the client, doctors, and other healthcare professionals and may adjust the treatment plan if necessary based on their client's progress. They may work in a variety of specialties. Clinical social workers who have not completed two years of supervised work are often called master's social workers (MSW).
The following are examples of types of social workers:
Child and family social workers protect vulnerable children and help families in need of assistance. They help families find housing or services, such as childcare, or apply for benefits, such as food stamps. They intervene when children are in danger of neglect or abuse. Some help arrange adoptions, locate foster families, or work to reunite families.
School social workers work with teachers, parents, and school administrators to develop plans and strategies to improve students' academic performance and social development. Students and their families are often referred to social workers to deal with problems such as aggressive behavior, bullying, or frequent absences from school.
Healthcare social workers help patients understand their diagnosis and make the necessary adjustments to their lifestyle, housing, or healthcare. For example, they may help people make the transition from the hospital back to their homes and communities. In addition, they may provide information on services, such as home healthcare or support groups, to help patients manage their illness or disease. Social workers help doctors and other healthcare professionals understand the effects that diseases and illnesses have on patients' mental and emotional health. Some healthcare social workers specialize in geriatric social work, hospice and palliative care, or medical social work.
Mental health and substance abuse social workers help clients with mental illnesses or addictions. They provide information on services, such as support groups and 12-step programs, to help clients cope with their illness. Many clinical social workers function in these roles as well.
Social workers hold about 715,600 jobs. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up social workers is distributed as follows:
|Child, family, and school social workers||335,300|
|Healthcare social workers||184,900|
|Mental health and substance abuse social workers||124,000|
|Social workers, all other||71,400|
The largest employers of social workers are as follows:
|Individual and family services||18%|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||14%|
|Ambulatory healthcare services||14%|
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||14%|
Although most social workers work in an office, they may spend time visiting clients. School social workers may be assigned to multiple schools and travel around the school district to see students. Understaffing and large caseloads may cause the work to be stressful.
Social workers may work remotely through distance counseling, using videoconferencing or mobile technology to meet with clients and organize support and advocacy groups.
Social workers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations.
The majority of social workers work full time. They sometimes work evenings, weekends, and holidays to see clients or attend meetings, and they may be on call.
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Although some social workers only need a bachelor's degree in social work, clinical social workers must have a master's degree and 2 years of experience in a supervised clinical setting after they've completed their degree. Clinical social workers must also be licensed by their state.
There are multiple educational pathways to becoming a social worker, depending on the specialty.
A bachelor's degree in social work (BSW) is the most common requirement for entry-level administrative positions. However, some employers may hire workers who have a bachelor's degree in a related field, such as psychology or sociology.
A BSW prepares students for direct-service positions such as caseworker or mental health assistant. These programs teach students about diverse populations, human behavior, social welfare policy, and ethics in social work. All programs require students to complete supervised fieldwork or an internship.
Clinical positions require a master's degree in social work (MSW), which generally takes 2 years to complete. MSW programs prepare students for work in their chosen specialty by developing clinical assessment and management skills. All programs require students to complete a supervised practicum or an internship.
A bachelor's degree in social work is not required in order to enter a master's degree program in social work. Although a bachelor's degree in almost any major is acceptable, courses in psychology, sociology, economics, and political science are recommended. Some programs allow graduates with a bachelor's degree in social work to earn their master's degree in 1 year.
In 2017, there were more than 500 bachelor's degree programs and more than 200 master's degree programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
Two years of supervised training and experience after obtaining an MA degree is typically required for clinical social workers.
All states require clinical social workers to be licensed, and most states require licensure or certification for nonclinical social workers. Becoming a licensed clinical social worker requires a master's degree in social work and a minimum of 2 years of supervised clinical experience after graduation. After completing their supervised experience, clinical social workers must pass a clinical exam to be licensed.
Because licensing requirements vary by state, those interested should contact their state licensure board. For more information about regulatory licensure boards by state, visit the Association of Social Work Boards.
Communication skills. Clients talk to social workers about challenges in their lives. To provide effective help, social workers must be able to listen to and understand their clients' needs.
Emotional skills. Social workers often work with people who are in stressful and difficult situations. To develop strong relationships, they must have patience, compassion, and empathy for their clients.
Interpersonal skills. Social workers need to be able to work with different groups of people. They need strong interpersonal skills to foster healthy and productive relationships with their clients and colleagues.
Organizational skills. Social workers must help and manage multiple clients, often assisting with their paperwork or documenting their treatment.
Problem-solving skills. Social workers need to develop practical and innovative solutions to their clients' problems.
The median annual wage for social workers is $50,390. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,520, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $82,840.
Median annual wages for social workers are as follows:
|Social workers, all other||$61,190|
|Healthcare social workers||$60,840|
|Child, family, and school social workers||$49,150|
|Mental health and substance abuse social workers||$49,130|
The median annual wages for social workers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||$61,190|
|Ambulatory healthcare services||$58,700|
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||$48,090|
|Individual and family services||$46,640|
Most social workers are employed full time. They sometimes work evenings, weekends, and holidays to see clients or attend meetings, and they may be on call.
Overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 12 percent over the next ten years, much faster average for all occupations.
About 78,300 openings for social workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
Employment of child, family, and school social workers is projected to grow 13 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations. Child and family social workers will be needed to work with families to strengthen parenting skills, prevent child abuse, and identify alternative homes for children who are unable to live with their biological families. In schools, more social workers will be needed as student enrollments rise. However, employment growth of child, family, and school social workers may be limited by federal, state, and local budget constraints.
Employment of healthcare social workers is projected to grow 13 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations. Healthcare social workers will continue to be needed to help aging populations and their families adjust to new treatments, medications, and lifestyles.
Employment of mental health and substance abuse social workers is projected to grow 15 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations. Employment will grow as more people seek treatment for mental illness and substance abuse. In addition, drug offenders are increasingly being sent to treatment programs, which are staffed by these social workers, rather than being sent to jail.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2020||Projected Employment, 2030||Change, 2020-30|
|Child, family, and school social workers||335,300||377,400||13||42,200|
|Healthcare social workers||184,900||209,300||13||24,400|
|Mental health and substance abuse social workers||124,000||142,500||15||18,500|
|Social workers, all other||71,400||75,500||6||4,100|
A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.