How to Become a Social Worker

social worker and clients laughing at a table

Social work is difficult to define because it encompasses so many areas. Broadly speaking, social workers help individuals and families deal with challenging situations, such as major life transitions and adversities. You will find social workers at hospitals, publicly-funded institutions, private organizations and nonprofit entities.

Exploring the Pros and Cons of Being a Social Worker

Before deciding whether social work could be the right career path for you, it is helpful to consider the pros and cons of the profession. Social workers are often drawn to this career because they feel a calling to make serving others in their community their life’s work. They find personal fulfillment and meaning in helping others. This is one of the most compelling advantages of choosing this career. Others include the following:

  • Varied work opportunities and diverse work settings
  • Strong job outlook for the foreseeable future
  • Generous compensation in most cases
  • Opportunities for professional advancement
  • High job satisfaction rates

As with every other job, social work also has disadvantages. Some of them are as follows:

  • High caseload: Many social work agencies are understaffed, requiring individual social workers to handle a high client caseload.
  • Compassion fatigue: Working with victims of child abuse, rape, drug disorders and similar societal problems can be emotionally and spiritually draining.
  • Erratic schedule: Although some social workers work primarily in an office setting from nine to five, they may also be called upon to handle emergencies and crises, and they may be required to drive to their clients’ homes.

Deciding Which Type of Social Worker You Want to Become

There are three main types of social workers: macro, direct practice and clinical. Macro social workers do not work directly with clients. Rather, they advocate for social program development and implementation. They also work toward public policy enhancements that benefit communities and individuals by addressing the causes of societal problems.

Direct practice and clinical social workers do work directly with clients. A direct practice social worker can often enter the field with just a bachelor’s degree, although some states and employers may require a master’s. Direct practice social workers help clients navigate the challenges in life by connecting them to community resources. Some work for school systems, where they focus on students in need, while others may conduct home visits to assess child safety and evaluate potential foster homes.

A clinical social worker must have at least a master’s degree and state licensure. Aside from the educational requirements, the other main difference between a clinical and a direct practice social worker is that a clinical social worker has greater authority to diagnose and treat mental health conditions.

Earning Your Bachelor’s Degree

All aspiring social workers must have at least a bachelor’s degree. The ideal is to apply to a bachelor’s degree program that specializes in social work, such as a Bachelor of Science in Sociology with an Emphasis in Social Work. This specialized degree program will likely explore key subject areas such as:

  • The cultural applications of social psychology
  • The underlying causes of social problems and issues
  • The principles, practice and policies of social work
  • The perpetuation of societal stratification and inequalities

In addition, a solid social work degree program should explore case management skills and social work direct practice skills.

Applying to a Graduate Degree Program

If you intend to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), you must earn a master’s degree. A master’s is also required for some direct practice social workers. A Master of Social Work degree program typically explores matters pertaining to social justice and societal inequalities as well as ethical and professional behavior. In addition, students develop advanced social work practice skills to empower clients who are struggling with various challenges, including psychopathologies.

Gaining Supervised Work Experience

The licensure requirements to become an LCSW vary from one state to the next. You should double-check the requirements for the state in which you plan to practice. In general, you can expect to complete a certain number of supervised work experience hours before acquiring licensure.

During your supervised work experience program, you can expect to work directly with individuals and perhaps with groups. You will use evidence-based mental health therapeutic techniques to help your clients overcome their struggles. You may also connect them to needed community resources designed to help them get their lives back on track. You will meet with your supervisor at regular intervals to discuss client cases and therapeutic procedures.

Acquiring Appropriate State Licensure

The last step in becoming an LCSW is to acquire a social work license in the state in which you wish to practice. Your state licensure board will detail the requirements, which generally include documenting your supervised work experience hours and providing proof of your education. It is also standard for aspiring LCSWs to pass a written exam before acquiring their license.

You can begin your journey toward becoming a social worker by enrolling at Grand Canyon University. Apply to the Bachelor of Science in Sociology with an Emphasis in Social Work program and then earn your Master of Social Work degree. For your convenience, classes are offered online and on campus, daytimes and evenings. To learn more about joining our dynamic learning community, click on Request Info above.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.

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