Understanding the Role of a Social Worker
Being a social worker is often a challenging, yet rewarding career. Social workers are responsible for helping individuals, families, and groups of people to cope with problems they’re facing to improve their patients’ lives. One aspect of this is teaching skills and developing mechanisms for patients to rely on to better their lives and experiences.
However, many social workers find that direct counseling of patients, families, and groups is only one aspect of their broader set of responsibilities. Social workers will often serve as liaisons between different institutions to assist patients and collaborate with other health professionals to ensure patient wellness. They will become familiar with, and refer clients to, community resources. Social workers address legal issues, such as assisting with hearings and providing testimony relating to their patients. They also engage in research, policy development and advocacy for services. And of course, social workers must maintain case history records and prepare reports. Social work can be the kind of job that requires a great deal of overtime, and separating the emotional aspects of the job from the duties required can be a difficult undertaking. But there are plenty of resources, including websites, books and social media users, that can offer great advice.
In dealing with the multitude of problems that social workers address, they must employ a variety of skills depending on the job that needs to get done. While some of these skills may be natural, many of them are honed while a social worker earns his or her bachelor’s or master’s degree. Below is a list of traits that a well-trained social worker might employ while assisting and guiding a client from o*net online.
- Active Listening — Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
- Social Perceptiveness — Being aware of others’ reactions and understanding why they react as they do.
- Speaking — Talking to others to convey information effectively.
- Critical Thinking — Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.
- Coordination — Adjusting actions in relation to others’ actions.
- Reading Comprehension — Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work related documents.
- Service Orientation — Actively looking for ways to help people.
- Writing — Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.
- Complex Problem Solving — Identifying complex problems and reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions.
- Judgment and Decision Making — Considering the relative costs and benefits of potential actions to choose the most appropriate one.
Within the field of social work, there are many different specializations and industries that professionals can pursue and focus on. While these different fields all require practitioners to show the cornerstones of social work: empathy, flexibility, and persistence, and respect for different circumstances; there are some skill sets and knowledge that social workers will need to utilize in order to become the as effective at their jobs as possible. Social workers can be required to aid with issues directly caused by trauma, disability, poor family circumstances, abuse, mental and emotional problems, addiction, and acute, chronic, or terminal illnesses. Some social workers prefer to focus their skills on one area of expertise by going into specific fields.
- Family, child or school social work involves providing assistance and advocacy to improve social and psychological functioning of children and their families. These social workers attempt to maximize academic functioning of children as well as improving the family’s overall well-being. These professionals may assist parents, locate foster homes, help to arrange adoptions, and address abuse. In schools they address problems such as truancy, bad behavior, teenage pregnancy, drug use, and poor grades. They also advice teachers and act as liaisons between students, homes, schools, courts, protective services, and other institutions.
- Public health social workers are often responsible for helping people who have been diagnosed with chronic, life threatening or altering diseases and disorders, helping connect patients with plans and resources in order to help them cope. One of the most difficult things a person can go through is dealing with acute, chronic, and terminal illnesses and these social workers provide services to ease these patients’ process. These services include advising family care givers, providing patient education and counseling, making referrals to other services, case management interventions, planning hospital discharge, and organizing support groups. These social workers are often employed at health care centers, assisted living homes or in hospitals.
- Addictions and mental health social workers offer support and services to those struggling with unhealthy grounding techniques, connecting them with facilities that serve to teach healthier behaviors and get patients back on track. These patients often struggle with mental and emotional problems as well as addictions and substance abuse problems. Services that mental health and substance abuse social workers provide include individual and group counseling, intervening during crises, case management, client advocacy, prevention, and education. They also focus on counseling families to assist in understanding and dealing with the patient’s problems.
Other Social Work Tasks
Accomplishing administrative duties and diligently completing paperwork are generally a requirement for social workers, no matter what their specialization is. Social workers are generally employed from 9-5, but those who offer emergency services in hospitals and other industries can also be assigned to shift work. For many social workers, outside visits and meetings are a constant challenge, as well as high case loads and understaffing. These obligations can often make it seem as though a social worker’s job is never done, but the most successful professionals relish the challenge. Many social workers find that despite these obstacles and the difficulties presented by these strains, this field can be a very satisfying career path.
In case you’re still unsure of what exactly a social worker does on a daily basis, peruse the helpful list of responsibilities and duties below, provided by o*net online, to get a better idea of what the job is all about.
- Collaborate with other professionals to evaluate patients’ medical or physical condition and to assess client needs.
- Advocate for clients or patients to resolve crises.
- Refer patient, client, or family to community resources to assist in recovery from mental or physical illness and to provide access to services such as financial assistance, legal aid, housing, job placement or education.
- Investigate child abuse or neglect cases and take authorized protective action when necessary.
- Counsel clients and patients in individual and group sessions to help them overcome dependencies, recover from illness, and adjust to life.
- Plan discharge from care facility to home or other care facility.
- Monitor, evaluate, and record client progress according to measurable goals described in treatment and care plan.
- Identify environmental impediments to client or patient progress through interviews and review of patient records.
- Organize support groups or counsel family members to assist them in understanding, dealing with, and supporting the client or patient.
What to Consider When Evaluating MSW Options
Online programs are designed for students who want to complete their education without the constraint of traditional classroom scheduling. When considering an online option, keep the following in mind:
- Is the program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)? (Online MSW programs must meet the same CSWE accreditation standards as campus-based programs.)
- Does the program offer the area specialization or concentration you want in addition to ample field placement opportunities in your area of interest?
- Does the program offer on-campus or online research facilities, academic advising, classroom training, or internships?
Below you’ll find a list of accredited schools that meet the above criteria and offer a number of quality degree options:
Sacred Heart University
Our Lady of the Lake University
George Mason University
Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota