Social workers often see what others miss.
"We get a look beneath the surface of someone's life," says Isabelle Moretti, a social worker who assists school-age children. "Most people might see someone who has trouble in school because they're lazy or a typical teenager. We see someone who has a difficult life at home and hasn't found a way to cope with that life."
"You see tangible results from the people you help," she says. "Sometimes it's small, like someone showing up for class on time every day instead of an hour late, and sometimes it's large, like someone eliminating suicide from her list of options.
"It is tough to work through some of the bureaucracies and red tape, but in the end, you're helping someone out," says Moretti. "I don't know what I would do if that weren't part of any job I would do."
Although a bachelor's degree in social work (BSW) is the minimum requirement for entry-level positions, usually in social service agencies, a master's degree in social work (MSW) is required to provide therapy and operate a private practice. In most situations, a master's degree is expected as the new norm. Social workers with a doctorate degree (DSW) usually become researchers, college professors and policy analysts.
Social workers practice in a variety of settings – from hospitals, schools and government agencies to private practices – to achieve the same goals: Help individuals, families, groups and communities enhance their well-being and learn to use their own resources to solve problems. While they spend one-on-one time with individuals, they also help relay information about those under their care to teachers, parents and other essential personnel in order to help create a plan or environment for success. In some cases, they refer their patients to others who can assist them further.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, social workers often specialize in one of the following fields:
Child, family and school social workers
They provide "social services and assistance to improve the social and psychological functioning of children and their families and to maximize the family well-being and academic functioning of children. In schools, they address such problems as teenage pregnancy, misbehavior, and truancy and advise teachers on how to cope with problem students.
Through employee assistance programs, some social workers may help workers cope with job-related pressures or with personal problems that affect the quality of their work. Child, family, and school social workers typically work for individual and family services agencies, schools or state or local governments. These social workers may be known as child welfare social workers, family services social workers, child protective services social workers, occupational social workers, or gerontology social workers," according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Medical and public health social workers
These social workers "provide persons, families or vulnerable populations with the psychosocial support needed to cope with chronic, acute, or terminal illnesses, such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer, or AIDS. They also advise family caregivers, counsel patients, and help plan for patients' needs after discharge by arranging for at-home services, from meals-on-wheels to oxygen equipment. Some work on interdisciplinary teams that evaluate certain kinds of patients—geriatric or organ transplant patients, for example. Medical and public health social workers may work for hospitals, nursing and personal care facilities, individual and family services agencies or local governments," according to the U.S. Department of Labor,
Mental health and substance abuse social workers
Social workers concentrating in this area assess and treat individuals with mental illness or substance abuse problems, including abuse of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs. Such services include individual and group therapy, outreach, crisis intervention, social rehabilitation, and training in skills of everyday living. They also may help plan for supportive services to ease patients' return to the community. Mental health and substance abuse social workers are likely to work in hospitals, substance abuse treatment centers, individual and family services agencies, or local governments.