Two social workers smile

8 Things You Should Know Before Becoming a Social Worker

When most people think about the social work profession, they think of government workers who have the power to take other people’s children away. Social work is a service profession, which means that social workers deal with people in all kinds of emotional circumstances. Despite their negative reputation, many social workers do a lot of good for people dealing with tough situations. If you’re thinking of becoming a social worker, you should be aware of all the dynamics of the field before you start your education.

  1. Listening is Better Than Doing the Talking

    An integral part of a social worker’s job is building trust with a client. Often, social workers are individuals with extensive educations, and they are often working with clients with very little education and low socioeconomic status. Sometimes this creates an atmosphere of misunderstanding between the social worker and client. Many social workers have never had similar experiences to the lives of their clients. In order to fully understand a client’s circumstances, you really have to listen to their experiences before you launch into a discussion about solving the “problem.”
  2. Keep in Mind Power Dynamics When Talking to Clients

    As a social worker, especially if you work for the government, you have the power to make decisions over people’s lives. Your clients are not oblivious to this fact. Some of your clients may have worked with difficult social workers in the past, or they may just simply fear that you will judge them. This leads to clients holding back information or feelings and refusing to work with social workers out of fear. If you feel frustrated by this, recognize that power dynamics are extremely important when dealing with cases. Part of building rapport will be trying to help your client see that you’re not going to use your power against them. Your ultimate goal is to repair damage and work with families, not tear them apart or cause further damage. 
  3. People Tend to Treat Others the Way They Have Been Treated

    Many perpetrators of domestic violence have been victims of domestic violence themselves. Family history is an incredibly important part of current difficulties. As a social worker, these are problems you need to be aware of and concerned with. It would be easy to pinpoint one person as the bad guy and the other as the good guy. In reality, most cases are much more complicated and difficult than that.
  4. You Have to Remember to Take Care of Yourself

    Often, social workers are overworked and have large caseloads. Many social workers also work on-call or for overtime. It’s very easy to get so wrapped up in helping other people that you end up forgetting to take care of yourself. Take time for yourself, and set times that you will relax and take a break.
  5. Sometimes Dealing with Organizational Structure is the Most Difficult Part of the Job

    Social workers often go into the profession because of a passion for helping others. They often leave the profession due to organizational dysfunction and frustrating guidelines. Social workers are ethically tied to government guidelines and standards. The difficult part is that these guidelines and standards change. Additionally, many social workers get over-worked due to large case loads.
  6. Peer Relationships Matter a lot in the Social Work Field

    Pay and passion are not the only important elements of the job. When people are unhappy with their work atmosphere, they’re more likely to quit. Because social work is an emotionally stressful field, many social workers find it difficult to work with co-workers. Building professional relationships is as important as building rapport with your clients. Try to find mentors, join professional networks, and be a team collaborator on the job.
  7. You Have More Professional Opportunities if you Further Your Education

    Social work is both a profession and an academic discipline. While there are many service occupations, the term “social worker” can only be applied to someone who has a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree in social work. The higher the degree you obtain, the better your career options are. If you only have a bachelor’s degree, for instance, you may have few options in terms of upward mobility within the career ladder. To be a social worker manager, for instance, you’re usually required to have a master’s degree.
  8. Your Education Will Not Teach You Everything You Need to Know

    While you must have an educational background to be a social worker, it’s important to note that it’s hard to practice social work without experience. If you’ve only ever had education but you’ve never interacted with clients, you’ll have a hard time working with clients in the real world. 
Last Updated: April 15, 2015