A social worker explains paperwork to a young teenage girl

What is a Social Worker?

Social work is a profession that is intricately linked with the wellbeing of people. Social workers are highly trained professionals whose primary function is to help other people with their problems, but the job description of a social worker goes much deeper than that. A social worker is an individual who functions as a counselor to assist individuals, families, and groups in improving their ability to function in a social role and meet the primary needs of their community.

What Are the Primary Responsibilities of a Social Worker?

The field of social work is relatively diverse. Social workers fill a variety of roles. The primary responsibilities of a social worker include:

  • Assisting individuals, families, and groups to function within the community
  • Diagnosing and treating mental, behavioral, and emotional issues and needs in a clinical setting
  • Providing counseling services to help individuals overcome psychological issues
  • Advocating for the needs of children at risk
  • Supporting parents and families in developing the necessary skills to provide and care for children and family
  • Working within communities to identify and break down social barriers between individuals and groups of people

An individual in this field of work functions to help people overcome a myriad of difficulties including discrimination, poverty, abuse, and addiction. These individuals help prevent crises and counsel individuals through situations to facilitate a better quality of life for everyone involved.

How Do You Become a Social Worker?

The exact path to becoming a social worker varies depending on your desired focus; however, at the very least, most individuals have to complete the appropriate undergraduate and graduate level programs. Most social work positions require that an individual have a bachelor’s degree in social work, as well documented clinical experience. Additionally, clinical social workers (those responsible for diagnosing and treating mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders) must have a master’s degree, plus two years of experience in a supervised setting. Individuals serving in clinical settings are also required to be licensed in the state in which they practice, which typically involves additional testing at the very least.

What Is the Job Outlook for Social Work?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of social work is one of the fastest growing career fields in the United States. This field is projected to grow by 19% over the next 10 years. The growth is largely driven by the increased demand for both health care and social services; however, the specific need will vary by specialty. 

What About Salary?

The median annual wage is also positive compared to other positions. In 2012, the median salary for social workers was approximately $44,200, a number that will likely only increase with the growing need for social work professionals.

Social work is a challenging but rewarding field. If you decide to become a social worker, you will have the challenge (but also the reward) of helping individuals cope with and work through every stage of life. The responsibilities of a social worker are varied but well worth the time and effort invested.

Last Updated: April 15, 2015