Social work is a broad field that encompasses many aspects of human development and the interplay of behavioral, social, economic, and cultural conditions.
Brian Christenson, PhD, social work faculty chair at Capella University, answers some questions about the profession.
Q. What is social work?
A. Social work is about helping people function in their environment. It’s a wide-ranging field that focuses on improving nearly any aspect of life for people in various paths of life. This can involve not only how a person feels about their situation, but what they can do about it. It can be as focused as one-on-one therapy, or it can be a bigger-picture focus, such as advocacy and social justice work.
Q. Who would be interested in a Master of Social Work or Doctor of Social Work?
A. The MSW or DSW would appeal to someone who has a bachelor’s in social work or a related field and is seeking an advanced degree to further their career or become a licensed clinical counselor, or someone who wants to move into policy, administration, or leadership roles. These degrees would also help someone who wants to become a program manager or supervisor, or someone who wants to work in private practice. They’ll need a master’s along with licensure.
Q. What attributes and skills are needed to be successful in this field?
A. There must be a passion for helping others. People interested in this field should also have good communication skills, as well as the ability to organize and carry out plans. They should work well with others. Time management is also important, because they’re likely going to be managing multiple cases, and they should be good at working independently and be self-motivated.
Because the field can be stressful, having good stress management skills and the ability to care for yourself as well as others is critical to success as well.
Q. What types of careers are available?
A. At the master’s level and above, careers can involve working in the private, public, government, or nonprofit sectors. Social workers might work with children, families, schools, community organizations, in a military and veterans hospital, in the area of gerontology, in- or outpatient counseling, in policy and research—it’s a broad field.
Graduates at the master’s or higher levels could teach in higher education, get licensure to become clinical counselors, or work in policy and planning, whether in politics or government or acting as an advocate or researcher in an agency.
An advanced generalist degree in social work opens up numerous career paths. If the career they start out in is not what they want, they can switch paths and find something different that still falls under the social work umbrella.