Social work is a large profession, employing 682,100 Americans, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Within the field, you will find many different areas of specialization. It should come as no surprise, then, that there are many professional organizations established and aspiring social workers can join to get more involved in the field. Social workers can look into both general and specialized organizations, both of which can provide a number of great benefits when it comes to advancing your career.
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Professional Social Work Organizations
Participating in a professional organization isn’t required for social workers. They can acquire a license without membership in one of these associations. However, for many reasons, students of social work and social workers at all stages of their careers often choose to take part in these organizations. The largest and most recognizable organization in this field is the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), which has been around since 1955 and which currently boasts upwards of 120,000 members.
Students enrolled in Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), Master of Social Work (MSW) and Doctor of Social Work (DSW) programs can join the NASW at a sharply discounted rate through the Social Work Student Membership or Associate Student Membership. The Social Work Student Membership is available to current students of a program accredited by the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE), while the Associate Student Membership is for students of unaccredited programs. There is also a Transitional Membership option available, again at a discount, for recent graduates.
Students, as well as instructors, administrative staff, nonprofit managers and agency professionals, can join the CSWE as well. The discounted Associate Member: Student classification of memberships includes subscriptions to industry publications.
Specialized Organizations for Social Workers
Beyond the general social work organizations, students can find memberships in the areas of social work that most interest them. For students who plan to become licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), joining the Clinical Social Work Association can help you learn about the trends in clinical social work and begin networking with established LCSWs. If you want to work in a management role in the healthcare field, you might find the Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care to be of interest. The School Social Work Organization of America offers student memberships for aspiring school social workers, as does the American Council for School Social Work. Students who are interested in social work roles in the legal system, including courts and prisons, might want to join the National Organization of Forensic Social Work.
Student memberships are often offered at a considerable discount – with some costing as little as $25 to $50 for the entire year.
The Benefits of Joining a Social Work Organization
Why should students – or for that matter, social workers already working in the field – become members of professional organizations? Participating in these associations offers a number of advantages. By entitling members to peer-reviewed journals, trade magazines and other publications, they provide easy ways for social work students and practitioners to be aware of the latest news, research and practices in the field. Because organizations like the NASW have such vast memberships, their in-person and virtual events are great opportunities for networking, especially if you are currently looking for a mentor, a field placement or a permanent job. Many organizations host their own career centers available only to members. Of course, being part of a professional social worker organization can also strengthen your resumé, especially for new students and recent graduates who may not have a lot of relevant work experience.
To maintain your license, and for your own professional development, continuing education programs are often necessary. Social work organizations can provide or connect you with continuing education opportunities in the form of workshops, courses and conferences as well as published information. Often, members of professional social work organizations receive free or discounted materials. Some professional organizations offer discounts on professional liability insurance, which you need when working in certain social work roles, as well as other benefits that include job protection and disability insurance.
If you’re the kind of person who loves to get involved and to lead and advocate – qualities that likely drew you to the field of social work in the first place – then opportunities for volunteering, advocating, mentoring and leading committees may appeal to you.