Social work is a professional and academic discipline that seeks to improve the quality of life and enhance well being of individuals, families, couples, groups, and communities. Social work is an interdisciplinary profession, meaning it draws from a number of areas, such as (but not limited to) psychology, sociology, politics, criminology, economics, ecology, education, health, law, philosophy, anthropology and counseling, also known as psychotherapy. To be successful in such a diverse field, the social worker must have a high degree of empathy:  to comprehend another individual’s way of life and values. And equally important, they must be able to communicate this empathy and support to the client as a basis for a productive professional relationship. Though difficult at times, the social worker needs to remain objective in evaluating clients and their situations. They must serve in an appropriate manner all persons in need of assistance, regardless of the person’s age, class, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, gender and its expression, ability, sexual orientation, and value system.

This profession is not noted for its wage potential, though there are a few specialties that pay over $70,000. The salary sources are listed to show the diversity depending on who is reporting the figures. PayScale is an extremely reputable site-their numbers are based primarily on salaries reported by employees. Salary.com is based on figures reported by employers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics gathers their compensation details from actual payroll records. The wages are presented as a guideline as some may have included the cost of benefits, bonuses and other ancillary earnings in the median income.

1. Social Work Teacher

As a social work teacher, you will be imparting knowledge and describing ways to help students gain the skills and ethics before they enter the field. It is the responsibility of the classroom instructor to formulate the course structure, establish high expectations for student accomplishment, maintain an open and interactive class environment, and design experiences that encourage and facilitate learning by the social work student. That learning can be classified into three broad areas: knowledge, values, and skills.

  • Knowledge-  teaching the terminology and language that can be used to present, describe, and discuss concepts, theories, and facts relevant to practice
  • Values- values and attitudes are best absorbed by the student through the attitudes and morals conveyed by the teacher
  • Skills-  a practice instructor must create a teaching/learning process that allows and requires students to perform various social work activities that utilize basic practice techniques

As a social work instructor at the baccalaureate level, the coursework should simulate the demands and activities of practice in an agency setting. Its design and assignments draw the students into the actual “doing” of practice. This places the attention on a real problem that each student must assume the responsibility to resolve by providing a vital service to another person.

The teacher may administer and grade examinations or delegate the task to others. Also, he/she will conduct research and case studies in a field of interest and may publish findings in trade journals or textbooks. Since this program is taught at the college level, a Master’s in Social Work is required; many candidates may hold a doctorate in Social Work.

Median Salary: $67,500 (PayScale); $87,757 (Salary.com)

2. Healthcare Social Worker

Healthcare social work is a specialty within the social work field. A healthcare social worker is someone who helps people access services and education related to health problems. Their goal is to have the client achieve and maintain a state of optimal health so they can function in their daily lives. The social worker acts as a client advocate, educator, adviser, coordinator of care, and strives to preserve the healthcare and dignity of the population they serve. These social workers can help individuals do everything from find medical care to help pay for medical care to recover from an illness or injury. This might include offering advice, acting as a patient advocate, or referring a patient to facilities or programs.

Healthcare social workers typically work closely with a number of different individuals, including doctors, nurses, patients, and patients’ families. They need to have or develop certain skills, such as listening, patience, critical thinking, complex problem solving, and organization. The focus of the job is to help people who do not know where to find help. In this endeavor, these social workers are most frequently found in in clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living, mental health, and other health care settings.

In order the specialize in this field, a Master of Social Work (MSW) is required . Once employed, there is the option to pursue certification after two years of work experience and have 20 hours of continuing education completed. This certification is administered by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). This certification lets employers and clients know that the healthcare social worker has achieved the highest level of training and education in the specialty of healthcare services.

Median Salary: $53,590 (US Bureau of Labor Statistics/BLS) 

3. Clinical Social Worker

A non-clinical social worker can practice with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, however a clinical social worker requires a master’s degree. The latter’s job duties include addressing individual and family problems such as serious illness, substance abuse, and domestic conflict. Most of the work is done in a clinical setting and typically encompasses psychotherapy, counseling, cognitive therapy, and more. According to the NASW, the social workers who provide these services are required to be licensed or certified at the clinical level in their state of practice. Clinical social workers perform services in a variety of settings including private practice, hospitals, community mental health, primary care, and agencies.

This is a partial list of the guidelines for this field as set by the NASW:

  • Establish and maintain a relationship of mutual respect, acceptance, and trust
  • Establish achievable treatment goals with the client
  • Facilitate cognitive, affective, and behavioral changes consistent with treatment goals
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of treatment services provided to the client
  • Collaborate effectively with other social work or allied professionals, when appropriate

As mentioned, licensure is required. Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) is the most advanced social work certification, and those with this licensure must have a master’s or doctorate level education. The other type of certification is the Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW). This is listed as both clinical and non-clinical, however with a LMSW, the worker is permitted to perform clinical social work only under the direct consultation of a LCSW. Also, a LMSW is barred from engaging in private practice.

Median Salary: $50,681 (PayScale); $63,483 (Salary.com)

4. Medical Social Worker

Medical and healthcare social work have overlapping job responsibilities and duties. Medical social workers assess the psycho-social functioning, environmental and support needs of patients and families and intervene as necessary. Interventions may include connecting patients and families to necessary resources and supports in the community; providing psychotherapy, supportive counseling, or grief counseling; or helping a patient to expand and strengthen their network of social supports. Medical social workers typically work on an interdisciplinary team with professionals of other disciplines (such as medicine, nursing, physical, occupational, speech and recreational therapy, etc.)

Whereas healthcare social work involves more of providing assistance with medical care issues, the medical social worker helps the patient and family deal with a medical crisis. The primary focus is on improving their mental and physical well-being which is done by counseling, needs assessment and psycho-social assessments, and leads to the appropriate interventions. Patient counseling is an important part of the Medical Social Worker’s role. Medical Social Workers lead support group discussions, provide individual counseling, help patients determine appropriate health care and other health services, and provide support to patients with serious or chronic illnesses. Assisting patients to cope with psycho-social problems associated with ill health is a prime objective.

Concerning education, a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree is best. Some jobs may be available to social workers who only have a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), but these jobs are usually lower-level assistant positions.

Median Salary: $50,520 (PayScale); $58,662 (Salary.com)

5. Community Program Administrator/Director

Social workers who enter management positions often oversee nonprofit agencies or social service programs that serve specific communities. In these types of positions, professionals are responsible for coming up with strategic ideas, raising money, budgeting and directing a staff. An example of a social service program would be a homeless shelter for families that provides both immediate and follow-up assistance. Whether the position is for a community service agency or a non-profit company, the typical duties are:

  • Ensure that record keeping and statistical information is maintained, updated and communicated
  • Supervise the program managers/coordinators, assisting with staff hiring, coaching and evaluation
  • Coordinate program planning and development with other company activities
  • Evaluate program policies to ensure that they meet client needs, are effectively administered, are fairly applied
  • Assist in preparing program budgets; administer approved amounts, ensuring compliance

The skills needed are a combination of management and leadership. Management includes functions such as planning, program design, information systems, program evaluation, financial management, human resource management, and supervision. Leadership includes visioning, inspiring and motivating staff, strategic managing, and orchestrating organizational change. This is a field related to social work, though a bachelor’s degree in business may be applied, depending on the type of program to be managed.

Median Salary: $47,674 (PayScale); $98,211 (Salary.com)

6. School Counselor

Professional school counselors are certified/licensed educators with a minimum of a master’s degree in school counseling, making them uniquely qualified to address all students’ academic, career and personal/ social development. This is accomplished by designing, implementing, evaluating and enhancing a comprehensive school counseling program that promotes and enhances student success. These counselors are employed in elementary, middle/junior high and high schools; in district supervisory positions; and counselor education positions.

School counselors incorporate organizational assessments and tools that are concrete, clearly delineated and reflective of the school’s needs. Assessments and tools include:

  • School counselor competency and school counseling program assessments
  • Use of time assessment to determine the amount of time spent toward the recommended 80 percent or more of the school counselor’s time to direct and indirect services with students
  • Annual agreements developed with and approved by administrators
  • Advisory councils made up of students, parents, teachers, school counselors, administrators and community members
  • Use of data to measure the results of the program as well as to promote systemic change within the school system
  • Curriculum, small-group and closing-the-gap action plans including developmental, prevention and intervention activities and services that measure the desired student competencies

An excellent source of information regarding this profession may be found at the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) site. The mission of ASCA is to represent professional school counselors and to promote professionalism and ethical practices.

Median Salary: $46,866 (PayScale); $53,370 (Salary.com)

7.  Geriatric Social Worker

Geriatric social workers help elderly individuals adjust to and cope with problems they may experience. These professionals help make sure the needs of their elderly clients are met, each and every day. They might help them with financial issues, medical care, mental disorders, and social problems. To accomplish these tasks, the social worker must first assess each client in order to determine exactly what their needs are. Typically, a geriatric social worker will meet with and interview a new client. He/she might also interview family members and care givers, such as doctors and nurses, and possibly look at the client’s medical records as well. If the client still lives at home, the home visit is another very important part of this assessment. The geriatric social worker will typically visit their clients at home to ensure that they live in a safe environment and that they have everything they need.

Many geriatric social workers find employment with government agencies, either at the local, state, or federal level. As a geriatric social worker, you might also be able to find employment in hospitals, nursing homes, retirement homes, senior centers, community health centers, and mental health clinics. A minimum of a bachelor’s degree in social work or gerontology is usually necessary for starting a geriatric social work career. Some geriatric social workers might also have nursing degrees. Since most states also require geriatric social workers to become licensed, this professional may require their LBSW for those with a Bachelor’s degree or a LMSW for Master’s degree graduates.

Median Salary: $41,827 (PayScale); $50,500 (BLS)

8. Mental Health Social Worker

A mental health social worker provides support and resources to these individuals suffering from mental disorders, so they can start working on recovering from their mental disorders. Generally, a mental health social worker will provide clients with everything from counseling services to referrals to services that may benefit them. These social workers typically work very closely with a number of individuals. First of all, they typically work in a team with other mental health professionals, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, and therapists. Most importantly, though, mental health social workers also work closely with mentally ill individuals and their loved ones. Also, most mental health social workers are trained to counsel their clients on some minor issues.

The first step that a mental health social worker will usually take with a new client is the assessment. This usually involves interviewing and talking with the client, and possibly his/her family members, friends, and doctors as well. An assessment not only helps the social worker determine what mental illnesses a client has, but also his/her strengths and weaknesses as well. Once a mental health social worker has completed the assessment, he/she can then help put together a care plan for the client. Once the plan is in place, monitoring the client’s progress is an important duty of the mental health social worker. During periodic evaluations, the social worker will try to determine whether or not a client’s treatment plan is working or not. If current treatments aren’t working, the social worker may need to help clients find different doctors or facilities that can better cater to his/her client’s needs.

Individuals interested in pursuing mental social work careers can typically find employment in medical hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, mental health facilities, community health centers, and rehabilitation centers. Facilities such as schools, detention centers, and government agencies might also hire mental health social workers as well.

Median Salary: $39,118 (PayScale); $45,820 (BLS)

9. Child and Family Social Worker

Family social workers provide services to families in crisis that need help fixing problems that interfere with family harmony. Typically, families that need the services of family social workers have severe problems that they can’t sort out on their own. These problems often hinder the normal functioning of a healthy family and may include such things as:

  • Financial problems
  • Unhealthy relationships
  • Addictions
  • Mental illnesses
  • Medical problems
  • Stress

The first step that a family social worker must take when working with a new family is to assess that family. This is usually done by observing and interviewing the family members, both separately and as a whole. By doing this, a family social worker will typically be able to get a good idea of the family dynamics, and identify the family’s strengths, weaknesses, and problems.

Once a family’s problems have been identified, a family social worker will then typically help the family set goals and make a plan to overcome these problems. This often involves the participation of the family as a whole, regardless of whether or not the family’s problems stem from just one member or the whole family. The family social worker can then help connect the family to organizations and agencies that can help them with their specific needs.

Median Salary: $38,799 (PayScale); $42,120 (BLS)

10. Substance Abuse Counselor

Substance abuse is defined as the habitual repeated use of a harmful substance for the sole purpose of mood alteration. Nearly all substance abusers start abusing substances for the immediate mood altering effects. Substance abuse social workers work with clients who have addictions. Trauma disordered individuals also turn frequently to alcohol and other drugs of abuse. Social workers, with their knowledge of humans systems, can be especially effective at addressing co-occurring disorders. Master’s trained clinical social workers provide psychotherapy. They also act as case managers for individuals with complex needs. In hospital settings, they act as discharge planners: navigating systems so that people have the resources and support when they leave the hospital.

A substance abuse social worker will usually start by meeting with and interviewing a client. This enables them to determine the type and severity of the substance abuse. In order to assess a client, the social worker will usually interview him/her, and possibly his/her loved ones. The social worker might also talk with a client’s medical doctors or mental health professionals. After assessing a client, a substance abuse social worker will then help a client come up with a treatment plan or care plan. This treatment plan is based on what best suits each individual client, based on his/her needs, abilities, and type and severity of substance abuse problems. When creating these treatment plans, the social worker will often encourage clients to create goals to work toward; completing each goal allows a client to see that he/she is making progress.

These professionals may work in this capacity with a bachelor’s degree with additional training in counselling. Also, licensure with the state of employment may be required.

Median Salary: $36,166 (PayScale); $45,820 (BLS)

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