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Social work is an incredibly rewarding field of work. You will be involved in the lives of many different people, assessing what their needs are and finding the community resources out there to help them meet those needs, including through assistance and treatment. There are different types of social work degrees, but let’s start with understanding the three main fields.
Main Fields of Social Work
If you are considering a degree in social work, you should start by thinking about which of the three primary fields you would like to work in. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, you can become a social worker with a bachelor’s degree in social work or in a field that is related to it. However, this leads to entry level positions only, and most social work positions will require a master’s degree. Additionally, each state has its own requirements for social work licensing, which is another thing you need to consider. Sometimes, a master’s degree is a requirement to become licensed.
1. Social Work within Public Health
As a public health social worker, you will work to address the medical needs of patients, as well as other health related issues. As a social worker, the goal is to find community resources to address these needs, and you will also be an advocate for the health needs of your clients, ensuring that they receive the treatment that is appropriate for their needs. To achieve this, you will manage behavior files, maintain treatment documentation, manage medical records, and take part in your clients’ support groups and counseling sessions.
In this role, you will work closely together with various medical and health care facilities. You will make sure your clients receive referrals to these facilities when needed. You will also be part of a multidisciplinary team of other medical care professionals and social workers, ensuring that the right care is delivered. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is an increased demand for public health social workers with a geriatric concentration, due to the changing needs of the aging population in this country.
2. Social Work with Families, Children, and Schools
In this role, you will guide, counsel, and advise people on issues of welfare, child abuse, and legal matters. You will work closely together with the children and their parents and families, and also with teachers and school officials. Together, you will work on creating programs and disciplines to address certain behaviors. These include writing reports on the subject, managing financial records, and completing paperwork. Some research is also required, identifying new community services and treatment programs.
Within this field of social work, you can also work with children who will be, or are, placed out of their family home and with those who will be, or have been, adopted. You will work closely together with these children to make sure their mental health, behavioral needs, and academic needs are being met. If the child in question is approaching adulthood, you may also help them with training and career guidance.
3. Social Work with Mental Health and Substance Abuse
In this field of social work, you will work together with patients who have a mental health and/or substance abuse disorder, helping them to recover. You will be a member of multidisciplinary team of counselors and doctors, and your role will be to make sure that your client attends appointments and properly responds to treatment. You will also work as a counselor, ensuring that your clients properly address their issues, which includes working together with their families. Part of your role is to maintain accurate records, and to refer your clients to relevant services and treatments. As always, you must be fully aware of the different community services and resources that exist, so that you can provide the right advice to your clients in terms of accessing treatment.
The Different Social Work Degrees
Each of the above fields of work has different requirements in terms of the necessary education. Furthermore, as previously stated, different states have extra requirements before someone can become licensed as a social worker. However, overall, the degree options that exist are the BSW (Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work), the MSW (Master’s Degree in Social Work), and the DSW (Doctoral Degree in Social Work, which is a Ph.D. degree). It also possible for people to become an LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), which requires further education and passing a licensure exam, with requirements varying between different states. Let’s take a look at these in greater detail.
1. The BSW
The BSW is the foundation degree for any social worker. This is the undergraduate level start, where you will work towards graduating as a social worker. During your first three trimesters, you will learn about general subjects and topics covering both liberal arts and sciences. Each university has its own requirements in terms of how long the foundational courses last, but you will eventually move on to your personal chosen concentration and major.
At this point, you will take part in sociology and psychology courses. You will also have at least one course on at-risk populations, where the skills of social workers are needed the most. Additionally, you will learn about topics spanning the three areas of social work, focusing on abuse and addiction. The goal is to make sure you understand how to keep your clients on the right track, and how to make sure they will make more sensible, better life choices. You will also learn about risky behaviors and the psychology of at risk populations, while at the same time gaining an understanding of how you can guide your clients towards making their own choices for a better future. It is important, however, that you do not step outside of the ethical boundaries of social work.
2. The MSW
Once you have completed your BSW, you should enroll in the MSW. Here, you will start to focus more strongly on medical and supervisory positions, while also choosing your personal specialization. You will be trained to take on any type of social work job, while at the same time understanding how to take on positions of leadership.
The program will continue to build on the foundation that you received during your BSW, but there will be a stronger focus on regulations and policy within the social services sector, social work leadership theory, occupational ethics, and how to practically execute your new skills. In general, you will also have to complete 900 hours of supervised experience in a relevant capacity. This will be critiqued, assessed, and graded, looking at how you used the skills you obtained during your graduate program.
3. The DSW
The focus in the DSW is strongly on research and analysis. No longer will you be prepared to take on positions of leadership within the field of social work, but you will research the field as a whole. The DSW takes a narrow vision, in other words, emphasizing research and study. Rather than being out in the field, you will develop a hypothesis and then work together with the university in order to test it and prove it. The goal is to make sure social work as a field remains relevant and up to date. Most of those who complete the DSW go on to be social work teachers at academic level themselves. Sometimes, they return to social work organizations, taking on executive positions. And, finally, some stay within research, developing new and analyzing existing policies.
4. The LCSW
The vast majority of those who are a LCSW have a DSW. However, with the LCSW, you continue to work clinically. It can be a required title if people want to work in an area where a single patient requires both clinical services and oversight from a social worker. LCSWs deal with the most difficult cases, focusing specifically at populations who are classed as most at risk.
What sets the field of social work apart in terms of education, is that each level of degree has a unique and specific purpose. With the BSW, you will be ready to take on various entry level positions. With the MSW degree, you can take on positions of leadership, preferably in health care settings. With the DSW, you can influence executive leadership, teaching, analysis, and research. If you hold all three of these degrees, you will be able to work with any client, anywhere in the country.
Social Work Concentrations
A final thing to consider is that some social work degrees, mainly at the MSW and DSW levels, are the concentrations. However, just which concentrations are available will depend on the school you go to, with different schools often giving different names to the same concentrations. Some of the recognized and most popular concentrations include:
- Clinical social work
- Leadership and macro practice social work
- Social work research
- Mental health social work
- Health care social work
- School social work
- Direct practice with individuals, families, and small groups
- Community, organization, and social action
There are many other concentrations and sub-concentrations, which demonstrate just how varied and wide the field of social work is. Make sure, therefore, that you consider your options and your future career goals, before deciding where to enroll and which program to choose in terms of concentrations and majors.