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Career Advice

The Truth About Social Work

When the phrase “social work” is mentioned, what comes to mind? Is it meddling government employees taking away children from innocent families? Or is it highly trained and educated professionals working in private practice? One of these images is a myth while the other is reality. Sadly, the two are often confused for one another.

If you are considering a career in social work, read on to bust the myths and discover the truth about social work.

Myth: Social workers come in many forms including case workers and case managers, social service employees and even volunteers. Anyone who cares about people can be a social worker.
Fact: In order to be a social worker an individual must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, must be licensed and must have completed supervised field work. A social worker can be either a Licensed Bachelor’s Social Worker (LBSW) or a Licensed Master’s Social Worker (LMSW). Getting a Masters of Social Work online is a great way for an LBSW to become an LMSW.

Myth: Social workers mostly work for the government.
Fact: While exact figures vary, only about a third of all social workers are employed by local, state or federal government. Social workers are employed in a variety of settings including private practice, hospitals and mental health centers, nursing homes, police departments, courts and prisons, schools, public and private agencies, military installations, substance abuse clinics, corporations and family service agencies.

Myth: Social workers mainly work with Child Protective Services and are in the business of taking away children from their families.
Fact: As mentioned above, social workers work in different areas including adoption and foster care agencies as well as child advocacy centers. When working with families, it is the social worker’s goal to create a safe, nurturing environment for the children. A social worker will only remove a child from a home as a last resort if it is determined that child is no longer safe in the home.

Myth: Social workers do not perform counseling services. You must go to a psychologist, psychiatrist or licensed counselor for mental health and behavioral services.
Fact: The majority of psychotherapy and mental health services are performed by LMSWs. There are many remote and rural areas throughout North America where social workers are the only providers available. Indeed, the same federal legislation that established the National Institute of Mental Health designated social work as one of the four core mental health professions.

Myth: Social workers don’t many any money.
Fact: According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010 the median annual income of social workers was $42,480 with the top ten percent earning over $70,000 annually.

The Next Steps

Now that several of the most pervasive myths about social workers have been busted, what are the next steps toward a successful career as a social worker? If you already have your LBSW, great! You’re well on your way. However, if you’re still trying to figure out what aspect of social work to go into don’t worry – there are myriad ways social workers can help people. There’s sure to be a career path that resonates with you.

Not only are there an incredible variety of MSW employment opportunities, there are several different specializations of social worker as well. Social workers are divided into two main types: direct-service and clinical. Within these two broad categories are many different specializations. These specializations include child and family social workers, school social workers, mental health and substance abuse social workers, and healthcare social workers. Healthcare social workers also have the subspecialties of gerontology or hospice and palliative care.

Obtaining an MSW (Master’s in Social Work) is a critical next step in any social worker’s career. Many potential employers are looking for candidates with at least a master’s degree. Additionally, many state and local governments and insurance companies require a social worker hold a master’s degree in order to receive reimbursement for services.

Not only will becoming an LMSW enhance your resume and earning potential, it will also give you the skills and expertise required to excel as a social worker. After all, social workers are all about helping people.

Contributing blogger Laura Skipton is a graduate student currently pursuing her MSW. When not studying or blogging, Laura volunteers at her local nursing home.

This was a guest post for TheEmployable


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