There’s a huge difference between having a job and having a vocation. Sure, money can be nice, but no matter what anyone says, and no matter how much money you make, if you feel insignificant, it will start taking a toll on you.
But when you’re pursuing your calling, work doesn’t feel like work anymore. You live your life consumed by this fire to contribute to the world around you, and make a positive change. You’re not just another cog in the machine, and you go home feeling like you actually made a difference, not wondering what’s the point of it all.
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.
– The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
Social work is one of those fields, and a way to use your natural skills and attributes to make a difference in someone else’s life and society in general. Here are some of the reasons you should consider pursuing a career in social work. We’ll also take a look at what it actually takes to become one, and what you can expect.
Why a Career in Social Work?
Social workers play a central role in society, and they are in great demand. This is also a great career if you see yourself as an empathic person, but also have the kind of mental fortitude and pragmatic mind to actually offer real solutions, and help people get out of their situation. Some of the reasons why so many people enjoy working in social work include:
- It offers diversity
- Great prospects and demand
- Human interaction
- It’s challenging
- Could reveal parts of your personality you weren’t aware of
- Opportunity to make actual change in someone’s life
It Will Change You in Ways You May Never Have Imagined
As a social worker, you’ll be involved in all sorts of different situations, and these could help you discover something about yourself. For instance, you might need to deal with people who are dealing with suicidal thoughts. By working with them, you might realize that you are great at putting things in perspective and diffusing volatile situations. You might also realize how great you are under pressure. We often learn who we are in extreme situations, and in social work, you’ll often be put in unique and extreme scenarios.
When you get formed as a social worker, you’ll be trained to work with everything from children to mental health patients. You might be called to work with people struggling with substance abuse, or you may be working with families.
When seeking positions, you get to choose which causes are closest to your heart, and work with people who matter to you. This is when it gets even more fulfilling. You also get the chance to become an advocate for certain causes, or causes that have affected you personally. You could work in fields like:
- Child Welfare
- Direct Service Social Work
- Medical/Public Health
- Mental Health
- Palliative/Hospice Care
- School Social Work
- Substance Abuse
And while you can choose to specialize in one specific area, there’s nothing stopping you from jumping from positions. For instance, you could work in child protection services for a few years, then move to mental health or advocacy if you need a change of pace.
No Two Days Are the Same
If you’re looking for excitement and hate routine, then social work might be for you. No matter how much planning you make for the day, you never know what might happen and your whole day could be turned around. You’re always on your toes as a social worker and have to be reactive.
It’s also far from your typical desk job. While you may have to do some office work, you could be called to work on a particular case at any moment. This is what keeps the job exciting. You might have to see your clients in schools, community and rehab centers, hospitals, or their homes. Social workers have to engage with the community, and this isn’t something that you can do by sitting at a desk.
Social Workers as Policymakers
Social workers work in the trenches and understand the real needs in a community. They don’t simply rely on statistics and assumptions. They’re on the ground every day, and get to see the effect of policy, or lack thereof, on society. This is why social workers can turn into great policymakers and change society at large.
If you were thinking of pursuing a career in politics, working as a social worker could open many doors. Too many people making policy have no idea of the realities facing the people they make policy for, which renders them largely ineffective.
What People Had to Say About Working as Social Workers
We can tell you what it is to be a social worker, but there are no better people than those who have been doing it for years to give you a perspective. When asked why they loved to be social workers, many stated that they loved being able to help people make real changes in their lives.
“It’s an honor to help people achieve success” Said Paul Inglizian, a licensed clinical social worker. “For every family, child and adult that we help, we get to transform whole communities where clients can actually thrive and grow, creating more solid foundations for tomorrow.”
When asked why she loved being a social worker, Jill Johnson Young, who is another clinical social worker, mentioned how fulfilling and diverse her career was. “I have reunified families that were torn apart by abuse stories. Helped children find loving adoptive homes, and adoptive families give children everything they need to thrive. I’ve worked with patients dealing with terminal illness, and now I work in mental practice where I help people dealing with dementia while doing volunteer work in my community.”
Social work is easily one of the most rewarding jobs in the world, providing that you actually have what it takes to do the job. It certainly needs a special type of person to be a social worker, and it’s not a job for anyone. Let’s now take a look at what it takes to be a social worker.
Skills and Traits Needed to be a Social Worker
As we said earlier, it takes a special disposition to be a social worker, and you need more than compassion to be an effective one. If you want to be a social worker, you should be:
Trait #1: Flexible
Social work is not your typical 9-5. If you’re unable to deal with uncertainty and you like having a set routine, then this is definitely not the job for you. You have to be ready to move at the drop of a dime. You might also have to deal with very volatile situations, and change your mindset entirely.
In some cases, a client may have to be rushed to the hospital for instance, or in a crisis. You may have to wait after regular school hours to work with children in need. As a social worker, you have to be ready to work on an on-call basis if you want to be successful.
Trait #2: Empathic
If you lack basic empathy, then you’ll never be able to relate to the needs of others, and will be largely ineffective as a social worker. You have to be able to put yourself in their shoes, but you also have to understand how different people might need a different approach or environment. You can’t expect the same solution to work with two completely different sets of people. People will simply disconnect if they feel you can’t understand their reality.
Trait #3: Resilient
You can’t simply be empathetic if you want to be a good social worker. Social work can get tough, and you need an equally tough disposition to make it. You have to be able to work with people who may not be the most welcoming of your help. Some may be downright hostile or resistant to change. You have to be able to push through, and not let your cases take too much of a toll on you.
Trait #4: Patient
Patience is also important in social work. You might have to work with different groups of people who might be at odds with each other, and have very different goals. Some people might not be very open, and might not be willing to disclose information. You’ll have to be able to gain their trust, which can take time.
Trait #5: Dependable
People will often come to you in times of crisis, and in some cases, you might be the only person they actually trust with their issues. They might need you to deal with legal or financial issues, or other personal issues. They might be on the verge of a relapse for instance. If you can’t be physically or emotionally available in these times of need, this could easily turn to catastrophe.
Trait #6: Driven
You also need a certain drive to be a social worker. You can’t afford to be disengaged in your job. This is people’s lives were talking about. So, unless you have a genuine drive to become a social worker and this isn’t just another gig for you, then you should consider going through another career path.
Social work can also get demanding, and social workers have to find ways to push and energize themselves. You also have to learn how to take care of yourself as well, which means watching your sleeping and eating habits, having a good work/life balance, and considering a change once you feel you’ve given all that you can.
How to Become a Social Worker
If you want to become a social worker, then you’ll need to get the proper qualifications. This means getting a bachelors for level entry positions, then moving to a master’s degree.
You will first need to get a bachelor’s in social science through a CSWE accredited school. This will allow you to seek a job as a generalist. You will learn how to work with groups, families, individuals, and communities. Going through a bachelors will give you a solid foundation, and you’ll be able to combine school work with field education.
You can then move on to get a master’s degree in social work. While the curricula will often be similar and offer a combination of class work and field education, some schools with have a stronger clinical component, while others will work on specific systemic issues such as social justice or poverty reduction.
One great thing is that you could get your degree online while maintaining your previous position. Schools like Florida State University have an online masters social work that can be completed in two years or less. This is the perfect way to make the transition to higher positions or work in a clinical setting. These jobs pay significantly higher and are also in great demand. This is also a chance to specialize yourself and work in a variety of settings.
Here are a few things when choosing your career path, however:
- A BSW is great if you are looking for your first bachelor’s. This will give you access to entry level positions. You could then apply for advanced standing and accelerate your path through a master’s.
- You don’t necessarily have to get a bachelor’s in social work if you already have one in another field. Various other bachelors could allow you to access entry level positions, then go for a masters.
- If your goal is to work in a supervisory role, then you’ll have no choice but to get a master’s. Employers are also more likely to ask for a masters for anything over entry level. And in all cases, having a masters will open more doors.
- You will also need a MSW if you want to get into clinical social work as well as get licensed in your state.
Becoming a social worker is more than a job; it is a calling, and it is one of the most fulfilling careers on earth. If you feel like you have what it takes to become one, and are ready for the challenge, we strongly suggest that you start looking into it, and start looking at the opportunities in your area.
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