How to work out if a career in social work is the right option for you

words Al Woods

Choosing your career is a big decision and one that many of us struggle with. After all, the prospect of making a choice that impacts the rest of your future when you’re only in high school is pretty daunting! Luckily, these days, it’s easier than ever before to retrain in an entirely new field later in life.

However, even as adults, we don’t always know exactly what job we want to do. There are so many options out there, and it’s common for us to only have a vague idea of the sort of path we hope to take. For example, this could be knowing that you want a job where you can travel, a position that earns you a big salary or to work with animals. On the other hand, one hope people often have is to embark on a career that enables them to help others. If that sounds like you, then social work might just be a perfect choice.

So how do you know if the role of a social worker would suit you? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the job, as well as the sorts of skills and characteristics you’ll need to excel in the field. In addition, we’ll talk more about how social work enables you to make a positive impact on other people’s lives and what sort of areas you can specialize in. Hopefully, this will help you to decide whether it is the right job for you to pursue. If so, there’s also some information about the steps you need to take (such as doing a BSW online) to make it happen.

social work

What does the role of a social worker entail?

Being a social worker means helping people cope with difficulties they face or solve problems they are struggling with. This can cover an extremely broad range of divorce and serious illness issues to unemployment and substance abuse. It’s a career that often involves working with the most vulnerable people in our society, such as those who are living in poverty, have disabilities, or are facing oppression.

The specific tasks and responsibilities you have will vary according to the age and circumstances of the people you work with and the setting you are employed in. You’ll learn more about this when doing a BSW online (Bachelor of Social Work). However, the following list gives you a good overview of the sort of work you could find yourself doing:

  • Helping vulnerable families to access benefits such as housing, childcare, and food stamps
  • Getting senior citizens access to support services so they can live independently
  • Placing children in foster care or adoptive homes
  • Intervening in cases of child neglect or abuse
  • Supporting those who are victims of trauma, ranging from abuse to natural disasters
  • Providing counseling for people struggling with mental health conditions
  • Helping refugees to settle into their new communities and ensuring that their basic needs are being met
  • Developing rehabilitation programs for prisoners and helping those recently released to reintegrate back into society
  • Supporting people going through difficult life events such as illness, divorce, and unemployment
  • Helping those who are struggling with alcohol addiction or substance misuse
  • Supporting military personnel who have returned from active duty to assimilate back into civilian life
  • Assisting school students who are being bullied or struggling with learning difficulties
  • Advocating for your clients when they cannot do so themselves
  • Evaluating social welfare policies and programs and developing new ones for a range of relevant issues
  • Carrying out administrative tasks such as maintaining case files and referring people to other services

As you can see, it’s a very varied and interesting field to work in, with many opportunities to specialize in those areas that you are most passionate about. This is true both when taking your BSW online and after you qualify.

social worker

Why is social work important?

Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world, and all of us will need a little help from time to time. Doing a BSW online and moving into the field of social work enables you to help those people who might otherwise slip through the cracks. Even in a highly developed country like the US, there are high levels of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and other serious issues. It’s very easy for vulnerable people to become trapped in a negative cycle, and social work is a crucial chance to step in and stop that from happening by connecting people with the services and programs that they need.

Social workers aim to enhance people’s wellbeing and help ensure that everyone’s basic needs are met with dignity and respect. They stand up for human rights and social justice and have been responsible for real and lasting change by fighting against the underlying issues that cause problems such as poverty and discrimination. For example, social workers played a key role in winning rights for workers like unemployment insurance, disability pay, and social security. Today they continue to advocate for a range of causes, including the expansion of access to healthcare, the destigmatization of mental health conditions, and the development of programs and services to help limit the most damaging effects of poverty. Feeling inspired to sign up for a BSW online yet?

What skills do I need to be a good social worker?

Part of being a good social worker is mastering everything that you’re taught on a BSW online; however, in addition to this knowledge, there are a number of skills and character traits that you’ll need to truly excel in the role. Firstly, of course, you need to be a kind, compassionate and empathetic individual who genuinely cares about helping other people. That passion is what will enable you to proactively and effectively support your community and keep you going when faced with difficult cases. You should also be willing, eager, and confident enough to stand up for other people when no one else will.

Speaking of which, it’s worth addressing straight away that being a social worker can be a tough and thankless job at times. Therefore, you must have the mental strength and emotional resilience to deal with these challenging situations and remain calm under pressure. Likewise, it’s vital that you can separate your work from your home life to prevent upsetting cases from having a negative impact on your own mental health and wellbeing.

Another key skill you’ll need is communication, as you’ll be working with clients from all different backgrounds and walks of life. Sometimes people will be reluctant to open up to you, might not share the whole truth with you, or might struggle to articulate themselves clearly. Active listening, observation, patience, and the ability to read into body language and tone of voice can all help you to build relationships more easily.

Lastly, there are several transferable skills you’ll practice on a BSW online that can be of great benefit to a social worker. For instance, having good organization and time management will help you handle many different cases at once, while problem-solving and analytical thinking will help you develop creative solutions to tricky challenges.

How can I figure out if social work is the right path for me?

There’s no easy answer to the question of whether doing a BSW online and becoming a social worker is the right choice for you. However, there are some steps you can take to help you get closer to finding out.

Firstly, you’ll want to do lots of research about exactly what it’s like to be a social worker. Read books and online blogs, watch videos, and try to get an accurate picture of the job before you enroll on a BSW online. You want to find out both the good parts of the career and the bad parts so that you can make an informed decision. Desk research will only get you so far with this, so talking to some people who are actually employed in the field is a great idea. Don’t worry if you don’t know any social workers personally, as you can always reach out to people online. Offer to buy them a coffee in exchange for a chat – you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how happy people are to help others.

If you like what you hear in these initial stages, it will be time to get some real experience. See if you can sign up to volunteer for any social work programs or services in your local area. This could be with underprivileged children, the elderly, homeless people, or any other vulnerable groups. Getting hands-on, practical experience is not only one of the best ways to discover whether or not this is the career for you; it will also be a big boost to your resume when it comes to applying for a BSW online or other social work degree.

What careers are open to me as a social worker?

As a social worker, there are many different job roles available, enabling you to tailor your career to match your personal interests. For example, you could be employed in any number of settings, from schools and hospitals to prisons, child welfare agencies, and specialist centers such as those for domestic violence victims or people struggling with substance misuse.

Here are some of the main pathways open to you after your BSW online (some may involve obtaining further qualifications):

  • Child and family social worker – helping to protect vulnerable children and families in need
  • Mental health social worker – undertaking clinical work such as providing psychotherapy and counseling for those suffering from mental health conditions
  • Substance abuse social worker – working with people who are suffering from an addiction to or misuse of alcohol, prescription drugs, or illicit substances
  • Military social worker – assisting members of the armed forces and their families to cope with issues such as PTSD and adjust to civilian life
  • Healthcare social worker – helping patients in various healthcare settings to understand and cope with their diagnoses, connect with support groups, and make any necessary adjustments to their home
  • School social worker – making a difference in the lives of young people by helping them with everything from their academic performance to issues such as bullying and truancy
  • Criminal justice social worker – working in correctional facilities to run therapy groups, counseling services, and educational programs or supporting those on probation to live a life free of crime
  • Gerontological social worker – ensuring the specific needs of the elderly are addressed, from helping them live more independently to looking out for signs of abuse

How do I become a social worker?

Once you’re confident that social work is the right career path for you, it will be time to complete the educational requirements. First, you’ll need to enroll on either a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) or a master’s degree in social work (MSW). These days both programs are available to study on either a full-time or part-time basis and online or on campus. The right choice for you will depend on your lifestyle and personal preferences. When it comes to picking between a BSW online and an MSW online, the master’s program will require more time and effort; however, it will also qualify you for higher-level job roles.

Whichever degree you choose, you will complete a variety of academic modules on topics such as social welfare policies, human behavior in the social environment, and mediation for social workers. In addition, you will also undertake a certain number of placement hours, where you will get practical experience and training under the guidance of a qualified mentor. This is a valuable chance to get feedback and advice as well as build up your professional network, so be sure to make the most of it!

After you graduate from your MSW or BSW online, you might need to get a license depending on the exact job you’re applying for. Even once you’re employed, you will likely be required to complete a certain amount of regular training to ensure that your knowledge stays up to date and your skills sharp. However, if you’re passionate about the work you do, this won’t be a problem!


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