Social worker duties & job description
A social worker helps individuals, families, and communities improve their quality of life through counseling, advocacy, and education. Social workers assist people of all ages, including children, adults, and the elderly, as well as people with illness, mental health challenges, disabilities, or addictions. They work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, schools, communities, and homes.
Social workers are trained to address challenges including poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and lack of housing, as well as individuals and communities struggling with substance abuse or other issues.
While there are many different types, social workers can be grouped into four main categories:
- Healthcare (focusing on medical, nursing home, and hospice care)
- Mental health and substance abuse
- Child, family and school
- Other types of social work, such as community social workers.
What are the different types of social workers?
There are many different types of social workers, based on their field of focus. Here are descriptions of some of the most popular types of social workers:
- Medical social worker (also known as a healthcare social worker): Work with patients experiencing physical illnesses or emergencies. Medical social workers help patients understand their condition and direct them to resources that can address the emotional, financial, and social needs that arise with a diagnosis. Medical social workers generally work in hospitals or clinics and partner with doctors, nurses, and the patient’s healthcare team.
- Rehab social worker: May work in a hospital, rehabilitation facility, or nursing home to help patients transition from the hospital back into their homes. Rehab social workers educate patients on lifestyle changes, how to manage their illnesses, and help them make necessary accommodations in their home to help them live independently.
- Nursing home or hospice care social worker: Work in long-term care or nursing homes to help residents with their psychosocial, mental, and emotional needs. Hospice social workers may assist with palliative care or end-of-life planning, as well. This includes important decisions about property, healthcare, finances, and last wishes. This can be a good social work pathway for RNs looking to take their careers in a new direction.
- Mental health and substance abuse social worker: Specialize in substance abuse, psychiatric, and behavioral disorders. Mental health social workers evaluate clients’ health and assess their readiness for treatment. Together with clients they develop goals and plans for treatment, recommend resources, and help them develop new coping mechanisms.
- Child and family social worker: Help children and their parents or guardians address challenges or other issues that are impacting the quality of their lives. Family social workers offer resources for parents who need support caring for their children and assist children who are dealing with life stressors.
- School social worker: Work in grade schools and high schools and assist both students and teachers. They often work with at-risk youth to help them develop strategies for conflict resolution, anger management, and stress relief. Additionally, school social workers help students learn strong social skills and develop strategies to help students achieve academic goals.
- Community social worker: Provide education and support to groups of people living in underserved communities to help improve their physical, mental, and social well-being. Community social workers conduct assessments, identify community needs, refer residents to resources, and help organize the community.
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW): Provide counseling and therapy to individuals and families who experience illness, substance abuse or other trauma. LCSWs can clinically evaluate, assess, and diagnose mental illness, and may open their own practice. A master’s degree and a state license are required to become an LCSW.
What degree do I need to become a social worker?1
To become a social worker, you’ll need at least a bachelor's degree in Social Work (BSW) from an accredited college or university. If you have a bachelor’s degree in another major or field of study, you can also become a social worker by earning a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. Some MSW programs like ours offer specific areas of focus in mental health, medical social work, or children, families, and aging services.
There are additional requirements to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). In addition to earning your MSW, you will need to pass a licensure exam and complete two or three years of supervised experience. As a licensed clinical social worker, you are qualified to offer one-on-one psychotherapy, deliver advanced clinical services, or even open your own counseling practice.
How long does it take to become a social worker?
Generally, it takes 2-4 years to become a social worker.
If you have a bachelor’s degree in another field, you have a good head start.
You can enroll in our Master of Social Work program and earn the graduate education needed to qualify for good social work jobs in as few as 2 years (24 months). Or if you have already earned a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), you may qualify for our Advanced Standing MSW track, which may be completed in 1 year (12 months).
What skills does a social worker need?
Certain skills and competencies can greatly benefit social workers. Examples include:
- Team work