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Three Different Types of Social Workers
and What They Do

Social workers help individuals and families improve their quality of life through counseling, advocacy and education. They partner with people of all ages, from children to seniors, to help them through a variety of challenges, including illness, addiction, and disabilities.

Social workers generally work in one of three key areas:

In this article, we’ll look at key duties for these types of social workers.

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Social Worker Meeting with Young Patient

What are the duties of a social worker?

All social workers have common responsibilities and tasks no matter what clients they are helping. This includes meeting with clients, listening to their concerns, assessing their needs and working together to develop action plans. Social workers also educate clients and direct them to community resources.

A social worker’s roles and responsibilities vary depending on the type of clients they work with, the environment in which they work, and even the day. No matter what area they focus on, skills such as empathy, communication, problem-solving, patience can benefit social workers.

While there are common duties, the three different types of social workers—mental health, medical, and children, family and aging services—each have specific duties to meet their clients’ unique needs.

Mental health social work: roles and responsibilities

Mental health social workers help people struggling with substance abuse, psychiatric, and behavioral disorders. They often work closely with other clinical health care professionals, such as nurses and doctors, to provide support to clients and their families.

Some duties of a mental health social worker include:

  • Evaluating mental, emotional, and physical health
  • Determine the best course of treatment (examples include drug or alcohol rehabilitation)
  • Develop individualized treatment plans
  • Provide counseling to clients and their families

Mental health social workers often work closely with community agencies and organizations. They refer clients to available community resources, such as job assistance and other outreach programs. Additionally, mental health social workers may plan, develop, and evaluate community programs.

Mental health social workers work in a variety of environments, including:

  • Mental health centers and clinics
  • Schools
  • Substance use disorder clinics
  • Residential treatment centers
  • State and Federal agencies

Medical social work: Roles and responsibilities

Medical or healthcare social workers help patients—and their families—who are experiencing physical illnesses or emergencies. Medical social workers typically work in a hospital or clinic setting and coordinate care with the patient’s medical team. They help patients understand their condition and direct them to resources that can address the related emotional, financial and social issues that may arise.

Some duties specific to medical social workers include:

  • Helping patients and their families navigate the medical system
  • Communicating patient and family needs to the patient’s medical care team
  • Assessing and monitoring the patient and family’s mental and emotional health
  • Providing short-term counseling and therapy

Medical social workers can be found in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, local health clinics and health departments, long-term care facilities, state facilities for maternal and child health, and home health or hospice agencies.

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Children, Family and Aging Services social work: roles and responsibilities

Social workers in the children, family and aging services sector work with people of all ages and their relatives.

Child and family social workers play an important role in improving the welfare of families in need. They help protect vulnerable children and support the needs of their family. They assess risk and help establish safe, stable environments for children. They also provide support to parents and establish relationships with all family members.

Child and family social workers often work with children experiencing some form of trauma, such as physical or mental abuse. Because of this, child and family social workers may partner with the justice system.

Child and family social workers work in a variety of settings, including:

  • Public and private schools
  • Court and legal systems
  • Youth and adolescent health programs
  • Family support programs

Aging services social workers help older adults and their families navigate available health and social services available to them. This includes housing and healthcare options, as well as community resources such as meals and senior activities.

Additionally, aging services social workers may help adults plan for care transitions, such as moving into an assisted living facility. They may provide counseling to assist with concerns unique to older adults, such as wills and end-of-life care.

These social workers typically work in:

  • Hospitals
  • Home health and hospice agencies
  • Adult day programs
  • Long-term care facilities

Begin your journey to an MSW

As a social worker, you get the chance to be of service to countless individuals and positively impact society. Are you ready to explore a rewarding career in social work?

Learn more about Herzing’s online Master of Social Work (MSW) program for those who have not earned a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), or our Advanced Standing MSW program for those who have already earned a BSW.

Learn more about our program options in social work

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* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2022. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.

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