Types of social workers: Exploring the many fields in which they serve
Maybe you’ve always been working toward a career that can help you improve lives. Or it’s possible that a particular experience in your own life drove you to pivot toward a career in social work. No matter your circumstances, you’re wondering what types of social work careers are out there that might be a good fit for you.
There are many types of social work, so finding a good fit is essential. Social workers are involved in every aspect of community life and can be found in numerous settings — schools, hospitals, senior centers and more. Regardless of which demographic you’d like to work with, there’s a social work role for you. Start exploring some of your options.
8 Types of social workers and what they do
There’s a lot of variety in social work. Most professionals work with clients from a wide range of backgrounds. Social workers can also practice at one of three levels: micro, mezzo or macro.
- Micro — Professionals at this level are typically licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) and work with clients in a one-on-one setting.
- Mezzo — Also typically LCSWs, these social workers support client systems, including families. They focus on individuals, but also loop in other people.
- Macro — Macro social workers aim to make societal or community progress through activities like research and lobbying.
There are opportunities for social workers to practice at every level. A social worker can, for example, help a homeless individual find housing (micro), facilitate a job-interview program for the homeless (mezzo) and advocate for community outreach (macro). As you think about the impact you hope to make, familiarize yourself with some social work careers.
1. Child, family and school social workers
Social workers in this field aim to improve the well-being of children and their families. Child and family social workers might help with arranging adoptions and finding foster homes for abandoned or abused children. In the school setting, they support students by addressing truancy, behavioral problems, teenage pregnancy and other issues.
To become a child, family, and school social worker, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in social work. Though employers may prefer candidates to have a master’s degree. Either way, there’s plenty of opportunity for these professionals, with the job market projected to grow 7 percent to 10 percent through 2028.
2. Community social workers
Community social workers often serve a wide range of individuals as they carry out tasks like planning and administering community-wide programs that meet the needs of underserved populations. They may also work one-on-one with community members, assessing individual needs and making referrals to local resources.
It’s important for community social workers to be able to think about the larger picture and consider what will benefit their community the most. These professionals need a bachelor’s degree in social work at minimum. Those with a master’s degree have more opportunities and are qualified to manage community programs and oversee the overall strategy.
3. Criminal justice social workers
Criminal justice social workers can be found in many workplace settings, including courthouses, domestic violence support centers and correctional facilities. Each role comes with unique responsibilities. Those in correctional facilities, for instance, support incarcerated individuals throughout their time there. That can include conducting psychiatric evaluations and eventually preparing inmates to transition back into society.
To become a criminal justice social worker, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s in social work. It’s also helpful to obtain an education that includes courses on criminal justice – that’s where University of Massachusetts Global’s minor in criminal justice offering can come in handy. Some positions, like those dealing with investigative work or legal counsel, may require a master’s degree.
4. Gerontological social workers
While this role might be unfamiliar, gerontological social workers will continue to be important as the baby boomer population ages. These professionals help elderly individuals maintain quality of life and live as independently as possible. Whether their clients live at home, with family or in an assisted living or nursing home, social workers in this field connect their clients with various services, help them apply for housing and more.
Many gerontological social workers find themselves assisting clients in long-term care facilities, outpatient services or adult protective agencies. If you’re hoping to work in this specialization, you’ll need to have a master’s degree — typically in social work.
5. International social workers
Travel is a natural part of the job for international social workers, who work around the world to address social injustice and violations of civil liberties or human rights.
Though the goal to improve clients’ quality of life is the same for international social workers — cultural differences create certain challenges. Since they work in a huge variety of settings, including refugee camps, international adoption agencies and nonprofits, international social workers need to have ample training. To become one of these professionals, you’ll need to have at least a bachelor’s degree in social work as well as ample exposure to other cultures. Consider gaining experience working with people from an array of backgrounds by supplementing your resume with volunteer work.
6. Healthcare social workers
If you’ve ever been through a health crisis, you understand the physical, emotional, and fiscal stress it can cause. Healthcare social workers are trained to help people going through these types of hardships. They’re equipped to help both patients and families through chronic, acute or terminal illnesses.
These social workers collaborate with other healthcare professionals to determine patients’ needs. They might make referrals for other services, investigate child abuse or neglect, conduct research to inform social policy and assist with Medicaid- and Medicare-related paperwork.
Most healthcare social workers need a master’s in social work in order to be competitive. There’s good news for those who do choose to pursue this path. Employment of healthcare social workers is projected to grow 17 percent through 2028.
7. Mental health and substance abuse social workers
If you’re passionate about helping those who’ve experienced trauma, have a mental illness or are dealing with substance abuse problems, this career could be a good fit for you. Mental health and substance abuse social workers provide individual or group psychotherapy, crisis intervention for clients and help their family members to support them. They manage cases and refer clients to various resources related to things like housing and treatment.
These social workers collaborate with physicians, counselors and nurses, so well-rounded medical and psychology knowledge is important. You’ll need a master’s in social work to become a mental health and substance abuse social worker. Employment of these professionals is projected to grow 18 percent through 2028 — it’s worth giving this field some consideration.
8. Military social workers
You might already know that U.S. service members and veterans are at an increased risk of mental health issues. This means that military social workers are incredibly needed.
Though many types of social workers can support military service members, veterans, and their families, there are three primary types of military social workers:
- Civilian military social workers may find themselves at U.S. military support centers, veterans’ centers, schools or healthcare organizations in the civilian community.
- Active duty military social workers are employed at medical and mental health departments on their military bases to provide support for those actively serving.
- Veteran social workers typically work for the Department of Veterans Affairs to help retired service members address financial issues, find housing, navigate military benefits and find appropriate medical or mental health treatments.
If you’re interested in working in any of these capacities, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in social work. Some social workers in this field often have military experience as well.
Discover your next step
If you can see yourself working in a career similar to one of the roles above, it might be worth determining how to proceed. In many cases, that means furthering your education.
Whether your next step is a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree, you have options at University of Massachusetts Global. If you have yet to complete your undergraduate education, visit the Bachelor of Arts in Social Work. If you’ve already earned a bachelor’s degree — even in a different field — head over to the Master of Social Work page.
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