Social workers have many career paths to choose from. Over the course of a career, a social worker may decide to work in various roles and location types.
Most social work positions require that you earn a master’s degree before applying. Some jobs also require significant field experience or other credentials. The good news is that social work is a career that you can study for online, except for when it comes time for your field placement work.
If you are trying to decide if a master’s in social work is right for you, then you should consider the array of jobs and opportunities that are open to you when you graduate and gain your license.
Social work positions
Below, we outline some of the positions available in the field of social work.
A clinical therapist diagnoses and treats a wide variety of mental health and behavioral issues. They employ a number of methods, including cognitive, psychoanalytic, behavioral, humanistic and holistic.
While the role of a clinical therapist may sound like that of a psychologist, there are actually some major differences. A clinical therapist has a master’s degree and holds a license that allows them to provide talk therapy to individuals, families and groups. Psychologists or psychiatrists hold doctorate degrees and are allowed to work in more areas and provide more intensive forms of therapy and treatments.
Clinical therapists perform a range of duties, including monitoring and making formal progress reports on patients. They refer patients to other mental and physical health specialists as needed and work with these other specialists to provide a total treatment plan for the patient.
In all states, there is a requirement to work under other licensed therapists before you can become fully licensed yourself. All states require that mental health counselors log in 3,000 hours before they are eligible for full licensure. This means that you can count on 18 months of working under the license and supervision of another counselor or qualified mental health professional. It can take two years before you can work as an independent practitioner in marriage and family counseling.
To be a clinical therapist, you need to have a good understanding of people and the ability to stay calm and think clearly under distressing and tough situations. As you will often be working with people of all ages and backgrounds, it is important to be culturally aware and have a strong set of ethics while setting aside your own personal prejudices.
Case managers work very closely with patients to help them rise to their mental health challenges and develop better habits. These professionals typically deal with severe cases of mental illness, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse and more.
A case manager meets mental health challenges by spending significant time talking to the patient and discovering the thought patterns, personal habits, living environment and other factors that have an impact on the patient’s mental health and past development. Information is used to create a case profile that can in turn be used to develop a comprehensive treatment plan.
If a patient shows that they need to utilize other mental health or medical services, then a case manager may work closely with specialists or organizations that can help the patient lead a normal life. One example of this could be a referral to an outpatient substance abuse treatment center and working with an organization that can help patients find regular employment.
Case managers help patients create and commit to realistic goals and milestones that have the most chance of leading them down a path of long-term healing and success.
When there is a crisis in the public or private sector, it is good to have a team to help make sure that everyone has the information and support they need to get through it as well as can be expected.
A crisis manager who holds a social work degree with a counseling emphasis may be needed to help mitigate a variety of situations. For example, if there is an industrial accident at a factory, then a crisis team may be called in to offer employees help dealing with the mental effects, let them know what resources they have for medical assistance, and more. A crisis manager helps organize and plan the management response and offers support and services throughout the crisis. They work closely with many different organizations and groups of people.
Crisis managers may also work at hospitals and facilities such as substance abuse centers to help families when there is a medical or mental health crisis that has a major impact on the lives of everyone involved. A crisis manager may be called in when there are natural disasters or man-made ones such as mass shootings or terrorist attacks.
To be a crisis manager, you need to be excellent at working under an extreme amount of stress. It is critical to be able to make decisions during very stressful moments and not get overly emotional. Crisis manager positions may require that you gain experience in other areas of social work or counseling before you are considered experienced enough. Additional certifications and licenses may be needed depending on the specific job description.
A licensed mental health therapist provides one-on-one and small group therapy services to those experiencing mental problems that are likely to be of short to moderate length. They work with other healthcare and mental health professionals to create total treatment plans for individuals and families who are experiencing mental health issues, trauma or crisis.
A licensed mental health specialist may work with those involved with medical rehabilitation and the intense emotions that can surround learning to live with an illness or disability or recovering from a health issue. An example of this may be learning to walk again after a hip replacement or severe fracture, or returning to normal activities after a major surgery or other medical treatment.
Substance abuse centers often employ licensed mental health specialists to work with clients and their families who are experiencing the effects of addiction. In addition to offering counseling and support, they may assist patients and families in finding additional resources and support to help ensure that there is a successful long-term result and that there is less chance of falling back into harmful habits at any point.
Licensed mental health specialists work at hospitals, clinics, social service departments, substance abuse centers, psychiatric offices, schools and more.
Most social workers who decide to work as a private practitioner or at a private office gain some experience working in other types of facilities before going solo or starting a practice with a few colleagues. Private practitioner positions are less common than working at facilities or clinics.
Social workers are in demand and will continue to be for decades
There is actually a significant shortage of social workers. This shortage is expected to rise as the need increases due to a variety of societal factors, including increased diversity, economics and mental health and substance abuse issues.
Having a job with such demand means that you can enjoy fantastic job security and versatility in where you work. There is ample opportunity to pursue causes and issues that you are passionate about.
Skills required for all social workers
Regardless of the type of social work you are doing, there are some skills that are essential for your success. If you feel that you would benefit from honing some of these skills, then there are extra classes and groups that can help you.
You need to master communicating in both verbal and written form. A digital world means that we often use written communications be it via text message or email. Official messages and correspondence require excellent written communication skills. It is important to be able to say what is needed in a concise and easy-to-understand way.
Managers must be proficient at communicating what is needed when delegating work to others. Verbal skills include being confident when speaking to others, including groups of people.
The best social workers are those who can quickly find a way to connect with those they are trying to help. Being able to find common ground helps establish trust, which makes it easier for social workers and counselors to get to the bottom of issues.
Knowing how to read people via body language and other factors can offer up a better first impression. This way, you can approach helping them in a way that is more likely to break down any emotional barriers they may have put up.
There will be times when your patience and compassion will be necessary even if inside you feel stressed. Emotionally challenging situations are part of being a social worker. You need to be emotionally healthy to do a good job. This means knowing your own personal triggers and methods for dealing with them when working with others.
There will be situations that do not go the way that you would like regardless of how hard you try. With social work, it is your job to try to give and get people the help and resources they need to make positive changes. However, some of the work is on them. It can be very frustrating when people do not take the help they are offered or make the right changes for themselves and their families.
The important thing to remember is that as long as you try as hard as you can, you have done your part. There will be many situations where you make it possible for someone to completely turn their life around and go on to do great things.
Ultimately, social work and counseling are for someone who gets a lot of personal satisfaction out of making a difference in the lives of those around them. Your job is to always do whatever you can to help people face their challenges and find ways to prevent future problems.
Every day you are at work, you will be helping others to move in a positive direction. This is something that you can feel proud of at the end of each working day.
Making positive changes can take a long time. When people are dealing with complex and difficult situations, it can be difficult for them to fully accept and acknowledge their issues and start down the path of change. As a social worker or counselor, it is your job to be patient and guide them toward making good decisions.
Patience is important when planning because it is better to create a plan that involves a lot of smaller steps and milestones that can be celebrated and that lead to achieving larger goals. Setting goals that are too big and unrealistic often leads to a sense of failure when they are not achieved. This can mean that someone gives up entirely because they feel that the situation is hopeless.
Social workers need to be excellent at creating plans and adapting them as situations evolve. Regardless of how much background information you may gain from a client, there are often things that come up that you have to consider in the course of therapy, counseling and more.
What are the requirements to be a social worker?
The typical minimum level of education required to be a licensed social worker in any state is a Master of Social Work (MSW). Continued education credits must be earned regularly so that you have enough to renew your license when required. The timeframe for renewal may vary by state. It is important to regularly check with your state’s requirements to make sure that you have time to meet them in time for your next renewal.
Florida State University offers Online MSW programs in Michigan that meet state requirements for education. The program can be completed in three years with two field placements for those who do not hold a bachelor’s degree in social work. If you do have a bachelor’s degree, then the program can be completed in just two years with a single field placement. Students learn skills that will prepare them for advanced social work positions, including providing clinical services to patients on an independent basis, provided that the correct license is applied for and acquired. The curriculum is well-rounded and offers courses in important areas such as child welfare and mental health.
Michigan needs to add many social workers to meet the current and future predicted demand. That being said, more than 75% of social work jobs require a master’s degree, so earning one opens up many more jobs to you.
As social workers are working with a lot of people from different backgrounds and who are in vulnerable situations, it is important that social workers do not have any serious criminal acts in their background. If you have any criminal record, it is important that you clarify whether it is enough to impact your efforts to become a social worker.
Keep in mind that there are plenty of people who have recovered and moved on from a hard past and now work to help others as social workers, counselors and more. Having something on your record doesn’t necessarily bar you from working in these fields. An application for a social work license and a state exam with passing results is also required.
Depending on where you want to take your career, you will need to complete a significant amount of hours practicing with a person who is already licensed. This can mean working as a counselor for 18 to 24 months full-time at a clinic under supervision or merely completing your field placement hours for your initial social work degree. It is important that you frequently check the requirements in your state to determine whether you are on the path to meeting them. This is because requirements can change as you are earning your degree, and you want to be certain that you are planning everything correctly.
Rewarding career opportunities
Becoming a social worker opens the door to many rewarding career opportunities. Now is a great time to train or retrain and gain your master’s degree in social work on a schedule that works for you. While some of the jobs do require a lot of experience before you are fully licensed, some of these are paid positions that allow you to gain a lot of skills from experienced professionals.
As a social worker, you also have the opportunity to pursue an area of social work that you are most passionate about and create real change in the world around you.
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