Social Workers

“Do-gooders” or “bleeding hearts” are the first words that might come to mind when you think of social workers. While these descriptions might be true in some cases, social work is a serious profession. Social work professionals assist individuals and groups with a wide-range of cultural, social, psychological and medical issues by ensuring the patients emotional and social needs are met and maintained throughout treatment. Read on to learn about the different types of social workers, how they treat patients, where they work, and more.

What is a Social Worker?

Social workers are health professionals who use counseling to help individuals, couples, families, and groups solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives; function in their environment; improve relationships with others; and create societal conditions that support communities in need. They also help people locate, access, and fully utilize appropriate resources, such as medical care and services, for their particular needs.[1,2,3]

What is a Clinical Social Worker?

Clinical social workers, also called licensed clinical social workers, diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues, including anxiety and depression. Clinical social workers may work on therapy for individuals, couples, families, and groups. In doing so, they develop strategies and treatment plans to change behavior or cope with difficult situations.[1,4]

What Credentials do Social Workers Have?


Social workers are highly trained and experienced professionals. Educational requirements for social workers range from a bachelor’s degree to doctorate level and license or certification. Only those who have earned a social work degree and completed a minimum number of hours in supervised fieldwork are considered professional social workers.[2,5]

A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is the most common requirement for entry-level positions. However, some social workers have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as psychology or sociology.[5]

Certain social worker positions, such as those in schools and healthcare, generally require a master’s degree in social work (MSW). For example, clinical social workers must have a master’s degree in social work and two years of post-master experience in a supervised clinical setting.[5]


In general, all 50 states have some type of licensure or certification for social workers with each state specifically requiring clinical social workers to be licensed. However, clinical social workers who work in government agencies may be exempted in certain states.[5]

Becoming a licensed clinical social worker usually requires a master’s degree in social work and a minimum of two years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience after graduation. After completing their supervised experience, clinical social workers must pass a clinical exam to be licensed.[5]

Who do Social Workers Help?

Social workers work with a variety of people or groups depending on the specific situation and needs for coping with that situation. For example, child and family social workers protect vulnerable children and families in need of assistance. School social workers assist parents, teachers, and school administrators with developing plans and strategies aimed at improving academic performance and social development. Healthcare social workers help patients, including senior citizens and those terminally ill, understand their diagnosis and make required lifestyle adjustments. Lastly, mental health and substance abuse social workers assist individuals with mental illnesses or addictions.[4]

How do Social Workers Help Patients?

After identifying a person or people who need help, a social worker generally does the following:[2,3,4]

  • Assesses the clients’ needs, situations, strengths, and support networks to determine their goals
  • Develops plans to improve the clients’ well-being
  • Explains the epidemiology of diseases, including social environment risk factors
  • Explains healthcare resources and policies to clients, family and professional staff
  • Helps clients adjust to changes and challenges in their lives, such as illness, divorce, or unemployment
  • Researches and refers clients to community resources, such as food stamps, child care, and healthcare
  • Helps plan for post-hospital needs by arranging for services at another facility or in the home
  • Helps clients work with government agencies to apply for and receive benefits, such as Medicare
  • Advocates for and helps clients get resources that would improve their well-being
  • Follows up with clients to ensure their situations have improved
  • Evaluates services provided to ensure that they are effective
  • Provides advocacy through appropriate organizations

Where do Social Workers Work?

Social workers can be found in many settings including hospitals, schools, community organizations, nursing homes, mental health clinics, substance abuse clinics, senior centers, correctional facilities, military bases, child welfare agencies, state and local governments, corporations, and private counseling practices.

Most social workers concentrate on a specific area of practice and many clinical social workers work in private practice where they may, for example, provide psychotherapy or counseling and a range of diagnostic services. In these settings, clinical social workers have administrative and recordkeeping tasks such as working with insurance companies to receive payment for their services.[2,4]


  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Social Workers. Summary. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from
  2. National Association of Social Workers. Social Work Profession. Retrieved January 22, 2014, from
  3. Mayo Clinic. Social Work. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from
  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Social Workers. What Social Workers Do. Retrieved January 22, 2014, from
  5. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Social Workers. How to Become a Social Worker. Retrieved January 30, 2014, from
  6. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Social Workers. Work Environment. Retrieved January 23, 2014, from

By C. J. Newton, MA, Editor

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