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Find Out How To Become a Social Worker

How to become a social worker

You’re a great listener, and you’re a magnet for people who share their stories. You might just be standing there, minding your own business, and a stranger comes over to unburden his or her soul on you. Yet, you aren’t bothered. You’re ready to give some good advice on how to overcome the hardship. Maybe you don’t realize it yet, or perhaps you've known it all along, but you were meant to be a social worker.

Find a social work program near you.


John F. Kennedy quote--become a social worker article

A career in social work is ideal if you are passionate about helping others better their lives. Considered a “helping career” and an “agent of change,” social workers deal with all types and groups of people, and the huge range of issues that they face. As a social worker, you will be equipped to provide counseling services to your clients. You will also be able to educate them and connect them to resources they may need. You’ll work with them on their relationships, help enhance their emotional and physical well-being, and train them on ways to reduce stress. You may work with clients facing disability, unemployment, substance abuse, or a life-threatening disease.

Social work is primarily focused on social justice, which differentiates it from other helping-type careers such as nursing or teaching. The three areas of social work are micro, mezzo, and macro.

  • Micro is the most common area of social work. It deals with individuals and families in hopes of helping them solve their problems through counseling, therapy, and other resources that social workers can provide. Military service members find social workers beneficial in helping with many of the issues that come along with duty and reentry.
  • Mezzo works with small groups such as schools, organizations, and neighborhoods. The focus is on involving all parties in a cultural change with the system, instead of concentrating on just one individual.
  • Macro helps large groups of people. They will lobby to change healthcare laws and aim at creating systemic change.


There are five main psychological theories prevalent in social work. Understanding each theory will help you navigate your way through your chosen career. They will give you the knowledge of why people act the way the do, which, in turn, will help you to help them.

  • Psychosocial: This theory is founded upon the learnings of Sigmund Freud’s earlier works but reshaped by Erik Erikson in 1959. It concentrates on how people are molded by their social environment and reactions to it. “Social crises,” as Erikson called them, are experienced multiple times throughout a person’s life. And these are what shape people and give them their sense of who they are. Using these crises, you’ll form a “maturation table,” which you’ll refer to when treating each individual client.
  • Psychodynamic: Also started by Freud and advanced by Erikson, this theory is about understanding why people behave the way the do. This theory focuses on the id, ego, and superego, which are often in conflict, creating inner turmoil and unrest. You’ll use this theory when evaluating your client’s internal conflicts.
  • Transpersonal: Carl Jung pioneered this theory, which isn’t fully considered to be a scientific study. In this theory, inspirational figures are brought up as someone to emulate, such as saints, heroes, and other uplifting individuals. The goal of the transpersonal theory is to present people with a positive person they can emulate as they age and their egos become stronger and more developed. It helps to create good habits, and maybe overcome adversity.
  • Social Learning (Cognitive): The focus here is on behavior and the impact of society. Stimulus and response, and behavior through observation are also a part of this theory. People generally model what they are exposed to, both the good and bad. Social workers use this theory to figure out who their client’s behavioral model is so they can help to change the negative behavior.
  • Systems: This theory states that there are a variety of factors contributing to behavior. People are influenced by more than one person at a time, whether it’s a best friend, a parent, a teacher, a sibling, and all these assist in how a person acts and thinks. Social workers use this theory to take into account all the “systems” in their clients’ lives, and they work to strengthen them in a more positive way.


Mike Dooley quote-article about how to become a social worker

From mental health difficulties to social and financial issues, social workers help individuals, families, and communities find solutions to problems in their everyday lives. Because of the range of problems individuals face, there are many different types of social work specialties. Each specialty comes with specific requirements for education, licensing, and experience. Social workers play an important role in improving society as they help individuals, families, and communities find solutions to problems in their everyday lives. Social workers help with everything from physical and mental health difficulties to social and financial issues. For some of the specialty areas, you would be best off having a Master’s of Social Work (MSW).

The Top Specialties

  • School social workers: This is one of the most common specialized areas. School social workers are responsible for building a bridge between the student’s home and education to meet his or her needs in whatever capacity that means. You will also have to address many of the school concerns such as mainstream classroom assimilation for students with special needs, behavioral intervention, sex and health education, and effective communication between the student, the family, and the school.
  • Child Welfare: You must love children in order to go into this specialty. The kids you’ll be stepping in to assist have been abused, neglected, or other unfortunate circumstances creating a dangerous environment for the child. Compassion, patience, and sensitivity are requirements.
  • Mental Health: For this specialty, you must have your MSW. Because you’ll have to provide therapy, you’ll need that advanced degree plus your license to practice as a clinical social worker. You can work in mental health clinics, mental hospitals, private practices, schools, and hospitals.
  • Military and Veteran: Both active military members and veterans alike very often suffer from ordeals during duty in the military. You will need to be highly prepared to treat these men and women, because they can be so incredibly traumatized. You could work for any of the military branches through one of their facilities or through a private practice.
  • Psychiatric: You will help mentally ill patients and their families with both the mental health issues and everything else that can go along with it. Psychiatric social workers are better equipped to get their patients community-related help than psychiatrists and psychologists. You can work at either an inpatient facility or an outpatient one.
  • Medical and Public Health: You can find yourself a job in a hospital, nursing home, emergency room, rehabilitation facility, assisted living, and home health agencies. You’ll be an advocate for patient rights, you will be the bridge between the patient and the caregiver to make sure that proper care is being received.


Your social working duties may look a little different depending on what you’ve specialized in and what type you are, but there are some things that are common across the board.

Common Duties of a clinical (micro) social worker:

  • Watch the behavior of your patient
  • Evaluate the need
  • Create a treatment process
  • Diagnose their disorder
  • Consult with other medical professionals
  • Meet with the patient’s family to discuss the plan

Common duties of a direct (macro) social worker:

  • Find those in need
  • Aid them in dealing with their everyday issues
  • Be their advocate
  • Refer clients to resources available in the community
  • Work in both public and private institutions


You will need extensive educational training if you expect to work in the field. Entry-level social workers need a bachelor’s degree in social work. Clinical social workers must have a master’s degree and two years of post-master experience in a supervised clinical setting. Clinical social workers must also be licensed in the state in which they practice.

Here are the steps you’ll need to take to go from student to social worker:

  1. You’ll need to get your bachelor’s degree. It should take four years going full time to graduate. You do not need a bachelor’s in social work to go on and get a master’s, by the way. If you do have a BSW, you can work in the direct side (macro) of the field where you can be a caseworker or an assistant to mental health professionals.
  2. Find an internship with a hospital, mental health clinic, or a related environment where you can get first-hand experience.
  3. It only takes an additional two years to get a Master’s of Social Work (MSW), and it’s highly recommended that anyone going into social work take this step. The first year of the master’s program is all coursework, and the second year is fieldwork. If you choose to specialize, you’ll need an additional 900 hours spent in that field.
  4. Each state has its own requirements when it comes to licensing for social workers. One thing is certain, getting licensed is a necessary measure if you plan on practicing your field. There is a licensing exam for those with a bachelor’s degree, and one for a master’s degree. There is also a 170-question competency exam that the Association of Social Work Board gives, geared toward licensing levels.


As a social worker, your workplace can be as varied as your specialty. You may find yourself showing up at your client’s home, or clients may come to your office. If you choose to be a school social worker, you may have to visit a few schools within the district, especially now that many school budgets have been cut, leaving only a couple social workers left for each district. Hospitals, mental health facilities, private practices, universities, military bases and hospitals, and correctional facilities are just a few of the many places where social workers are necessary. Social workers usually work full time, and they may have certain irregular hours such as weekends and evenings.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that by 2030, the demand for social workers is estimated to increase 12 percent. Mental health and healthcare social workers' jobs are expected to be particularly lucrative in coming years. Factoring into the growth are the baby boomers that are aging, and a larger population of people who are addicts account for each of the two specialties. Whichever field in social work you go into, if you have your master’s degree and your license, you should feel prepared when looking for a job.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social workers earned an average salary of $63,010 in 2021, with the top 10 percent earning $93,540. Pay also depends on your experience, industry, and the state you are employed in.

Highest Paying States for Social Work in 2021











New Hampshire


A good social worker is empathetic, and has excellent communication and interpersonal skills. They are effective organizers as well as time managers. It takes a special kind of person to be a social worker—a giver who wants to see positive change. Do you have what it takes?