Debunking Misconceptions: What Social Workers Actually Do

Misconceptions persist about the breadth and depth of services offered by social workers. This article examines the role of social workers and how they help the public at large.

There’s a lot more to social work than most people realize. Misconceptions and stigmas about the profession may prevent people from taking advantage of the help social workers can provide or deter students’ interest in pursuing a social work degree and serving the public. The main goal of a social worker is to answer questions, provide support and develop a plan to help their clients succeed in life. Don’t buy into the myths. Read on to learn the truth about what social workers really do and how they can help people in all walks of life.

Myth: Social workers are welfare workers

Social work isn’t just for those who are down on their luck. Social workers help lots of different people in many different situations. Most social workers tend to specialize in one sector of the population or environment, including children and families, schools, healthcare, mental health and substance abuse.

In the healthcare industry, for example, social workers may provide trauma and end-of-life counseling. Social workers help patients and families understand a diagnosis and craft a game plan for clients to make necessary adjustments, such as providing resources for housing, home health and support groups.

Myth: Social workers want to take your kids away

It is everyone’s best interest to keep families together. For this reason, social workers provide assistance so at-risk children and families can get access to resources and programs that can help. In schools, social workers coordinate with teachers, parents and students to tackle issues like bullying and aggressive behavior so that students see academic success. Child and family social workers help parents find affordable child care and apply for benefits like food stamps. These workers also offer mental health support to children and families dealing with divorce, bereavement, teenage pregnancy and other life changes.

Myth: Social work is a dangerous occupation

It is true that social workers may find themselves dealing with potentially aggressive clients. Physical assault does exist in the profession, but is less common than psychological aggression. Some of the people social workers help may be unstable due to stressful situations they are experiencing.

Not all social workers experience aggression in the workplace, nor are they without protection. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) provides a safety training program and has instituted policies to ensure the well-being of social workers.

Myth: A kind heart is all you need to be a successful social worker

While it’s great in any profession to care about others, social work requires more than compassion.  Social workers fill many needs for their clients. They provide counseling services, assess clients’ strengths and goals, assist clients in applying for benefits, respond to crisis situations and offer advice on available resources and programs. Social workers also evaluate and monitor client success to make sure their methods are effective. In addition to their natural compassion and empathy, social workers should possess excellent listening, research, time management and problem solving skills, as well as the ability to work well under pressure.

Myth: Social workers are volunteers and aren’t paid well

Social work is a true profession. There are two main types of social workers: direct-service social workers and clinical social workers. Direct-service workers help clients with everyday problems and life changes, whereas clinical social workers diagnose and treat patients with mental illness, addiction, behavioral problems and emotional issues. While volunteers do great work to help improve their communities and lives of those around them, social workers are not volunteers. They study and train for years before entering the workforce. A degree is required to become a social worker. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2010 the median salary for U.S. social workers was $42,480. The top 10 percent of earners made at or above $70,390.

Myth: A degree in sociology qualifies you to do social work

A sociology degree is not the same as a social work degree. Sociology is the study of the structure and functioning of human society. Social work courses prepare students to find resources and help combat societal problems. While an understanding of sociology is good for any aspiring social worker, a sociology degree does not qualify you to become a social worker.

Direct-service social workers should hold a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW). Clinical social workers are required to have a master’s in social work (MSW). All states have a licensure and certification requirement in place for social workers, as well.

Now that you know the truth about social workers, do you think it’s the path for you? If you want make a career out of helping others, start by earning your BSW or MSW. Classes can be taken online, so you can learn at your own pace. For information about a social work degree online, visit Brescia’s online campus.

Established in 1950, Brescia University is a Catholic, liberal arts institution founded in the Ursuline tradition of personal and social transformation through education. With the advent of BUonline, Brescia brings accredited undergraduate and graduate programs to students across the nation. Brescia’s commitment to a student-centered environment rewards students who seek success through meaningful careers and service to others.