5 Types of Social Workers

Hands raised in the air with a heart in the middle of each palm.

“The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people…”

-Preamble, Code of Ethics, National Association of Social Workers

When considering its direct positive impact on people’s lives, perhaps no profession is regarded as highly as social work. Social workers are charged with ensuring the welfare of individuals, communities and society. Because this mission is defined so broadly, those considering social work as a profession have plentiful options when it comes to specifying their career path.

The Role of a Social Worker

Social work is concerned with helping people overcome the challenges of daily living. The field is divided into two main categories: clinical and direct service. Clinical social workers are specifically responsible for the diagnosis and treatment of mental, behavioral and emotional issues, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) explains. Direct-service social workers encompass all other forms of social work. Within these two categories, social workers have a great variety of professional opportunities. Licensure is necessary for some social work roles, and requirements vary by state. Below are five of the different types of social workers.

Types of Social Workers

School Social Workers

School social workers practice within both individual schools and whole school systems, and they specialize in assisting children in grades K-12. Based on the needs of their clients, their duties can vary considerably. According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), school social workers may:

  • Conduct student assessments in a number of areas such as substance abuse, support systems, peer issues and barriers to academic performance.
  • Work with students to develop individualized treatment plans.
  • Provide training and workshops to teachers, staff and parents.
  • Conduct home visits.
  • Provide therapeutic services directly to youth.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

Social workers make up one of the largest groups of professional mental health and substance abuse service providers in the United States, according to the Council on Social Work Education. Mental health and substance abuse social workers may:

  • Help clients determine their eligibility for additional support services.
  • Provide crisis management intervention.
  • Develop and implement treatment and discharge plans.
  • Write grants.
  • Assist clients in securing and maintaining safe housing and employment.
  • Help clients stay on treatment plans by arranging necessary services such as child care and transportation.

Clinical Social Workers

Clinical social workers practice in a variety of work environments such as hospitals, community mental health centers and private practices. They are often responsible for:

  • Performing individual, group and/or family therapy.
  • Assessing, diagnosing and treating mental illness.
  • Helping clients gain autonomy and find solutions to problems ranging from daily difficulties to severe mental illness.
  • Providing services specifically for behavioral and bio-psychosocial problems and disorders.

Child and Family Social Worker

Child and family social workers may practice in hospitals, clinics or other public service provider offices. Their duties may include:

  • Counseling families through challenges or difficulties.
  • Finding employment and housing for families experiencing homelessness.
  • Placing abused children in safe living environments.
  • Helping individuals navigate the adoption system.
  • Advocating for children at schools, with health providers, in courts and in their homes.

Health Care Social Workers

Health care social work is a broad subfield. Those who follow this career path may work in generalized or specialty clinics, and they may assist the public or specific populations (such as the elderly or critically ill). Responsibilities may involve:

  • Helping patients navigate the health care system.
  • Identifying patients for specialized referral services such as those related to drug and alcohol abuse, legal services or employment assistance.
  • Providing education and support programming.
  • Helping clients with areas such as entitlements, medication, transportation, advance directives and end-of-life issues.
  • Case management for clients with chronic or complex medical conditions.
  • Coordinating with outside resources and agencies. 

Considering the wide variety of needs social workers address, it is no surprise that the need for these professionals is high and continues to rise.

Demand for Social Workers

The demand for social workers is great. The BLS estimates that the number of open jobs will grow 12 percent by 2024 — a rate faster than the national average. For positions in the health care, mental health and substance abuse subfields, the rate is even higher, estimated to climb to 19 percent by the same year.

Those seeking to join this meaningful profession can start by enrolling in the online BSW program at Brescia University. The program offers students with previously earned college credit a convenient way to finish their degree and get started toward a better career. Upon graduation, students will be prepared to directly enter the workforce or pursue further graduate study. Brescia also offers an online MSW.