Discover What a Social Worker Day Entails
A typical social worker day involves helping clients with various life problems, including homelessness, joblessness, substance abuse, and family issues. These professionals may work in social services agencies, community organizations, and schools.
Some social work jobs require only a bachelor's degree. However, most advanced positions require a master's degree. Social workers also need state licensure. This typically requires a master's degree and hundreds of hours of clinical experience.
This page offers an overview of an average social worker day. Read on to learn about the daily activities for a social worker and see an interview from a practicing social work professional. Keep reading to discover what a social worker day entails.
MSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Interview With a Social Worker
Q. What Made You Decide to Be a Social Worker?
I started college wanting to become a special education teacher. I had been a teacher's assistant for kids with disabilities in my high school classroom. I loved helping in this environment.
While I loved working with kids with disabilities, a friend told me about social work. I didn't know this career path existed. Working in this field would allow me to work with this population but not be confined to the classroom. Upon further research, I switched my major and fell in love with the calling of social work.
I earned my bachelor's degree from Keuka College. Here, we engaged in "field periods," which are month-long internships every January. I worked at the American Red Cross, Harborcreek Center for Boys, Habitat for Humanity, and the District Attorney's Office in Canandaigua, New York. These experiences opened my eyes to the many people who could benefit from professional support. I found this field exciting and refreshing because of the diverse social issues, settings, and people.
Q. What Qualifications Did You Need to Become a Social Worker?
Many people call themselves social workers without formal education. This can be dangerous for clients. You need the right skills to work effectively with people. Not letting one's own issues, agendas, or biases get in the way of the work is a big part of social work training.
Becoming a social worker takes a significant amount of self reflection, studying, and therapy. Obtaining a bachelor's in social work or another mental health field is the first step to becoming a competent social worker.
Aspiring social workers can also earn a master's degree, Ph.D, or Psy.D. in social work. Obtaining these higher-level degrees can lead to more internships, training, and job opportunities.
After earning a degree, the next step is getting licensed in your state. Becoming licensed opens the door to more opportunities. These may include teaching, providing supervision, running an agency, or starting a private therapy practice. Another benefit to an upper-level degree and licensure is an income boost.
With your social work state license in hand, be sure to follow the mandates around continuing education. Being a social worker is a lifelong growing process. To keep your license current, you must meet state requirements. For example, in California, I need 32 hours of approved continuing education credits every two years. This helps me stay current on research.
Earning a bachelor's and master's in social work takes 5-6 years if you enroll full time. You can also spread out your education over years if you want or need to attend part time.
Q. What Does a Typical Day for a Social Worker Look Like?
A typical day varies depending on the setting. Working in schools is vastly different than working in a hospital or community crisis center.
I spent two years working at a community hospital in Napa County. I worked as a homecare social worker supporting people living with HIV/AIDS. I'd arrive at the office at 9 a.m., check my emails, and get my calendar lined up for the day. I'd coordinate client care with my nurse colleague. Sometimes we'd visit people's homes together. Other times, we'd spread out and keep in touch by phone.
On a typical day, I'd meet with 2-4 clients. I'd provide emotional support and assess their needs. Depending on what someone needed, I might go to the store for them, deliver food, or coordinate care by making phone calls on their behalf. Other days, I would be in meetings, attending trainings, obtaining supervision for my license, or visiting people in the hospital.
I would also sit in on clients' visits with our HIV/AIDS doctor. This allowed me to provide support around their care and try to meet their social, emotional, and spiritual needs. It was an amazing job, and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity.
My current job is two-fold. After gaining years of experience in several settings, I decided to establish my own private practice. I provide weekly therapy to youth, adults, and families. This job offers me great flexibility and the ability to be my own boss. During the pandemic, I work mostly remote and find great joy in helping people on an individual basis.
A typical day involves seeing clients virtually from around noon until 5-6 p.m. My sessions last 50 minutes, and I see anywhere from 5-8 clients in a day Monday through Thursday. In between sessions, I type my notes or stretch out, as sitting in a chair for long periods of time can be wearing. I also return phone calls and emails daily.
While it might not sound exciting on paper, getting to be part of people's lives is highly rewarding. I get to help them work through past traumas, anxiety and depressive symptoms, and solve problems. I usually work with people long term, so I get to know them deeply. I love to empower people to move toward self love and self acceptance while making changes to better their life.
Another aspect of my current work is my Wise Girl Workshops and Coaching program. During the school year, I facilitate one-hour daily workshops Monday through Thursday for girls in grades 3-11. I also run a monthly parent workshop and give parent webinars throughout the school year.
During the summer, I provide fun summer workshops for girls focused on friendship challenges and how to manage stress. These weekly programs run Monday through Thursday from 9-11:30 a.m. I spend about an hour setting up and taking down each day. I spend a lot of time emailing parents, blogging, sending out a weekly newsletter, and developing curriculum. I find a lot of joy in creating meaningful content and activities to help girls and parents live life at their best.
Q. What Skills Are Useful for Being a Social Worker?
Many skills are useful, but social workers especially need strong listening and self-care skills. Listening skills are essential because social work involves understanding needs. You need to listen to understand the needs of the person or family in front of you, the needs of the community, and the needs of the world. If you don't listen, you might impart your own needs, biases, and judgements. This is not helpful when it comes to working with others.
A second skill is self care. While this may sound simple, balancing the needs and stresses of others along with your own can feel tricky. Many social workers get burned out from the profession's demands. Social workers must know how to care for themselves in healthy ways.
Social workers also benefit from organizational, computer, social, and self-discipline skills. Writing skills are also important because many social work jobs mandate writing notes and treatment plans. Writing is a job aspect that many social workers despise. Being self-disciplined to write notes and plans is helpful.
Q. Is Social Work a Stressful Job?
Social work can definitely be a stressful job. Tasks like writing notes, dealing with agency dynamics, contacting CPS, helping clients work through trauma, and working with people in crisis can certainly take a toll. Social workers also face many other stressors. It is essential for social workers to take good care of themselves in healthy ways.
Q. What Is the Most Difficult Part of Being a Social Worker?
One of the most difficult parts of being a social worker is setting and maintaining boundaries. Most people enter this field because they want to help others. For some social workers, this can come at a personal cost.
Social workers will often neglect their own needs in favor of others. They will stay late at the office, spend their free time doing job-related tasks, accept calls after hours, and say yes when they really want to say no. Boundaries are not only essential for social workers, but for clients as well. Clients learn from their social worker, so modeling healthy boundaries helps everyone involved.
Q. What Is the Best Part About Being a Social Worker?
There are so many wonderful parts about being a social worker. I love helping people feel connected and cared for in the world. We live in a fast-paced society where people are connected digitally but not emotionally. Helping people connect with themselves, me, their families, their community, and the greater world is an absolute joy.
Many people feel isolated, lonely, anxious, sad, and like something is fundamentally wrong with them. Helping people develop self love through a therapeutic connection is an amazing experience to have and give. Our clients then take this experience and develop the ability to hold it and use it in their lives. It is a beautiful, life-changing process.
Q. What Advice Can You Share For Aspiring Social Workers?
My best piece of advice is to put one foot in front of the other. Going to college can feel overwhelming, especially when you wonder if you are making the right career choice. Honestly, I don't think you can go wrong with social work. It offers valuable skills that you can use in many other professions, including law, medicine, science, and business. If you just start, you can find your way.
You can take many avenues in social work. You may work in a hospital, residential treatment center, school, hospice, or dialysis clinic. You may provide disaster relief, supervision, or education. You can also create your own programs, like Wise Girl Workshops and Coaching. If you never start, you'll never get anywhere. Put one foot in front of the other and begin.
Frequently Asked Questions About Social Work
What exactly does a social worker do?
Social workers counsel clients and help them through various emotional, social, mental, and behavioral issues. They may treat existing problems or develop strategies to improve social services.
Do social workers get paid well?
Social workers earn a median annual salary of $51,760, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Social workers can often earn higher salaries with further education and certifications.
What are the different types of social workers?
Social workers treat many patient types. Common social worker jobs center on schools, families, substance abuse, and military and veterans. Some social workers also provide clinical and psychiatric treatment.
What qualities do you need to be a social worker?
Social workers need strong communication, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills. They also need patience and empathy to work with clients experiencing serious and stressful situations.
Sierra Dator, MSW is a licensed clinical social worker with a therapy practice in Petaluma, California. She specializes in treating anxiety, depression, OCD, and life adjustment challenges.
Dator is also the owner and facilitator of Wise Girl Workshops and Coaching. Designed for growing girls and parents, this national innovative wellness program provides workshops, girl and parent coaching, helpful tips, and a motivational blog. Dator uses evidence-based practices along with a heart-centered and strengths-based approach to all her work.
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