What is Social Work? Is it for you?

Social work is involvement with and for people on many levels. Social workers help individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities in dealing with relationships, solving problems, and coping with the many social and environmental concerns which affect and control daily life. Social work is concerned with ensuring the responsiveness and effectiveness of the social institutions to which we look for needed resources in life. Social workers are concerned with the interaction between people and their social environment and institutions. Social workers are concerned with societal conditions in their efforts to improve the quality of life.

In the final analysis, only you can make the decision about whether social work is the right fit for you. The following questions may assist you in making a determination about social work as a major and career. To further assess your "fit" with the profession, seek out professional social workers in the community, students who are majoring in social work, and the social work faculty to discuss your interests and aptitudes.

Social work is concerned with local, national, and international aspects of social justice and social welfare. "Social workers pursue change with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups to: address poverty, unemployment, discrimination and other forms of injustice; expand choice and opportunity; and promote social justice." [from NASW code of ethics]

"Social workers treat each person in a caring and respectful fashion, mindful of individual differences and cultural and ethnic diversity." [from NASW code of ethics] Social workers are committed to helping people regardless of racial, economic, cultural, and other differences. Prejudice does not fit with the values of the profession.

Social workers embrace the "strengths perspective," recognizing, supporting, and building on the strengths and resiliency of all human beings. It is important to believe that everybody has some inner strength and that people can change, given the chance.

"Social work, to me, is experiencing the glow of satisfaction in witnessing human growth and realizing I had some part in facilitating that growth!" – Senior

The social worker should be hard to discourage, always resourceful in seeking new ways to help clients. They must also "meet people where they are" and not rush the client or the process. Social workers believe in client self-determination and accept that some clients will choose a different path than the one they would select for themselves.

Social workers need to get along with clients, colleagues and other professional workers. The ability to resolve conflicts constructively is essential for effective social work practice. Most social workers spend at least a portion of their time working interprofessionally with colleagues from other disciplines. Social work emphasizes teamwork, collaboration and valuing all aspects of diversity.

Social workers work at three levels: the micro-level with individuals, families, and small groups; the mezzo-level with organizations and communities; and at the macro-level advocating for social change and reform at the societal level. Social work students hone their written, verbal & interpersonal communication skills at all of these levels throughout their studies and field experiences, with specific instruction in courses such as "Communication & Interviewing Skills," "Group Work Skills," and "Social Policy for Social Change," in which students learn skills to advocate for issues at the legislative level.

Social workers must be aware of themselves and their own struggles so they do not get "mixed up" with their clients’ troubles. Social workers must be willing to know themselves and take care of themselves.

"Social work is helping me to learn more about my own beliefs and values and how they affect my work with clients." – Junior

"Majoring in social work has shown me the importance of not only helping others to know themselves better, but the importance of learning to know myself better as well." – Senior

Social workers often deal in "shades of gray" and with complex problems in which there are no easy answers. Social work practice is grounded in the liberal arts and students are challenged to integrate theory and practice during applied coursework and during their field experiences. Critical thinking, ethical reasoning, problem-solving, and an understanding of human behavior within larger societal contexts are important competencies of effective social workers.

A social worker bases his/her practice on established social work methods and uses scientific studies when possible. The social work curriculum emphasizes applied research, ensuring students are guided by evidence and prepared to contribute to the growing body of social work knowledge.

Social workers utilize a systemic perspective. A social worker cares about the state of the nation and of the world and sees each human problem in its relationship to the whole community. Generalist social work is holistic by its very nature. It does not assume that the problem is personal to the individual, nor does it assume that the problem is inherently the fault of the larger social system. It requires a critical, holistic analysis of the presenting problem.

"I have a heightened awareness of social justice issues and have become socially alive through social work courses." – Senior