Social workers help people with challenging situations. There are many types of social workers, ranging from child and family social workers to advocacy and community organizing social workers. Their roles vary, but the main foundation of social work is to help people who aren’t able — or don’t know how — to help themselves.
A social worker has special training to help people with challenging situations in their everyday lives. They can help individuals (like a child or adult) or groups of people (like families or communities). Clinical social workers can diagnose and treat mental health and behavioral conditions. They’re also called licensed clinical social workers.
You can think of a social worker as an advocate — someone who supports you and works to find the best resources for you. They represent people who can’t effectively represent themselves.
Many social workers specialize in helping a certain population of people or working in a specific setting.
Social workers have roles in nearly every aspect of community life, including:
They help with a wide range of situations and populations of people. Just a few examples include helping:
Social workers can specialize in many different areas. Some types of social workers include:
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The roles of a social worker can vary based on which communities and fields of work they specialize in. But the general roles of social workers include:
Social workers usually need a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. You may also need a special license — the requirements vary by state in the U.S.
A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is the most common requirement for nonclinical social worker positions. All BSW programs involve supervised fieldwork or an internship.
Clinical social workers typically need a master’s degree in social work (MSW). After graduating with an MSW degree, you must complete supervised training and experience. The length of this training varies by state in the U.S., but it may take several years.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Social workers are very important to our society. They help people who have difficulty helping themselves in thousands of different situations. If you’re experiencing challenges related to your physical health, mental health or family or home life, a social worker may be able to help you. While it can be overwhelming to acknowledge and seek help, it’s important that you do.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/13/2023.
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