There are two main types of social workers: direct-service social workers who help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives, and clinical social workers, who diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.
Direct-service social workers typically do the following:
Social workers help people cope with challenges in every stage of their lives. They help with a wide range of situations, such as adopting a child or being diagnosed with a terminal illness. Social workers work with many populations, including children, people with disabilities, and people with addictions.
Clinical social workers, also called licensed clinical social workers, typically do the following:
Many clinical social workers work in private practice. Some work in a group practice with other social workers or mental health professionals. Others work alone in a solo practice. In private practice, clinical social workers often do administrative and recordkeeping tasks. Among these tasks is working with clients and insurance companies to receive payment for their services. In addition, social workers market their practice to bring in new clients and to network with other professionals who may recommend them.
Direct-service social workers and clinical social workers often focus on a particular population or work environment. The following are some types of workers in this occupation:
Child and family social workers protect vulnerable children and help families in need of assistance. They help parents find services, such as child care, or apply for benefits, such as food stamps. They intervene when children are in danger of neglect or abuse. Some help arrange adoptions, locate foster families, or work to get families back together. Clinical social workers provide mental health care to help children and families cope with changes in their lives, such as divorce or other family problems.
School social workers work with teachers, parents, and school administrators to develop plans and strategies to improve students’ academic performance and social development. Students and their families are often referred to social workers to deal with problems such as aggressive behavior, bullying, or frequent absences from school.
Healthcare social workers help patients understand their diagnosis and make the necessary adjustments to their lifestyle, housing, or healthcare. They provide information on services, such as home health care or support groups, to help patients manage their illness or disease. Social workers help doctors and other healthcare professionals understand the effects diseases and illnesses have on patients’ mental and emotional health.
Some healthcare social workers specialize in gerontological social work or hospice and palliative care social work.
Mental health and substance abuse social workers help clients with mental illnesses or addictions. They provide information on services, such as support groups or 12-step programs, to help clients cope with their illness.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition