Social Work: The Challenging Profession
Social work is a dynamic, changing and challenging profession with a vast range of career options and rich opportunities for deep personal job satisfaction.
Professional social workers are experts who help people cope with complex interpersonal and social problems and obtain the resources they need to live with dignity. At the same time, the social worker is also committed to making society more responsive to people's needs.
Wherever there are people, there are social workers to be found. They are in the hospitals, working from the obstetrics unit all the way to intensive care. There are social workers in the schools, helping children, teachers and parents cope with a variety of problems. They are in mental health clinics and in psychiatric hospitals, and there are social workers in public agencies, from the unemployment office to the social service unit.
Every private family service agency has social workers helping with everything from counseling to finding housing or transportation. Social workers are deeply involved in child welfare, providing essential foster care and adoption services. And they are increasingly in the workplace, helping employees solve personal problems and employers resolve personnel policies.
There are social workers in the universities, teaching or doing research. There are social workers in the nursing homes, helping the aged and their families. They are in the armed services assisting military personnel and their families. And they are in private practice, helping people of all ages cope with problems of daily life.
Social workers are administrators of large government agencies as well as heads of philanthropic organizations. And social workers are increasingly elected to public office, from the local town council to the state legislature and even to the U.S. Congress.
The Professional in the Middle
A useful way to see the social worker's role is as "the professional in the middle." On the one side are the individual families with their troubles; on the other, the community and its resources. The social worker weaves back and forth between the two - assessing, understanding, developing relationships, counseling, coordinating, mobilizing and initiating - helping people to build their own lives and helping the community create and deliver the services and supports that many people sometimes need.
Social work's historic mission has been helping the disadvantaged, those who have been excluded from participation in the ideal of a just and equitable society. But the contemporary social worker also assists people from all walks of life, with all kinds of problems, in all kinds of settings - rich and poor, black and white, young and old, in hospitals, in clinics or in the workplace.
A good social worker always has a large repertoire of what is available to assist the client and the family. When services are not available in the community, the social worker helps to bring them about.
A social worker locates a suitable nursing home for an aged parent and helps the family and the older person make the emotional adjustment sparked by such a sharp life change.
An engineer in a large company that is reducing its workforce falls into a pattern of family discord and personal depression that begins to affect his job performance. The social worker helps the man and his family understand the nature of their stress and assists with concrete services to develop the necessary self-confidence to stay productive on the job or to explore other career options.
A social worker helps a woman torn between keeping her infant or having it adopted decide on her best course of action; then, depending on the choice, helps her find the necessary resources to raise her child or finds the proper adoptive family. Either way, the social worker provides the psychological support and practical assistance needed during this difficult transition.