Social Workers: Professional Helpers

by Chris Greaves

July 30, 2018

In a world of ups and downs, there are those whose vocation is to assist others. They are social workers; people who help others productively cope with life’s problems. Even if you’ve never sought out the services of a social worker, it’s likely you have benefitted from one. Maybe it was a school social worker running an anti-bullying program or a social worker supporting an elderly relative in a group home.

Job Settings, Growth, and Wages

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social workers are found in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, schools, mental health clinics, or private practice. They commonly work full-time, which can include weekends and holidays. Nationally their median wage is $47,980 per year, or $23.07 an hour. Job prospects are good; the field is expected grow faster than the average for all occupations. This growth will be driven by increased demand for health care and social services, depending on the social worker’s specialty.
Clinical and Non-Clinical Social Work

There are two types of social work: clinical and non-clinical. Both are important. Clinical work includes mental health diagnosis and addressing issues like trauma, substance abuse, and family dysfunction. Non-clinical social workers impact lives in ways like policy analysis, rehabilitation services, or program implementation. They are also qualified for some types of counseling, such as conflict resolution or emotional health. Due to the sensitive nature of the issues they deal with, social workers must receive specialized training and are often licensed.

Training and Licensing

Post-secondary training is an important step to becoming a social worker. Degrees must be earned from institutions accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Receiving and maintaining a social work license requires completing professional examinations, criminal background checks, continuing education requirements, and (if required) supervised practice.

Social worker licensing is overseen by the Oregon Board of Licensed Social Workers (BLSW). State law requires anyone engaged in clinical social work, or who uses the title of “social worker,” to be licensed. There are four different types of licensure available, depending on one’s training and professional interest. Those pursuing non-clinical work without the title of “social worker” do not need licensure; though obtaining one can improve job prospects. An important exception involves those working as public school social workers. If they have a license from the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, they may use the title of “school social worker” without licensure by the BLSW.

License Descriptions

With a bachelor’s degree in social work, one can take the examinations to become a Registered Baccalaureate Social Worker (RBSW). While a RBSW is not permitted to engage in clinical practice, there are ample options for meaningful work.

When job-hunting, it’s important to know that positions at the RBSW level do not usually carry the title of “social worker.” Search instead for jobs that require a bachelor’s in social work. They often have titles like: mental health assistant; group home worker; or program coordinator.

For higher level non-clinical work, one can become a Licensed Master’s Social Worker (LMSW). As the name implies, a master’s degree in social work is required along with professional examinations. Common jobs include: case management; administrative supervision; or non-clinical counseling in areas like employment or sanitation. A LMSW can also practice privately.

Those wishing to practice clinical social work must follow a two-step licensing process. After completing a master’s degree in social work, a Clinical Social Work Associate (CSWA) license must be secured. This involves complying with official ethical standards and other pre-requisites, and submitting a plan to the State Board to complete a set number of clinical practice hours. If the plan is accepted the Board approves a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) to supervise the CSWA candidate’s clinical work. Completion of the plan involves working several thousand hours over at least two years; after 75 supervised hours the CSWA exam can be taken and license awarded, while the remaining hours are completed. Upon successful completion of the work-plan, a CSWA can sit for the examinations to be a full Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

Social work can be a very rewarding occupation. The work is demanding, but the opportunities to help others are abundant. Official job projections anticipate growth in the field. Through the licensing system, one can decide what kind of social work to practice and how much training it will take.

 


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