The role of a social worker varies a bit by setting. Direct service social workers interact with individual and family clients and help them get access to community and financial support. Clinical social workers actually diagnose mental, emotional and behavior conditions and help clients get necessary treatment. Despite the variable roles, some skills and qualities are consistently needed.
No personal trait is more needed and more common among career-minded social workers than a genuine interest in people. The primary purpose of the social work system is to find people and families struggling with money or living arrangements, and to help them to get to a better place. To succeed, you have to care enough about people who are struggling to go into rundown homes or to help people who are sometimes resistant to your efforts.
Though many social workers only spend eight hours a day on the job, time management helps you to oversee often large caseloads. A good schedule and efficient planning allows you to fit in several client meetings in a day, while also interacting with community leaders, co-workers and service agencies. Problem-solving comes into play because few cases and needs are exactly the same. You often have to get resourceful in helping a client meet qualifications for needs-based programs.
Another reality of carrying a heavy caseload is the need for effective organizational skills. You need to keep paperwork on file for each client, and also log the results of phone calls and meetings. The paperwork requirement is especially high in government-funded agencies where documentation is high. Electronic organization of e-mail, spreadsheets, memos and case notes also helps you to work efficiently and easily retrieve information as needed.
All social workers need at least a bachelor's degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A bachelor of social work is usually preferred, but related degrees in psychology or sociology often work as well. To gain more advanced positions or to get into clinical social work, you need a master's in social work degree, which typically takes two years to complete. Most states also require that clinical social workers get licensed.
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