5 Things You Should Know Before Becoming a Social Worker

If you’re willing to tackle tough issues, and you long to help others, becoming a social worker could be an ideal choice. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the occupational outlook for social workers boasts a promising 19 percent projected growth rate. Although social work is rewarding, it’s also demanding. Here are five things you should consider carefully before embarking on a career in social work.

1. You Won’t Just Be Working with Your Clients

As a social worker, you will likely deal with difficult clients and tense situations on a daily basis, but those won’t be your only challenges. You must also know how to navigate the system, exist productively within the professional culture and deal with your colleagues effectively. Issues involving politics and ethics may sometimes restrict your options, and you must learn to work around obstacles and opposition from others to best help your clients. Having a professional support system is essential. Fortunately, joining professional organizations and attending social work conferences can help you stay connected with your peers.

2. You May Face Hostility from Those You Try to Help

Although their goal is to improve the lives of others, social workers are sometimes seen as enemies by those who they are trying to help. The media portrayal of social workers as threatening offers a distorted view of their purpose. Situations involving abuse and neglect cause the individuals involved to fear exposure and punishment, which can make it difficult for professionals to reach out to them without hostility. Parents may see them as people whose goal is to take away their children or break up their families. Trust-building skills will be an important element in your education.

3. The Unexpected Is Commonplace

Due to the personal nature of the work, dealing with unexpected, spontaneous, tragic and sometimes violent situations is something for which every social worker must be prepared. On any given day, a client could be involved in a domestic violence incident, a medical emergency, a mental health crisis or a legal problem. Elderly clients could pass away suddenly. Avoiding emotional involvement while providing support may prove difficult, and frequent exposure to traumatic situations can take a toll on any professional. As a social worker, self-care and support is paramount to maintaining mental and emotional health.

4. You Will Need to Continue Learning and Evolving

A career in social work is never static. As legislation involving adoption, paternity, elder care, domestic violence and a vast array of other social issues develops and evolves, social workers must maintain a commitment to professional and personal development to keep up with new procedures and standards. Special training seminars and workshops may be all that is required in some cases. For some social workers, obtaining a new degree or gaining additional experience in areas like law enforcement or advanced psychology may be useful.

5. You Can Change Lives as an Advocate

Most people outside of the social work field are not aware of the occupation’s full scope. Protecting abuse victims and placing foster children with families are both important, but as a social worker, you will also act as an advocate to help individuals and families live healthier, more productive lives. Your responsibilities may include helping people find work, shelter, financial aid, food assistance, medical care, adequate daycare or elder care services, substance abuse recovery programs and legal assistance. You may even participate in lobbying activities to help develop new laws or programs that protect vulnerable populations.

Do Your Homework Before Class

Before you finalize your decision to pursue a degree in social work, learn more about the life of a social worker on your own. Conduct online searches, subscribe to social workers’ blogs, and get to know local professionals working in the field. Taking the initiative to gain insight and knowledge can help you assess your potential and get a real-world head start on your education.