Social work entails helping people overcome problems in their lives. Social workers may provide counseling, assist with finding a job, or point out helpful groups and organizations that provide training or treatment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recognizes three categories of social workers: child, family and school workers; medical and public health workers; and mental health and substance-abuse workers. Because the field does not pay well, people usually go into social work for other reasons.
The world has many problems, and though everybody knows it only some people actively focus on doing something about it. According to Washington State social worker Brian Waterman, social workers often come from the ranks of the “Idealist” or “NF” — “Intuitive Feeling” — temperament as determined by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a psychological personality diagnostic. Because human need is something tangible and immediate, social work lends itself well to the Idealist temperament as a means of making the world a better place.
Changing people’s lives poses quite a challenge. People have complex situations and set personalities. Many jobs have a mechanical, repetitive quality, and social work isn’t entirely immune to that, but because of the human variables involved it can nevertheless be very stimulating, interesting work. According to Martin Stevens, et al., in the “Journal of Social Work,” the challenging and varying nature of social work was the second most-cited reason that social-work students planned to go into the field.
Many people go into social work because they themselves were helped by social workers at an earlier point in life. Firsthand knowledge of the needs, vulnerability and suffering of some of society’s most voiceless people can be a powerful motivator for someone to dedicate his own career to helping those who cannot tackle their problems alone.
Stevens, in a survey of students who planned to go into social work, identified 13 distinct reasons that people go into social work. Some other high-ranking reasons include a desire to interact with people, address social injustice, work in a team, have career advancement prospects, and have a meaningful job with high personal responsibility. Getting paid well ranked last. Additionally, social workers have a wide variety of work settings to choose from. According to the National Association of Social Workers, social workers might find themselves employed in places such as hospitals, clinics, schools, nonprofit organizations and community health centers.
Josh Fredman is a freelance pen-for-hire and Web developer living in Seattle. He attended the University of Washington, studying engineering, and worked in logistics, health care and newspapers before deciding to go to work for himself.