If you're looking for a career that involves helping people, consider becoming a social worker. Social workers generally either focus on direct-service work, which involves helping others cope with everyday issues, or clinical work, which involves diagnosing and treating mental, emotional and/or behavioral problems. While social work certainly has its rewards, it doesn't only involve bringing about positive change. Social workers typically have to deal with stacks of paperwork -- and handle difficult situations. However, if you can tough it out and focus on the rewarding aspects of your career choice, you're likely to have steady work, as job opportunities for social workers is expected to grow by 25 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Long Hours, Irregular Schedule
If you want to succeed in social work, you need to maintain a flexible schedule. Helping others in need means spending time cultivating relationships and meeting clients outside regular business hours. In short, being a social worker is not strictly a desk job. Depending on your exact tasks and employer, you might spend a lot of time driving back and forth between clients -- and dealing with emergency situations at all hours.
Higher Degree Necessary
Social workers involved in direct-service work typically need a bachelor's degree; however, some positions might require a master’s degree. Clinical social workers must have a master's degree and a license. While this might mean first obtaining a bachelor’s degree before starting your graduate studies, some schools combine the Bachelor of Social Work and Master of Social Work degrees into a condensed five-year program. Licensure requirements vary by state.
Put simply, being a social worker means caring about the well-beings of others. However, it’s this very empathy that can take a toll on your own health in a condition known as compassion fatigue. Seeing and hearing about the trauma that others experience can trigger this condition whereby you vicariously start to participate in your client's trauma, often developing such physical and emotional issues such as depression and sleep problems -- and burnout. However, companies and professional organizations often provide counseling and training to help prevent compassion fatigue -- so help is available.
Frustrating or Dangerous Work
In the abstract, being a social worker can seem like the ideal way to uplift families and communities -- and enact positive change on a daily basis. However, the realities of the job can often put a damper on this dream. You may find yourself frustrated by a client's actions, or lack of action, even while you're trying to offer assistance. You might also have to deal with upsetting situations involving child abuse or homelessness in your community. Furthermore, you could face patient violence if you work at a mental institution or in a prison with violent inmates. This doesn’t mean that all your cases will be difficult ones, but it's important to keep in mind that not every client's story can have a happy ending.
Samantha Ley writes career and education articles for various online publications. She also works in social media management and creates test materials and other educational content for various companies. Ley holds a B.A. in English and Spanish from Kenyon College and an M.Ed. from the University of Virginia.