There’s something about the field of social work that sends the myth-making machine into overdrive. But the reality is a career in social work is creative and rewarding with the potential to grow professionally while helping others. “What a mistake it is for young people — and not so young people — to discount social work as a first or second career,” says Steven Huberman, Dean of Touro College Graduate School of Social Work. “Nearly all the students I’ve seen leave school with a social work degree are dramatically changed both professionally and as human beings, ready to get things done, improve the daily lives of others and themselves.”
Now, let’s stick a pin in five of the most ferocious misconceptions of social work.
1. All social workers are employed in the public welfare system.
Only about one percent of National Association of Social Workers (NASW) members work in the public sector. Professional social workers practice in many settings: family service agencies, mental health centers, schools, hospitals, corporations, courts, police departments, prisons, public and private agencies, and private practice. More than 200 professional social workers currently hold elected office, including U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee.
2. Social Work is just a job that anyone can do.
Social workers have spent years in college — most have advanced degrees — and in clinical internships before they even begin their professional work. Not only have they received rigorous training, but they are the kind of professionals who are passionate about social justice and public policies that will make an impact on those they serve.
3. Social workers can’t change their specialty or advance within the profession.
This myth ranks as one of the worst. A mere sampling of what lane (or several lanes, at once) to which social workers can apply their expertise and interests: With the elderly, children, families, marriage counseling, drug abuse treatment, schools and universities, adoption agencies, hospitals and hospice centers, dental facilities, legal offices, corporations, and on and on.
4. For complex mental health issues, you really need to see a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Certainly, if medication is needed, the professional to see is a psychiatrist. Otherwise, know this: Social workers are the largest group of private practitioners providing psychotherapy and other mental health services. In fact, social workers are often the only mental health care professionals in many rural parts of America. Social work is designated one of four core mental health professions under federal legislation that established the National Institute of Mental Health.
5. Social workers spend their days taking kids away from their parents.
Social workers do everything in their power to keep children with their parents, unless there are high levels of risk, such as sexual or physical abuse, severe neglect and other dangerous situations.
Get more information on how you can become a social worker and enjoy a rewarding career.