Social work is a professional discipline that seeks to drive changes in social welfare. Social workers may work in private practice as therapists, or may work for a government agency wrangling the systems that are in place to help those who need assistance. Keep reading for a glimpse into the life of a social worker.
Social workers fill varied roles throughout public and private agencies, specialists work in schools, clinics, and government agencies. In order to meet the changing demands of their specialties, many social workers rely on professional organizations for networking and education resources. The organizations below are a great place for both aspiring and current social workers to get started.
- National Association of Social Workers (NASW): The NASW is the largest professional association of social workers in the world, boasting a membership of over 140,000. Members may take advantage of continuing education and networking opportunities, read up on current news and research, or browse a job board.
- Clinical Social Work Association: Clinical social workers apply the theory behind social work to real-life situations. This association brings together practicing social work practitioners, and provides professional support in the form of advocacy, current events coverage and a jobs board.
- School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA): Many social work practitioners work with students and their families in the school system. Concerns particular to school social workers, such as behavioral management, mental health issues, classroom support and student counseling all fall under this umbrella; SSWAA exists to bring these professionals together. Professional development, news coverage and networking opportunities are available to all members.
- National Organization of Forensic Social Work: Forensic social workers apply social work best practices specifically within the legal system; this can manifest as child custody arrangements, termination of parental rights, or juvenile and adult corrections. This organization creates industry standards for forensic social workers, provides educational materials, encourages original research and advocates where necessary.
- Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care: Social workers in the healthcare industry focus on patients’ psychosocial health, particularly in the hospital environment. This organization exists to promote best practices in health care social work, as well as to support and bring together these specialty practitioners. Members may take advantage of frequent networking opportunities, continuing education options, discounts on educational products, and access to the group listserve.
- Association of Oncology Social Work (AOSW): Oncology social workers work closely with cancer patients and their families to ensure that their needs are met; these professionals also collaborate with caregivers in oncology. OASW promotes awareness of the psychosocial aspects of cancer, encourages new research, advocates for patient and caregiver needs, and acts as liaison with other professional associations. Networking is available via conferences and projects, and professional development is offered through a number of channels.
Many of the most popular MOOCs online are for introductory courses to Psychology, Sociology and Social Theory. Together these classes make up the bedrock of a social worker’s education. Whether you’re brushing up on concepts you covered in college, or you’re considering social work as a career and a major for the first time, these classes will get you going in the right direction.
- Foundations of Modern Social Theory: Prestigious Yale University hosts this undergraduate course, led by Professor Ivan Szelenyi. Theory in sociology abounds, and this class familiarizes students with the major schools of thinking. Lecture topics include Marx’s Theory of Class and Exploitation, Freud on Sexuality and Civilization, and Montesquieu on Division of Power, among many others.
- Introduction to Social Psychology: This course, authored by Professor Jessica Collett at the University of Notre Dame, introduces students to social psychology. Groups to which we belong, our social structures, our interactions and the influences we face from others all contribute to who we are; this class breaks down how we interact with these forces.
- Social Attitudes and Public Opinion: The University of Massachusetts offers this free course, written by Professor Michael Milburn. Participants explore theories of attitude organization and change, along with external variables like mass media, school systems and familial structure. Finally, students discuss public opinion and its relation to politics.
- Aging and Disability: Transitions into Residential Care: This open course, brought to you by The Open University, address the issues that individuals and families face when choosing to move an elderly family member into a residential care facility. The role of social workers during this transition is important; class participants will explore this role and how they can impact a patient’s quality of life.
- Substance Abuse and the Family: Developed by Professor Gonzalo Bacigalupe at the University of Massachusetts, this open course addresses substance abuse and specifically how it affects the way families function. Students explore the community resources that social workers are privy to, as well as the coping strategies with which these families can be helped.
Open Access Journals
Since ongoing education is crucial for social workers, open access journals have become an important industry tool in keeping professionals apprised of all the new developments and discussions in the field. The journals below are industry publications that require no subscription. Occasionally, membership in the agency sponsoring publication is required, but these memberships are also free.
- Journal of Social Work Education: This peer-reviewed journal is published by the Council on Social Work Education, which accredits undergraduate and graduate degree programs in sociology. This journal, free to CSWE member organizations, publishes four times per year. Recent articles has explored education in the field, distance education, and the need for trauma training in typical curricula.
- Social Work: Published by the NASW, this journal is widely read by industry professionals. Its editors and contributors strive to continually improve the practice of social work and to promote original research. Social Work is free to NASW members.
- Journal of Forensic Social Work: Published by the National Organization of Forensic Social Workers, this journal is devoted to informing the decisions of this branch of social work. Article topics may include original research or literature reviews discussing domestic violence, criminal proceedings, child welfare, custody, victim services, offender treatment, or expert witness requirements.
- Journal of Psychosocial Oncology: This publication covers news, current events and ongoing research in the psychosocial treatment of cancer patients. Free to members of AOSW, this multidisciplinary journal contains articles that may cover the psychological needs of hospice workers, patient education, family involvement, pediatric cancer patients, and employment issues surrounding a cancer diagnosis.
- Advances in Social Work: Current events, research, and challenges that face social workers are all discussed in this publication. Intended as a forum for the exchange of scholarly research and ideas, this journal is issued twice per year, with occasional special issues added. Past articles have covered community-based mental health providers when disaster strikes, the challenges of a green society, human trafficking and global violence against women.
- Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research: This peer-reviewed journal is dedicated to original research in social work and its allied professions, and particularly to research that drives change in public policy. The Journal is published quarterly. Recent articles have covered outcome assessment for violent female offenders, predictors of gang involvement, the relationship between immigrants and welfare reform, and sexual expectations of urban youth.
Nonfiction books dissecting different topics in social theory, social policy and social work are popular among mainstream readers as well as social work professionals. With so many titles to choose from, you’ll have no trouble finding an author whose work best engages your interests and expertise. These are a few of our favorite titles. Follow the links to find electronic excerpts and editions.
- Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason: French philosopher Michel Foucault, beginning in the Middle Ages, explores a fundamental sociological question: What does it mean to be insane? This book examines changing definitions over time, as well as how different societies ostracized those deemed to be crazy.
- Days in the Lives of Social Workers: Aspiring social workers can glimpse the day-to-day work of the profession with this title. An up-close look at social work is provided by 58 social workers, each of whom has something different to offer the reader.
- Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror: While this book’s 1997 publication date may make it appear dated, the information within it is as relevant as ever. Author Judith Herman tackles the problems unique to victims of trauma and assault, using the lens of social context to understand private horror.
- Where to Start and What to Ask: An Assessment Handbook: Assessment of clinical status is a key step in addressing the needs of any patient. This practical, no-nonsense book covers best practices in patient assessment in the clinical environment.
- Beginnings, Middles, & Ends: Sideways Stories on the Art & Soul of Social Work: Written by social worker and educator Ogden Rogers, this book chronicles his journey through his career and delivers nuggets of wisdom he learned along the way.
Online Industry Magazines
Social work magazines are nice for current professionals who want to keep up with the latest trends and topics in the field. The following publications include components of theory, development as well as practical application. Online readers are encouraged to view archived editions of the magazines, participate in current edition discussion threads and to submit new ideas, letters or columns for upcoming editions.
- The New Social Worker: Published four times per year, this magazine is a thorough career resource for social workers. Article topics may include research and current events on best practices, ethics, careers, technology and book reviews, and social work in popular culture. Poetry, art and feature stories round out the magazine’s offerings, as does coverage of important industry events.
- Social Work Today: This magazine is chock-full of content of interest to social workers. Reviews of current field research, coverage of regulatory and legislative issues, book reviews, and a career section are in every issue. Additionally, feature articles on topics like PTSD and cancer, the use of tobacco by the mentally ill, and living with dementia address specific issues social workers might face.
- Social Work Helper: Founded in 2011, this publication seeks to share progressive news and information. Social Work Helper is targeted toward consumers and service providers, offering numerous interfaces by which information may be exchanged. Past features include “Your Teen and Alcohol: Signs of a Problem” and “Crowdsourcing for Nonprofits: What You Need to Know.”
Social work is notoriously difficult work. Blogs have become a powerful tool for social workers to both share their unique experiences and support one another as they move forward in the field. Social work blogs also serve as industry news aggregators, discussion platforms and question and answer forums. Here are a few of our favorites.
- What a Shrink Thinks: Martha Crawford is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist in private practice. She writes about the practice of social work and its day-to-day challenges and joys.
- Classroom to Capitol: Blogger Melinda Lewis is an adjunct sociology instructor at the University of Kansas. She writes about public policy, community organizing and advocacy.
- SocialJerk: The anonymous (and good-looking, if the blog is to be believed) writer behind SocialJerk is a practicing social worker in family practice. Determined to see the humor in even the grittiest moments of family social work in an urban environment, the author writes with wit and substance.
- Nicole Clark: A licensed social worker in private practice, Clark focuses on issues relevant to girls and women of color. Her blog posts discuss reproductive justice and sexual health, and she frequently spotlights other women of color who are making things happen.
- Eyes Opened Wider: Written by a practicing social worker specializing in child welfare and mental health, this blogger writes openly and honestly about her job and her motivations to be a social worker.
- Creative Clinical Social Worker: This Tumblr is written by a clinical social worker who specializes in traumatized children and youth. She answers reader questions, creating a forum for discussion among professionals. She also uses her space to share industry news and best practice tips and tools.
Who to Follow on Twitter
Like social work blogs, social work-related Twitter accounts can serve as both a kind of therapy as well as a resource mining tool for professionals in this dynamic and difficult profession. We’ve collected a sampling of the most insightful, academic and amusing social worker feeds for you to get started on.
- Social Workers Speak @SWSpeak: The official Twitter account of the NASW Communications Network brings you news and current events in the industry.
- Cyber Social Worker @CyberSocialWork: A practicing social worker reports on current events and shares articles of interest to colleagues.
- Terri Cole @terri_cole: With over 26,000 followers, licensed psychotherapist Terri Cole has a lot to say that’s relevant to social workers. She offers up her secrets to success, tips for mindful practice, and daily inspiration.
- Julie Hanks, LCSW @Julie_Hanks: Therapist and motivational speaker Julie Hanks tweets her thoughts about her practice, music, parenting, marriage and emotional health.
- Mary Kay Evans LCSW @CarePathways: Specializing in elder and veteran’s care, Evans has appeared on the several daytime television talk shows.