Micro, Mezzo, and Macro Social Work: What’s the Difference?

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By Doug Wintemute

Reviewed by Melissa Russiano, LCSW, LISW

Published on August 20, 2021

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Social workers help people and communities function as effectively and healthily as possible. The field comprises many different social work careers, and these professionals can take unique and varied approaches to accomplish their goals. The field often divides into micro, mezzo, and macro social work.

Though the segments can overlap, they generally cover individual, group, and systemic social work, respectively. With more than 800,000 employed social workers and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting the addition of 90,000 more positions between 2019 and 2029, many prospective students want to know more about these different types of social work and where they might fit in.

What Is Micro Social Work?

When most people think about social work, they really envision micro social work. This area relates most closely to the work of licensed clinical social workers, focusing on individual and small group treatments. These professionals typically provide therapy and counseling and help clients access useful services and resources.

Most students in traditional clinical social work programs study micro social work. According to the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), 68,793 students were enrolled in a master's in social work (MSW) program in 2019. MSW graduates usually choose between a micro or mezzo social work career, with the majority pursuing the former. In addition, many online MSW programs offer specialized tracks of study in areas like addiction, trauma, and child and family therapy.

In addition to an MSW, students may find that other degrees and disciplines can lead to many of the best social work jobs at the micro level. Options include counseling, advanced practice nursing, and behavioral therapy.

Jobs in Micro Social Work

What Is Mezzo Social Work?

Mezzo social work can include dealings with individual clients, but it mainly focuses on larger groups, such as schools and communities. Social workers at this scale develop programs that serve these large target groups. Mezzo social work can also connect multiple groups and programs together for greater impact.

The mezzo and micro social work fields can cross over, as mezzo social workers can provide direct client services on occasion. In most cases, however, the two levels collaborate to enhance the effectiveness of their initiatives. For example, mezzo social workers may design a community program that incorporates individual support services, or micro social workers may connect clients with local mezzo social work programs.

Learners in both bachelor's and master's social work programs study mezzo social work. According to the CSWE, 56,530 students were enrolled in bachelor's in social work programs in 2019, with many acquiring the skills for mezzo social work careers. Furthermore, some MSW students also pursue this field.

While most mezzo social workers have an educational background in social work, the field welcomes graduates from many other related fields, such as counseling and psychology disciplines. Professionals may also come from more distant fields, such as business, healthcare, training and development, and community management.

Jobs in Mezzo Social Work

What Is Macro Social Work?

Macro social work focuses on the larger scale issues in the field, emphasizing advocacy and public policy. Rather than working with individuals or groups, these professionals look for ways to attack social problems and improve entire systems. Policy analysts and researchers sometimes perform macro social work.

Social work as a field was founded in generalist, macro-level services. As a result, this level is integrated into all accredited social work programs.

Since macro social workers do not usually need an MSW or clinical social work licensure, the field is open to professionals from various disciplines and specializations, such as business and political science. Many macro social workers work in the government and at colleges and universities in positions that require doctoral degrees and advanced research skills.

Jobs in Macro Social Work

How to Choose Between Micro, Mezzo, and Macro Social Work

Reasons for choosing between micro, mezzo, and macro social work differ for each person. Some may aim for the highest-paying social work jobs, whereas others might look for the quickest pathway to the career. Prospective students should think about their ideal level, although they have plenty of opportunities to develop more informed perspectives over time.

In a bachelor's in social work program, for example, learners can take courses that emphasize clinical practice, program development, and policymaking. Students should also participate in internships to get a feel for the work in these fields. Once they identify an area of interest, students can specialize or add interdisciplinary studies to pursue the topic in earnest.

Prospective students might also consider their ideal level of education, as micro social work careers typically require master's degrees and specialized macro social work careers may require doctorates.

Frequently Asked Questions About Micro, Mezzo and Macro Social Work

true What does a macro social worker do?

Macro social workers focus on large-scale systems and policies. Their focus is on problems or issues that impact a large number of individuals or communities. They perform research and analyze social policies and programs, looking for improvements and solutions. They may teach future generations of social workers or partner with politicians on legislation reformation.

true What is the highest paying social work job?

The BLS reports that marriage and family therapists working in state government (excluding education and hospitals) earned a median income of $78,450 in 2020.

true Is a degree in social work worth it?

A degree in social work can lead to many careers that offer both personal and professional rewards. Students in this field can pursue careers that help their communities and neighborhoods. Social workers are also in high demand, as the BLS projects 13% job growth for these professionals between 2019 and 2029, which is much higher than average.

true What are the three basic methods of social work?

Within the micro, mezzo, and macro levels, social workers strive to improve communities and individual quality of life. In general, these levels cover work with individuals (micro), groups (mezzo), and entire systems (macro).

true What work might a gerontological social worker do at the micro level?

Gerontological social workers typically work in micro, mezzo, and macro social work. Micro social work in gerontology may include individual or small group counseling sessions and mental health assessments, along with connecting clients to community, healthcare, and residential care programs.

Reviewed by:

Melissa Russiano is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice that has organically developed into a specialty working with helping professionals. Melissa has a proven track record helping professionals avoid burnout in a unique way that holds clinicians accountable through laughter, tears, blunt (yet very supportive) feedback and quirky analogies that are grounded in solid theoretical research. Melissa practices solely in a virtual setting in the states of California, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. In addition, Melissa is a professor imparting her experiences and knowledge in the field to future social workers in a graduate program through Simmons University online.

Social workers strive for social change and development. They help empower the people they work with to build stronger communities. They often work with individuals who are vulnerable, including those living in poverty. Social workers can make an impact by advocating for civil and disability rights, providing mental health support, and preventing child abuse. According […]

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