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Social Workers | What Do They Do?


Direct-service social workers typically do the following:

  • Identify people who need help
  • Assess clients’ needs, situations, strengths, and support networks to determine their goals
  • Develop plans to improve their clients’ well-being
  • Help clients adjust to changes and challenges in their lives, such as illness, divorce, or unemployment
  • Research and refer clients to community resources, such as food stamps, child care, and healthcare
  • Help clients work with government agencies to apply for and receive benefits such as Medicare
  • Respond to crisis situations, such as natural disasters or child abuse
  • Advocate for and help clients get resources that would improve their well-being
  • Follow up with clients to ensure that their situations have improved
  • Evaluate services provided to ensure that they are effective

Social workers help people cope with challenges in every stage of their lives. They help with a wide range of situations, such as adopting a child or being diagnosed with a terminal illness. Social workers work with many populations, including children, people with disabilities, and people with addictions.

Clinical social workers, also called licensed clinical social workers, typically do the following:

  • Diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders, including anxiety and depression
  • Provide individual, group, family, and couples therapy
  • Assess clients’ histories, backgrounds, and situations to understand their needs, as well as their strengths and weaknesses
  • Develop a treatment plan with the client, doctors, and other healthcare professionals
  • Encourage clients to discuss their emotions and experiences to develop a better understanding of themselves and their relationships
  • Help clients adjust to changes in their life, such as a divorce or being laid-off
  • Work with clients to develop strategies to change behavior or cope with difficult situations
  • Refer clients to other resources or services, such as support groups or other mental health professionals
  • Evaluate their clients’ progress and, if necessary, adjust the treatment plan

Many clinical social workers work in private practice. Some work in a group practice with other social workers or mental health professionals. Others work alone in a solo practice. In private practice, clinical social workers often do administrative and recordkeeping tasks. Among these tasks is working with clients and insurance companies to receive payment for their services. In addition, social workers market their practice to bring in new clients and to network with other professionals who may recommend them.

Direct-service social workers and clinical social workers often focus on a particular population or work environment. The following are some types of workers in this occupation:

Child and family social workers protect vulnerable children and help families in need of assistance. They help parents find services, such as child care, or apply for benefits, such as food stamps. They intervene when children are in danger of neglect or abuse. Some help arrange adoptions, locate foster families, or work to get families back together. Clinical social workers provide mental health care to help children and families cope with changes in their lives, such as divorce or other family problems.

School social workers work with teachers, parents, and school administrators to develop plans and strategies to improve students’ academic performance and social development. Students and their families are often referred to social workers to deal with problems such as aggressive behavior, bullying, or frequent absences from school.

Healthcare social workers help patients understand their diagnosis and make the necessary adjustments to their lifestyle, housing, or healthcare. They provide information on services, such as home health care or support groups, to help patients manage their illness or disease. Social workers help doctors and other healthcare professionals understand the effects diseases and illnesses have on patients’ mental and emotional health.

Some healthcare social workers specialize in gerontological social work or hospice and palliative care social work.

  • Gerontological social workers help senior citizens and their families. They help clients find services such as programs that provide older adults with meals or with home health care. In some cases, they provide information about assisted living facilities or nursing homes or work with older adults in those settings. They help clients and their families make plans for possible health complications or where clients will live if they can no longer care for themselves.
  • Hospice and palliative care social workers help patients adjust to serious, chronic, or terminal illnesses. Palliative care focuses on relieving or preventing pain and other symptoms associated with serious illness. Hospice is a type of palliative care for people who are dying. Social workers in this setting provide and find services, such as support groups or grief counselors, to help patients and their families cope with the illness or disease.

Mental health and substance abuse social workers help clients with mental illnesses or addictions. They provide information on services, such as support groups or 12-step programs, to help clients cope with their illness..

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition


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