Successfully Being a Social Worker
Social work is both rewarding and demanding. Being a social worker takes a certain kind of person, and a certain kind of passion, to help individuals and families restore their capacity for social functioning, as well as create the right conditions that support communities in need.
First and foremost, the practice of social work requires knowledge of human development and behavior, of social, economic and cultural institutions, and of the interaction of all these factors. In order to be successful, you must possess the skills to effectively do your job. The training you receive in school, as well as during internships, will help you develop many of the social work-related skills that will serve you as you grow in your profession.
Being a social worker and building a successful career requires several components, all of which can help fine-tune your skills and fuel your passion.
Personal Characteristics of a Social Worker
The world needs empathetic and ethical individuals to become social workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for social workers is expected to grow twice as fast as any other occupation, especially in gerontology, home health care, substance abuse, private social service agencies, and school social work.
Essential traits that can help you become an excellent social worker include the ability to actively listen to patients or peers, counsel clients who are experiencing heightened emotions, exhibit a strong sense of empathy, hold insightful and meaningful dialogue, and possess a high level of ethical awareness and responsibility. Perhaps most importantly, social workers must be advocates for others.
Social work author and researcher Frederic Reamer, Ph.D., says that every social worker knows that, in principal, members of the profession should be concerned about the individual well-being and broader social justice issues. He refers to the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics, which states that “the primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.”
Being a Social Worker Means Having a Powerful Vision
What specialty area of social work do you see yourself engaged in? According to Sonya Hunte, MSW, defining your vision as a social worker forces us to think about the life we want and its components. The keys in creating a vision, she adds, are to have goals, steps, and timelines. Knowing where you want to go in social work and how you are going to get there will greatly enhance your ability to do so.
For example, if you see yourself as a clinical substance abuse counselor, you should think about what level of education you will need, what other credentials are required, and what paths will lead you to realize that vision. By clearly defining your vision, you can proceed with both your education and professional development in a manner that supports your ultimate goals.
Professional Development Among Social Work Peers
Social work is a dynamic profession, requiring you to stay current in the field. Whether it is applying the latest research, understanding a new regulation and its implications, maintaining your license or professional credential, or acquiring additional training to meet the needs of an aging population, you should always be enhancing your professional development.
By being proactive in your professional development and training, you can better grow and manage your career, maintain a practice of excellence and better serve individuals, families, and communities.
All social workers need professional development to enhance their careers, and this can come in the form of continuing education, professional networking, research, advocacy, licensure, and certifications.
Fostering Meaningful Mentorships
Mentoring is an invaluable component of every social worker’s career. A recent National Association of Social Workers workforce study actually found that many individuals choose the profession of social work because they have been inspired or advised by a social worker or a mentor.
After choosing the profession, social workers must continue to make career choices and respond to a variety of unanticipated challenges.
A social work mentor can provide support and perspective in multiple aspects of your career, including understanding practice specialization opportunities, recognizing strategies to address professional development, navigating workplace dynamics, dealing with career transitions, recognizing your professional strengths, and working on interdisciplinary teams.
There are many ways to find mentors in social work, including developing and maintaining trusting relationships with supportive professors, field instructors, or clinical supervisors. You can also find mentors through social work alumni networks and organizations devoted to your practice specialties.
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