7 Types of Social Workers Who Specialize in Helping Others

social work specialtiesYou’ve probably known for a while that you love to help others.

You were that little kid who threw down your bike, whipped your helmet off, and ran to assist the friend who had just fallen off his or her first two-wheeler. When it comes to your friends and family, you probably don’t mind being the shoulder on which your loved ones cry or the navigator of troubled waters. Maybe you’re really comfortable with grief or you were always the peacemaker whenever your siblings fought.

Whatever your particular path looks like, helping others is something you’re good at and it’s something you want to always be a part of your life. This is why you’re pursuing a career in social work.

But where can you find a job in the social work field? The answer is simple: in a lot of places!

One of the best parts about this field is that there is a wide variety of different types of social workers. Not only do you have your pick of the litter from the get-go, but if you’re someone who likes change, you may be able to work two or three (maybe even four!) of these different positions in a lifetime.

The job outlook for social workers is also great: The field is projected to grow 19 percent from 2012-22, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you’re interested in salary stats, the median pay for a social worker in 2012 came in at $44,200 per year.* Here’s a full run-down of BLS statistics about social workers.  

Social work specialties

1. Child, family & school social worker

This type of social worker deals with all sorts of situations. He or she could be helping a child who has experienced trauma or abuse; counseling students at school who are experiencing grief over the death of a friend; or helping parents find the right resources for their child who is suffering from a severe mental illness. 

When the life of a student is taken tragically, friends, family and sometimes even teachers aren’t sure how to handle the grief involved with the death. The normalcy of classes and homework seems far less important than the catastrophe and heartbreak at hand. A school social worker can provide comfort and support to students suffering from grief during a time when many others may not know how to handle the situation.

2. Community social worker

Community social workers help plan, coordinate and organize efforts related to infrastructure, volunteering and fundraising within specific communities. They also work with community-based nonprofit organizations to help heal neighborhoods in the wake of tragedies and natural disasters.

As tsunamis have hit several countries in the last decade or so, community social workers have helped counsel individuals and families who have lost everything. Community social workers from aid organizations like USAID, Oxfam and American Red Cross have helped rebuild communities and reinstitute necessities such as clean water and sanitation.

3. Hospice & palliative care social worker

This type of social worker may also work in a variety of circumstances. Hospice and palliative care social workers often help care for someone who is seriously or terminally ill. They help provide relief from pain; improve quality of life; assist with difficult decision-making; help family and friends of an ill individual; and in some cases, assist with trauma, grief and loss.

Once a couple receives the news that their child will not recover from the cancer he or she has suffered from for the last couple of years, the bad news can be devastating. By walking through the hospice process with both the parents and child, a hospice and palliative care social worker can truly ease the agony of an extremely painful process.

4. Medical & health social worker

Medical and health social workers generally work in hospital settings and help navigate the emotional, financial and physical struggles that a serious medical condition can cause an individual or family. By connecting patients to resources and helping them make important medical decisions, this type of social worker proves invaluable on the medical scene. 

After months in and out of hospitals and juggling the bad news of worsening medical conditions, a family may not know what to expect. They may not understand treatment options; they may not have information about living wills or end-of-life care; or they may not have contact information for religious leaders in the area. Medical and health social workers can provide reassurance, stability, peace and direction to those who may not know where to turn next.

5. Mental health & substance abuse social worker

By assisting individuals who struggle with addiction, substance abuse or mental health problems, this type of social worker provides short- and long-term solutions for victims and their families. Often working in hospitals or rehabilitation facilities, mental health and substance abuse social workers will provide resources and assess everything from discharge plans to medicinal options.

Through accountability and support, this type of social worker presses on and helps the individual explore ways to beat his or her addiction or work through a debilitating mental condition and ultimately lead as normal a life as possible. 

6. Military & veterans social worker

The stress of military duty—whether it’s current or past service—can often cause turmoil within the lives of soldiers and their families. Whether just deployed or returning home after time overseas, military and veterans social workers help both the soldier and their family with post-traumatic stress, role adjustments, the implications and stressors of returning home and any substance abuse that may occur as a result of combat.

A soldier may return from duty and be racked with PTSD, guilt over actions in combat, boredom of everyday life or even terrible nightmares. A military and veterans social worker can help the solider work through his or her feelings and slowly adjust to life and family outside combat.

7. Psychiatric social worker

Psychiatric social workers provide therapy and assess the psychiatric health of their patients. They work with the individual’s family to understand legal procedures, long-term care options and make referrals or provide resources.

For a patient who’s been provided with mental health services in a hospital setting for some time, it might be difficult for him or her, or for family members, to know where to turn after hospitalization. A psychiatric social worker can help by making referrals, continuing to provide mental health assessments or therapy, and by making sure the patient is being discharged only when he or she is ready. In a world of confusing procedures and legal ramifications, a psychiatric social worker can make things easy to understand and much less stressful.

A degree in human services

Remember, not everyone has the gift of helping people. So if it’s something you enjoy doing, know that the world needs and values your ability!

If one of the above scenarios piqued your interest, learn more about how a human services degree can help you get started on your path to providing support, comfort, and care to others.

Rasmussen College does not offer an educational program that prepares students to become licensed or to be employed as a social worker. Please see www.rasmussen.edu/degrees for a list of the programs we offer.

*Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.


External links provided on Rasmussen.edu are for reference only. Rasmussen College does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced.

Lauren is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She enjoys helping current and potential students choose the path that helps them achieve their educational goals.

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