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What is Human Services? Experts Explain Their Field

Do you have a love for working with and helping others? Have you always wanted to do something that makes you feel like you’ve made a difference at the end of the day? If so, then your future career may be found in the human services industry.

Perhaps friends or family have referred you to this field because of your altruistic personality. The idea intrigues you, but you still want to know: What is human services, anyway?

We gathered some expert insight to answer that very question. Keep reading to learn more about this rewarding career field and find out if it’s the right fit for you.

What does the human services field entail?

There are a lot of careers that fall under the umbrella of human services. Put simply, these are professions that seek to maintain “a commitment to improving the overall quality of life of service populations,” as defined by the National Organization for Human Services (NOHS).

Most human services agencies are managed by state or local governments, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Some common types of human services organizations include: employment agencies, homeless shelters, disaster relief organizations, women’s shelters and youth development programs.

Because of the broad scope of organizations that employ human service professionals, you can expect to work with people from all ages, ethnicities, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds. The common denominator is that you would be a conduit between the people in need and the help they need to improve their life.

Who is a good fit for working in human services?

This industry is centered on assisting others, which means not everyone has the inherent qualities needed to succeed. An ideal candidate for this field is “an open-minded individual who is a good listener, empathetic and has a strong desire to give back to the community,” according to Jennifer Servais, Rasmussen College human services instructor.

You’ll be devoting your days to serving others, so it should go without saying that you’ll need to possess strong interpersonal skills as well as proficient written and oral communication abilities. Analytical skills are also needed to help clients devise strategies to solve problems.

Organized, detail-oriented individuals will excel in this field because there is a lot of paperwork involved in recording sessions with clients. Patience and empathy are also crucial components of the job since you’ll be working with individuals who can be sensitive and vulnerable.

What is it like working in human services?

If you have always been passionate about advocating for an underprivileged group of people, working in human services will give you an opportunity to make a real difference. But you don’t necessarily have to limit yourself to working with one population or addiction, according to Amy Harms Hoad, another Rasmussen College Human Services instructor.

“It’s easy to get burnt out,” she says. “Broadening the types of people you will help will provide you with many more career opportunities.”

Also, you may face clients that take you out of your comfort zone, like helping an abused, single mother conquer addiction. You’ll likely deal with issues you never encountered in your own life, which can be difficult to navigate. But this experience will help you confront your own personal biases and become more open-minded, according to Rasmussen College human services instructor Rikkisha Gilmore-Byrd.

“The field forces people to look at different cultures they don’t personally work or identify with,” Gilmore-Byrd explains. “They learn about controversial social issues and how to promote advocacy.”

For those in the human services field, flexibility is a must because there is no cookie cutter approach to working with clients. You must be able to adapt quickly because no two people are the same. Because of this, every day you go to work will be different from the last.

What are some of the difficulties of working in human services?

Just because a career is rewarding, doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. It can be emotionally draining to be surrounded by struggling individuals day in and day out. No amount of education or training can prepare you for encountering a young child who was abused by his parents, or a family who lost everything in a natural disaster.

“Human services professionals need to always keep in mind they are not the expert, the client is the expert because they are the ones going through the issue,” Glimore-Byrd said. It’s impossible to put yourself in the shoes of the people you work with, so don’t try. Simply use the skills and tools you have at your disposal to assist them.

Another struggle many human services professionals deal with is the ability to set boundaries with clients. It’s easy to want to go above and beyond to help your clients, but you need to remain professional. Harms Hoad urges you to avoid giving clothes, diapers and sharing personal stories with clients in a nonprofessional way.

She says unfortunately some clients often know how to take advantage their case workers. If strict boundaries aren’t enforced, it’s easy to be manipulated into stepping outside of the professional sphere.

“It’s so easy to become a part of their lives. If you don’t have healthy boundaries they will take advantage. It’s a hard line to draw,” she says.

It’s all worth it

Despite some of the drawbacks, a career in human services can be extremely satisfying. When you provide a client with the tools and tactics they need to solve their problems, it’s incredibly empowering.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Harms Hoad says. “You are so happy and proud of yourself and the people you work with.”

Now that you are better acquainted with the human services field, does it sound like an industry in which you’d like to work? If so, visit the human services degree page.

Jennifer Pfeffer

Jennifer is a Content Marketing Specialist at Collegis Education who researches and writes articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She is passionate about learning and higher education and enjoys writing engaging content to help current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.


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