When we hear ‘social work’ we tend to think of a person in a suit interviewing children in abusive or neglectful households. They’re often the unwilling antagonist in drama movies, forcibly removing the child from a loving but unorthodox parent. While social workers may deal in this challenging but necessary realm, the fact is that social workers are also forces for large-scale change. They are often in charge of working alongside communities with problem areas such as civil rights abuses, or as an advocate for long-standing transformation.
If you’re considering a career that requires boundless altruism then it’s likely that you’ve regarded it as social work. If so, maybe now is the time to find out how social work is different from other helping professions you may have considered.
What Is Social Work?
There are many theories in social work, and they all have something to do with psychology and society. Whether this is in terms of the family unit, anthropological traditions, or social systems, the life of a social worker sees them interacting with a plethora of different kinds of people.
However, you can’t get into the specifics of social work without talking about the three different kinds of social work and what kind they entail.
Micro social work is the kind of social worker we tend to be most familiar with. As the name suggests, micro social work is the smallest scale that a social worker operates on. They usually offer support on either a one-to-one basis or within small groups such as families. Although they provide the most targeted, specialized care, micro social workers are still called on for a wide variety of social issues and can be instrumental in getting housing support, assisting those with substance-abuse disorders, and assisting those with severe mental illnesses.
Mezzo social work is for those who wish to work on a slightly larger scale, operating within larger communities but still tending to specific subcultures or demographics. Mezzo social workers conduct their business with schools, prisons, hospitals, or even neighborhoods. Their responsibilities can range from liaising between multiple social factions to mediate disputes, or ensuring that a demographic’s civil rights and liberties are being upheld according to the government standard.
Finally, the largest operative scale for a social worker is Macro social work. These professionals engage at the levels of society that can have the farthest-reaching implications. They are typically involved in research and policy-making, often working with governments and the communities they oversee to tackle large-scale societal issues. Throughout their career, they may handle issues like homelessness, healthcare, and wide-scale drug use.
What it Takes to be a Social Worker
There are many desirable qualities of a social worker. It’s a job that takes dedication, an innate love of people, and the willingness to sacrifice your mental, physical, and emotional energy to carry out your duties.
However, possibly the biggest personal prerequisite to being a social worker is the ability to empathize with the collective you’re charged with working with at the time. Something important to remember is that unlike other professions such as nurses, doctors, firefighters, police, etc, social workers are trained from the perspective of social justice. You’re required very specifically to not be an impartial party, you need to get in deep with the people you’re working with, understand what they need, and do your best to make it happen.
This means that social work can be very emotionally demanding. The job will open you up to various forms of marginalization, and the difficulties can be challenging, but that’s also what makes it one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. Social workers are responsible for helping people reach their potential, whether that be in terms of helping people overcome the challenges of their community or getting someone out of a bad housing situation. Seeing the people you work with go from a negative situation to a more positive one and helping to empower them to become their best selves is one of the best feelings in the world, and it just so happens to be the central purpose of social work.
Tough But Necessary
Social workers are responsible for societal shifts that make life better for millions of people. Without them, the number of homeless, drug-affected, abused, and displaced would be incalculable. Everyone needs an advocate and social workers make being an advocate their living.
As a result, they are often exposed to the unfairest and worst of humanity. They are dealing with kids who are sick or being treated with violence, they are operating with uncivil communities, and dealing exclusively with the misfortune of others. Still, they do it because they know they can make things better, and that’s what they dedicate their lives to doing. If this sounds like you, then social work may be the right career for you. Just remember that to survive in the industry, you will need a strong but empathetic heart, and a good support network to help keep you afloat.