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Published on June 7, 2024

What Skills are Essential for a Successful Career in Social Work?

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in social work, there are certain skills you’ll need to develop. Regardless of the setting – school, hospital, correctional facility – one thing remains the same: the social worker skillset you’ll require to succeed.

From attaining your licensure to developing your communication skills, cultivating your emotional intelligence, compassion, and empathy, and perhaps most importantly, learning how to prioritize your self-care, it takes a special kind of person to be able to develop these skills and become a successful social worker.

Let’s discuss.

Being Able to Attain the Requisite Qualification

The first requirement of a successful social worker? The ability to obtain the necessary social work qualifications. If you want to become a social worker in New York, for instance, you’ll need to be able to meet NYS lcsw requirements. These require you to obtain the mandatory licensing qualification to be able to practice as a state-accredited social worker.

Of course, attaining any qualification takes a great deal of dedication and commitment. Often, students of higher education may already be employed full time, and as such, will be required to complete their studies outside of their working hours. This is, no doubt, a heavy commitment – but it’s worth it if your end goal is to obtain the qualification you need to progress your career.

Cultivating Communication and Interpersonal Skills

If you want to be a successful social worker, you’ll need to cultivate your communication skills. One of the most important communication skills for a social worker? Active listening. Active listening is not just hearing the words, it’s understanding the underlying meanings. It’s being able to read body language and other non-verbal cues to decipher what your client is trying to tell you. It’s really paying attention to what’s being said, and also, showing your client that you’re truly listening. Active listening requires us to participate in the conversation, without interjecting.

Another important element of communication with your client? Making the client feel comfortable and at ease. You need to be able to show them that they can trust and open up to you, so you can provide them with the emotional support they need. How do you do this? Use reassuring language. Don’t ever dismiss what they’re telling you. And above all, validate their point of view.

Developing Emotional Intelligence, Compassion, and Empathy

Treating patients with dignity and respect is a core element of being a social worker. For this to work, though, you need to develop your emotional intelligence. What does this mean? It means being in touch with your emotions and being able to read the emotions of others. It requires you to be empathetic and compassionate towards others and be able to put yourself in their shoes. As a social worker, this means coming from a place of non-judgment and providing advice that’s free from underlying motives.

Your role as a social worker is to provide emotional support to those who need it, and as such, you need to be able to separate your own bias from the needs of your clients. In this way, you can provide unbiased, non-judgmental advice and guidance to those in your charge. 

Solidifying Resilience and Self-Care Strategies

Finally, it must be said – being a social worker isn’t always easy. At times, a social worker can take on the trauma of their client. This is especially true if you are an empath and in tune with emotional energies (as any good social worker should be). The negative aspect of this? It can result in vicarious trauma, and lead to social workers experiencing side effects like nightmares, or developing phobias, in line with the traumas their patients have shared with them.

How to combat this? It’s critical for social workers to develop self-care strategies. This is more than just doing 10-step Korean skincare routines and having days at the spa, however. It also requires the social worker to develop coping strategies and cultivate their mental resilience. At times, the social worker may feel that they, too, need to visit a therapist. 

Remember: there’s no shame in seeking support, regardless of our profession, and for social workers, this type of emotional support is crucial.

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