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As recently as a decade ago, there were far more licensed social workers than there were positions; however, it appears that trend has receded over the past three years.  Today, many mental health clinics and county or state governments are facing a shortage of social workers who can effectively provide assistance to those families most in need.  Perhaps it’s society as a whole and the collective problems of today’s family or maybe it’s burnout due to a combination of cuts made in the mid and late 1990s and the demanding aspect of fewer counselors doing more than ever before.  Regardless, says A. Harrison Barnes, career coach and founder, there is a significant shortage of licensed and experienced social workers in many areas of the country and agencies and governments are finally taking notice.

Defining a Social Worker

In broad terms, a social worker spends his days meeting with people who are struggling on some level, whether it’s financial, emotional or familial.  He takes assessments, meets with attorneys, physicians and other mental health professionals, all with the goal of improving the lives of his clients.  Unlike many of the specialties within the medical field, a social worker isn’t limited to a certain age group or those with specific problems; instead, says the founder, social workers may work with teens in the morning hours and then meet with an elderly citizen in the afternoon to find a solution that will enable her to receive her much needed prescription medicine.  Social workers also find themselves extending a helping hand and professional services to rape victims, battered women, troubled children, foster children, former prisoners who are attempting to re-enter everyday life and those at high risk for suicide, drug overdoses or sexual abuse.  In short, if it’s a human condition, a social worker steps in to provide assistance in any way he can.

Defining the Mindset of a Social Worker

It’s been said social workers “do God’s work” and in many ways, that’s true.  These professionals must keep an open mind, refrain from judgment and avoid the urge to take every troubled soul under his wing.  He must maintain perspective if he’s to effectively advocate for his client.  He must be a good listener, have at the ready any number of resources for a range of situations and he must maintain objectivity while also keeping a “tough skin”.  A. Harrison Barnes explains social workers enter this profession not get to rich, but to make a difference with what sometimes feels like little, if any, appreciation.  “It takes a certain mentality and a certain skillset to be a successful social worker”.

A formal education is required and each state has its own compliance laws.  Further, where one agency might require a very specific degree, other agencies are a bit more versatile.  Barnes states that it appears there is a growing trend where many states are now requiring social workers to possess a master’s degree (MSW).  He recommends checking with your state’s licensing department to ensure you’re taking the right steps.

It’s certainly a rewarding career choice, but don’t expect to get out unscathed.  The very requirement needed to be successful in this role is also what will exhaust you every day.

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