Skip to navigation
Skip to sub-navigation
Skip to main content

Resources for: Students | Alumni & Friends | Faculty
College of Human Environmental Sciences

The Social Work Profession

Social Workers are the Heart and Soul of the Helping Profession


Professional social work practice is distinctive from other helping professions in its approach of assisting clients to function optimally within their environments. The person-in-environment approach is central to social work practice. Through this perspective, professional social workers are uniquely trained to help clients maximize the opportunity for change in themselves and/or their situations. The term client encompasses individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities.

Social work is distinctive also for its professional values and ethics, appreciation for human diversity, emphasis on social and economic justice, understanding of social welfare policy and services, and strong foundation in field education.

Its unique approach to problem-solving and interventions is evidenced in direct clinical practice, policy planning and administration; community-level and state-level services; private and public sectors; and teaching, research, and scholarship.


Today, social work professionals assist individuals, families, groups, organizations, communities, and society in the areas of:

  • aging
  • child welfare
  • children and youth services
  • community organization
  • criminal justice
  • crisis counseling
  • disaster assistance
  • death and dying / hospice
  • domestic violence and victim assistance
  • employee assistance programs
  • family services
  • homelessness and shelters
  • hospitals
  • juvenile justice
  • mental health
  • mental retardation / developmental disabilities
  • public health
  • public welfare
  • schools (elementary and secondary)
  • substance abuse
  • vocational rehabilitation

Within these areas and others, many professional social workers are responsible for:

  • administration
  • budgets and funding
  • management
  • policy analysis and planning
  • program development
  • supervision

Many become advocates for change within the systems in which they function; some rally for political action.

While professional social work practice is far-reaching in its scope, a changing world continues to present new challenges and avenues to make a difference. For example, in health care, community-based services and managed-care are becoming prevalent and require the special skills of social workers. Poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, and the generational transmission of domestic violence are issues facing nearly all practitioners. Technology is advancing methods of service delivery and allowing for the creation of new approaches to the traditional notions of relationships.

There is a wealth of opportunity within the profession and the need for professional social workers is strong. The projected job growth through 2016 for social workers overall is 22%; with child, family and school social workers seeing a 19% increase; medical, public and health social workers seeing a 24% increase; and mental health and substance abuse social workers seeing a 30% increase in job growth.

baby shoe adoption, family planning, genetic counseling, neonatal intensive care

foot cast HIV/AIDS, rehabilitation, substance abuse, hospital social work

women's high heel shoe homelessness, eating disorders, victim assistance, domestic violence

kid's shoe child welfare, delinquency, school social work, developmental disabilities

foot cast public policy, mental health, marriage counseling, employee assistance programs

women's high heel shoe mediation, depression, women's health, career counseling

kid's shoe elder abuse, home health, long-term care, grief counseling

foot cast disaster relief, crisis intervention, community organizing, human rights advocacy

women's high heel shoe forensics, criminal justice, military services, probation/parole