Social work is one of the most popular helping professions today. There are many good reasons for this – it’s a highly satisfying job, flexible, and in demand. And while you have to get at least a master’s degree to be a clinical social worker, your studies give you a chance to learn skills that you can use to help people of all backgrounds.
It’s a difficult job, though. There’s lots of paperwork, many stressful days (and nights!), and it can take an emotional toll on you. Before you set a path for becoming a clinical social worker, familiarize yourself with the following pros and cons.
Pros of Being a Clinical Social Worker
It’s an In-Demand Job
One of the best benefits of a career in social work is that it’s a rapidly-growing field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that nearly 90,000 social work jobs will open by 2030. This represents an average annual growth of 12 percent, which is higher than the average for all occupations for the same time frame.
You Can Work Anywhere
There are no geographic boundaries for social work jobs, provided you satisfy the licensure requirements of the state in which you wish to practice. There is a need for social workers in cities and rural areas, out west and in the east, and all points in between.
With the advent of telehealth, you might even be able to work remotely. This opens up the possibilities for working as you travel.
Your Student Loans Might Be Forgiven
If you financed your social work education with student loans, they might be forgiven if you meet certain criteria.
For example, the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program allows you to earn $50,000 toward student loan repayment in exchange for working in high-need communities for two years.
As another example, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program offers social workers the opportunity to have some loans forgiven, provided you’re employed by a local, state, federal, or tribal government agency, or work for a not-for-profit organization.
Social Work is a Satisfying Job
Social work is difficult, but it can also be highly satisfying. You have a real opportunity to help others make changes in their lives that can set them on a course for better mental health.
What’s more, the work you do as a social worker can have a ripple effect on many other people’s lives. For example, you might work with a single mom who has mental health issues and struggles to keep her kids. But the therapeutic work you do together can help her work through past traumas, function better, and get her life back on track.
As a result, your guidance can help her keep her kids – a situation that’s preferable to foster care. The kids can stay in the home they know, go to a school they know, and stay close with their friends.
In other words, the knowledge and skills you employ as a social worker help your clients and provide benefits for your clients’ families.
You Can Get a Social Work Degree Online
There are many online social work degree programs at the bachelor’s level. There are also master’s-level social work degrees online. By studying online, you can minimize on-campus room and board costs while also saving money on commuting.
While many master’s degrees in social work have a practicum or internship component, schools often work with you to find a placement near your home. Many of these programs also don’t have any campus visit requirements, so you can truly get your degree without ever stepping foot on campus.
You Can Be Self-Employed
As a licensed clinical social worker, there are many places where you can be employed. You can even start a private practice and work for yourself!
As a private practitioner, you can set the hours you want to work, set the rates you charge, and even choose which clients you work with (more on that below).
You can also choose where you want to work. You can meet clients in a home office or have a separate office.
You Can Specialize
Social work is a broad field, but people from every walk of life need help at some point. This means that you can work with children, couples, or families. You might work in a school or a rehabilitation center for older adults. Some licensed social workers are specialists in trauma therapy, restorative justice, advocacy, or health care. Choosing your specialty is key to having a long and satisfying career.
No Two Days are Alike
Some jobs can be tedious, but social work isn’t one of them. You will have widely varied clientele with various issues that need your attention. Each day you go to work will have a new set of challenges awaiting you!
Cons of Being a Clinical Social Worker
Licensure is Required
Licensure requirements for clinical social workers vary from one state to the next, but you can expect to take at least two or three years to complete the requirements for licensure. Typically, these requirements include:
- A master’s degree from an accredited institution
- Supervised work experience (around 3,000 hours)
- A satisfactory score on a licensure exam
Being licensed is an important component of providing competent services to your clients, which is a good thing. However, it isn’t something that happens overnight. You must invest additional time, money, and effort into your education after your bachelor’s degree to be a clinical social worker.
You Might Not Have a Typical Work Schedule
Social work is not a 9-5 job. This is especially true if you work in community mental health. Why? Typically, social workers, psychologists, counselors, and other mental health professionals that work for non-profits or community organizations have heavy workloads. This can include time on call to respond to mental health emergencies.
For example, you might be on call one weekend a month. During that time, you might be called out to do a psychological evaluation of a patient that’s been admitted to the hospital. On another occasion, you might be asked to talk to a suicidal person over the phone.
These types of emergencies happen at all hours of the day, on weekends, and holidays. Working during these times isn’t ideal.
There’s a Lot of Paperwork
Social work involves a lot of client contact time, but there’s also a lot of time spent on paperwork.
In addition to taking notes during sessions with clients, you’ll likely need to fill out forms for government programs and insurance. Likewise, you might need to document non-clinical activities, like phone conversations you have with a client or providing status updates on a client’s employment search.
In some cases, social workers are paid a lower hourly rate for paperwork than client contact time, so the abundance of paperwork can be time-consuming and lower pay.
Some Situations are Beyond Help
People get into social work because they want to help other people improve their lives. Many life situations are improved by the services of social workers every single day. But some situations are so dire that there is little or nothing you can do to help a client. Some situations simply can’t be resolved through therapy, skill-building, or advocacy.
It’s disheartening to encounter situations like this, and it can make you wonder why you became a social worker. This important thing is to remember all the good you can do for other clients.