Social workers swoop in during times of emergency and crisis, fight for individual and social justice, and relieve people of their suffering. Chances are someone you know has been helped by a social worker at some point in their life, and chances are they’re thankful.
Social work is a highly challenging and rewarding profession that provides an essential, empathetic service. The work itself can be ethically complicated and gruelling, but many of those who are fitted to be social workers find the work immensely gratifying and just.
Social workers work on behalf of the disadvantaged, marginalized and ill, and the role requires a certain kind of person. One who’s empathetic, disciplined, patient, and caring. The field often attracts hard-working idealists with strong ethical compasses.
Some social workers feel called to the profession at a young age. To them, the job is a sort of vocation. Other social workers take a more circuitous route.
If you’re interested in becoming a social worker, or if you’re simply interested in learning more about the profession, OES offers courses like HHS4U and HSE4M that prepare students for post-secondary social work study. With the resources provided by OES, students will arrive at university equipped with the skills they need to complete a Bachelor in Social Work (BSW) with top marks.
Here’s a detailed look at:
- What social workers do
- How OES helps future social workers
- What makes a good social worker
- How to become a social worker in Canada
What Social Workers Do
There is currently a high demand for social workers in Canada, and a high percentage of social workers in Canada are happy with their jobs. According to a comprehensive study published in the Canadian Social Work Review, the vast majority of social workers across the country are satisfied with their jobs—between about 70% and 80%.
Generally speaking, social workers help their clients cope with behavioural, emotional, economic, and social problems so their clients can function better at home, at work, and everywhere else. Social workers provide therapy, counselling, and other supportive services to their clients, who may include individuals, couples, families, groups, and communities.
While every social worker’s day looks different based on their clientele and specialties, on a typical day at work, the average social worker may respond to emergencies, meet with clients, advocate on their clients’ behalf (such as children from abusive homes), connect their clients with other services, and offer therapy or counselling.
Social workers play an integral role in mental health as they are one of the largest mental health care providers in Canada and the United States.
Where Social Workers Work
Social workers work in healthcare, education, government, law, and even the penal system. They are often employed in institutions and settings such as:
- Mental health clinics
- Community health centres
- Schools and school boards at all levels
- Advocacy organizations
- Employee assistant programs
- Consultation agencies
- Government departments
- Child welfare settings
- Social service agencies
- Family courts
- Correctional facilities
Personalities Best Suited to Social Work
According to a small study done by Rowan University, social workers tend to score high on the extraversion, sensation, feeling, and perceiving categories of the Meyers-Briggs personality type theory. That is, social workers tend to be ESFPs. Other similar, popular careers among ESFPs include
- Childcare provider
Perhaps surprisingly, introverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging Myers-Briggs personality types (INFJs) are also drawn to social work. There is a lot of overlap between the careers ESFPs and INFJs are suited for. In addition to social work, popular INFJ careers include
- Religious worker
This isn’t to say that you need to be an ESFP or INFJ to be a social worker. The main takeaway here is that these two Meyers-Briggs personality types are those who are well suited to the field of social work.
Two Types of Social Workers
There are two main types of social workers: clinical social workers and direct service social workers.
While the work of both do overlap, generally speaking, clinical social workers diagnose and treat emotional, behavioural, and mental issues and illnesses among their clients.
Direct-service social workers help their clients deal with everyday problems by, for instance, responding to emergencies and referring them to helpful resources, like healthcare and food stamps.
1. Clinical Social Workers
Some clinical social workers work with other social workers or mental health professionals. Others work in private or group practice.
Clinical social workers:
- Help their clients adjust to difficult changes in their lives, like divorce or custody battles
- Diagnose and treat mental illnesses
- Help their clients develop strategies and behaviours that empower them to cope with difficult life circumstances and events
- Work with doctors and other healthcare professionals to develop treatment plans for their clients and evaluate their clients’ progress along the way
- Provide therapy to communities, groups, couples, and individuals of all ages
- Refer clients to other mental health professionals, services, and resources
2. Direct Service Social Workers
Direct service social workers:
- Develop plans to improve their clients’ lives
- Help their clients access community resources, like food stamps, and work with government agencies to receive healthcare
- Help clients adjust to sometimes traumatic challenges or emergencies in their lives, like divorce, death, violent crimes, and housefires
- Track their clients’ progress
How OES Helps Future Social Workers
By offering online high school courses in Ontario that are similar to the ones BSW students take in university, OES equips students with the skills needed to pursue social work studies at the university level. OES’s social work related courses include
- HHS4U: Families in Canada (University)
- HSE4M: Equity & Social Justice (University/College)
HHS4U: Families in Canada (University)
HHS4U draws on the social sciences to analyze intimate dynamics, including family relationships. By looking at research and theories in the fields of anthropology, psychology, and sociology, students develop academic tools to analyze practices and policies affecting families in Canada—tools that BSW students need to excel.
The course comprises five units:
- Introduction to Family and Research Methods
- Individual Development
- Intimate Relationships
- Family and Parent-Child Relationships
- Research Report and Seminar
HSE4M: Equity & Social Justice (University/College)
In HSE4M, students develop and apply research skills to past and current social justice issues both nationally and internationally. They also design and put into practice social action or equity-oriented initiatives.
HSE4M comprises four units:
- Understanding Social Construction
- Addressing Equity and Social Justice Issues
- Personal and Social Action
- Culminating Activity
Other OES Courses that Help Future Social Workers
In addition to HHS4U and HSE4M, which directly prepare Ontario students for social work studies at the university level, two grade 12 University courses, HSB4U: Challenges & Change (University) and CLN4U: Canadian & International Law (University), teach OES students the social science, critical thinking, and reasoning skills they need to pursue further studies in social work at the university level.
Taking courses in the humanities can also prepare OES students for a BSW. Research has shown, for instance, that studying literature can make you a more empathetic person, and good social workers tend to be empathetic people.
Mature students, or students hoping to improve their grades in a course they’ve already taken by taking it a second time, can take upgrade literature courses like ENG4U: English (University) to prepare themselves to study social work in university.
How to Become a Certified Social Worker in Canada
To work as a certified social worker in Canada, you typically need an advanced degree in social work. According to the Canadian Association for Social Work Education (CASWE), students with a BSW must complete a year-long Master in Social Work (MSW) from one of Canada’s accredited university programs, as listed by CASWE, to become a certified social worker.
Students with a bachelor’s degree in a different field must take a two-year-long MSW in social work from an accredited university program to be certified.
Having an MSW also qualifies students to pursue further social work study at the doctoral level. Students may pursue a Doctorate in Social Work (DSW) or a Ph.D. in Social Work. Both are doctoral degrees, yet they each have a different focus.
A DSW balances theory and practice and prepares students for clinical practice. A Ph.D. in Social Work is more theoretically and academically oriented; it prepares students for careers in academia and research. That said, students with either doctoral degrees can go into clinical practice or academia and research.
More specifically, having either doctoral degree in social work prepares students for careers as:
- Social workers
- Clinical social workers
- Mental health clinicians
- University of college professors
- Community program administrators
Obtaining additional licensure and credentials in social work qualifies social workers for more specialized positions. These licensures and credentials include
- Academy of Certified Social Worker (ACSW)
- Licensed Independent Social Workers (LICSW)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
What Makes a Good Social Worker
Not everyone can make a good social worker, just as not everyone can make a good doctor, lawyer, professor, or other demanding jobs that require at least one advanced degree, a strong work ethic, a willingness to work long hours when necessary, and a certain kind of personality.
The following characteristics and virtues make a good social worker:
Many social workers are drawn to the field in the first place because they have strong ethical compasses. Once they become social workers, they have to use that compass daily, as one of the main parts of their job is to handle ethically complex cases, often involving a legal component, while adhering to a code of ethics, as put forth by the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW).
Social workers, like lawyers, doctors, and psychologists, have a higher, ethical duty of care to other people, not just their clients, than the average professional. Many social workers, at root, are drawn to the field because they care about people and are good at caring for them as well.
Social workers, like psychologists and psychiatrists, offer therapy and counselling to individuals, families, and couples, as well as organizations and groups. What makes a good social worker is similar to what makes a good clinical psychologist or psychiatrist: the willingness and capacity to do the complex work needed to understand what it’s like to be someone else without passing judgment on them.
A social worker’s clients need to feel they can relate to their social worker and trust them with vulnerable information during difficult periods in their lives. Their social worker needs to be able to see past the surface of what they say with their voices and bodies to uncover what they really mean, what they want and fear, and—perhaps most importantly—what they need now and in the future.
Research shows that social workers who empathize with their clients have better outcomes. Empathy, neuroscience tells us, is an innate human capability, like language or hand-eye coordination. What is clear is that people who strive to be more empathetic and are trained to do so make good social workers.
That said, being able to empathize is not enough on its own to be a good social worker. Good social workers also need to show their clients that they empathize. Doing so requires them to have strong social and interpersonal skills and a high degree of self-awareness. Social workers who don’t have these virtues may find it difficult to get their clients to trust them, no matter how empathetic they are at heart.
The Bottom Line
In addition to having a broad set of academic skills, social workers tend to be ethical, empathetic, highly motivated, and idealistic people. Certain personality types are better suited to the profession than others. The same is the case for lawyers and psychiatrists.
The job isn’t for everyone, but the vast majority of those who do work as social workers find the work rewarding and meaningful. After all, what social workers do, at root, is help people in need live better lives.