What Do Social Workers Do?
What do social workers do

What Is a Social Worker?

A social worker is someone dedicated to helping individuals, families, and communities improve their quality of lives through counseling, advocacy, and reporting. Social workers may provide direct counseling to families and communities, advocate on their behalf to community organizations or other health professionals, or help guide clients through the legal system by providing testimony or assistance during court hearings.

In other words, social workers are committed to helping people change their lives for the better. There are many career paths within the field of social work, so finding your niche is as simple as finding where your interests lie. For example, you could work with children and families, with communities, in health care settings, or in rehabilitation centers, just to name a few.

Social workers with extra credentials, called Licensed Clinical Social Workers, can also diagnose and treat mental, behavioral and emotional health issues.

What Do Social Workers Do?

You may be wondering, what do social workers do? Because there are so many different career options within the field, that can be a difficult question to answer. Social workers have a variety of responsibilities depending on the environment in which they work.

There are a number of specialties in which social workers can focus, including family services, addiction, or health.  All social workers have similar goals: to help people solve and cope with the challenges in their lives through advocacy, counseling, and referrals to other agencies and professionals.  

While all social workers help to assess clients’ needs and help them access available resources, licensed clinical social workers can also diagnose and treat mental, behavioral and emotional issues. In order to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, you’ll need to earn at least a master’s degree, pass a licensure exam, and complete three years of supervised experience.

Social Worker Job Description

A social worker is responsible for improving their patients' lives by helping them cope and manage stress they may be facing. Social workers will meet with patients, listen to their concerns and create a plan to better help their patients manage the problems in their lives. It's important for the social worker to use active listening when evaluating their patients, as well as observing their actions and overall body language. There are various types of social workers that specialize in different fields including children, family, school, public health, and drug addiction patients.

Where Do Social Workers Work?

Social workers work in a variety of settings, depending on what type of social work they practice. Some common places that employ social workers are:

  • Governmental organizations
  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Private practices
  • Community centers
  • Nursing homes

Types of Social Workers

Community Social Workers

A macro social worker is a social worker who identifies unmet needs in communities or other large units of people. These social workers are tasked with conducting assessments, referring residents to community resources, and organizing the community. The average salary for a community social worker is $48,400*.

Child and Family Social Workers

A child and family social worker works with children and their parents and guardians to address challenges or other issues that are impacting the quality of their lives. They work with families experiencing illness, offer resources for parents who need support in caring for their children, and help children who are experiencing stress or other issues that make it difficult for them to maintain a healthy quality of life. The average salary for a child and family social worker is $49,150*.

Healthcare Social Workers

A health care social worker helps people transition from the hospital back into their homes by offering resources and information to help them better understand their diagnosis and how to best move forward. Health care social workers help these patients make lifestyle changes, learn how to manage their illnesses, and make necessary accommodations in their homes that help them live independently. The average salary for a health care social worker is $60,840*.

School Social Workers

School social workers provide teachers, parents, and students with the support they need to prepare students for learning. School social workers provide information for staff to better understand the factors that affect students’ performance and provide the students with the counseling and resources they need to be successful in the classroom. School social workers might also assist parents during Individual Educational Planning meetings. The average salary for a school social worker is $49,150*.

Clinical Social Workers

Licensed Clinical Social Workers provide counseling and therapy to individuals and families who experience illness, substance abuse or other trauma. Licensed Clinical Social Workers, who hold the most advanced social work credentials, can clinically evaluate, assess and diagnose mental illness. A master’s degree and a state license are required to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. The average salary for a clinical social worker is $62,526**.

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Social Workers

Social workers who specialize in substance abuse and behavioral disorders evaluate clients’ health and assess their readiness for treatment. Together with their clients, they develop goals and plans for treatment, recommend resources for clients and their families, and help them develop new coping mechanisms. The average salary for a substance abuse social worker is $49,130*.

Social Worker Education Requirements

In order to become a social worker, you must complete at least a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) to gain employment. Licensing requirements can vary by state.  To become a social worker in Pennsylvania, you need to earn a bachelor’s degree and pass the Pennsylvania social work exam before you’re eligible to apply for licensure through the State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Licensed Professional Counselors. If you hold a bachelor's degree in social work, you are qualified for entry-level employment in the social work field such as working as a caseworker.

If you plan to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker or plan to pursue a supervisor or director role, you’ll need to earn at least your master’s degree in social work (MSW). A master's degree will further prepare you to declare an area of specialization within your career, which could include becoming a clinical social worker, drug abuse social worker or family social worker. If you wish to work within a clinical setting or within a hospital, a master's degree in social work will qualify you for these positions.

How Much Do Social Workers Make?

The annual salary of a social worker will vary depending on the interest area the social worker specializes in and the amount of education they have received. A clinical social worker requires a master's degree in social work and offers a higher salary than a standard caseworker with a bachelor's degree in social work. Some areas of social work will have higher salaries depending on the type of work they do.


2021 Median Pay

Social Worker


Social and Community Service Managers


Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors


Healthcare Social Workers


Child, Family and School Social Workers



Social Worker Career Outlook

The social work field, in general, is growing and the need for social workers has been increasing over the years. The demand for social workers is expected to grow by 9% through 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Your GMercyU Path to a Career in Social Work

In 2020, Gwynedd Mercy University earned accreditation from the Council on Social Work Educations’ (CSWE) Commission on Accreditation to offer our Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree.

As a student in GMercyU’s bachelor of social work (BSW) degree, you will have access to GMercyU’s experiential learning opportunities such as Best Buddies, and Alternative Spring Break. Students will also get hands-on experience throughout their social work education through service-learning requirements and 400 hours of internship experience at sites that fit their interests.

Once you complete your BSW degree at GMercyU, you’ll be eligible to sit for the Pennsylvania social work exam and apply for state licensure through the State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Licensed Professional Counselors. You may be eligible for advanced standing in CSWE master’s degree programs, which would allow you to complete your master’s degree in just one year.