Types of Social Workers

group of people piecing together puzzle pieces

Because of the variety of fields of practice and duties performed by social workers, it is often asked "What is a social worker?" Social workers perform a broad spectrum of duties ranging from providing support to those faced with difficult situations, emotional stresses, or significant change in their lives to clinically diagnosing emotional, behavioral or mental health disorders in individuals. Not only do they help the individuals cope with the situation at hand, they advocate for them and seek out valuable resources and other means of support for those in need.

Read on for more information about the different fields of social work practice:

  • Types of Social Workers
  • Levels of Social Work Practice - Micro, Mezzo, Macro
  • Featured Online Programs

    Types of Social Workers

    • Social Workers in Administration, Policy, and Research: These social work professionals manage programs, advocate for social work policies, and research key questions in the field. They hold directorial positions in social service organizations and health agencies. Social workers with a Ph.D. often pursue academic careers, teaching at the college level and conducting research.
    • Child, Family, and School Social Workers: Professionals specializing in children, families, and school social work support young people, parents, and students. They provide resources for families, assist children struggling with bullying or unstable home environments, and provide counseling for children dealing with trauma. Child, family, and school social workers work in private practice, in schools, and for social service agencies.
    • Community Social Workers: Community social workers manage community programs and help clients obtain resources. They may work for nonprofits, grassroots organizations, or government agencies to provide vital resources for the community. Social workers in this specialty typically hold a bachelor's degree in social work. A master's degree in social work prepares community social workers to provide clinical services or manage programs.
    • Criminal Justice Social Workers: Criminal justice social workers advocate for clients in the criminal justice system. Their clients include inmates, former convicts, and family members of offenders. Criminal justice social workers also provide rehabilitative services, work with parolees, and act as conflict mediators. They may also serve as victim advocates.
    • Gerontological Social Workers: Gerontological social workers connect the elderly with social and community services. They advocate for their clients; help elderly individuals apply for housing, healthcare, and other resources; and provide mental health support. These professionals need a BSW or MSW, and they may work in private practices, long-term care facilities, outpatient services, or adult protective agencies.
    • Medical and Hospital Social Workers: Also known as healthcare social workers, these professionals help individuals, families, and groups manage healthcare systems and medical problems. Many work for hospitals or in outpatient clinical setttings. Clinical social workers, who must have an MSW and a social work license, coordinate care for their patients and diagnose mental health problems.
    • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers: These social workers assist clients with mental conditions and substance use disorders. They often act as case managers and help rehabilitation patients with the discharge process, and those with an MSW and appropriately licensed can provide psychotherapy. They also support the family members of individuals struggling with mental health or substance abuse problems.
    • Military and Veterans Social Work: Military and veterans social workers help former military members transition to civilian life, connect veterans with resources, and support military families during deployment. They may work in private practices or for the VA or other organizations. Social workers with an MSW can provide psychotherapy and diagnose mental health disorders.
    • Palliative and Hospice Social Work: In palliative and hospice care, social workers support clients with chronic illnesses and those nearing the end of life. They also provide assistance to their families. Palliative and hospice social workers advocate for their patients’ emotional and medical needs, help coordinate care, and connect clients with services.
    • Psychiatric Social Workers: Psychiatric social workers specialize in mental health services, including psychotherapy and diagnosing mental illnesses. These professionals must have an MSW and a clinical social work license. They may provide psychosocial assessments, provide therapy, and coordinate with family members and the patient’s medical team. Psychiatric social workers often work at hospitals, outpatient centers, and in private practices.
    • School Social Workers: School social workers provide support services for students, helping them reach their academic and social potential. They work with young learners struggling with bullying, truancy, or family problems. Many work in schools, and most positions require a master’s degree in social work.

    Social Work Levels of Practice - Micro, Mezzo, Macro

    Typically, social work practice is broken down in to three different scopes of practice - micro, mezzo, and macro. Micro practice involves working directly with individuals or families on removing obstacles, locating resources, and empowering change for the identified client. Clinical practice, such as individual or family therapy or substance abuse counseling is considered micro social work practice. Direct services without the clinical component, such as case management is also considered micro social work practice.

    Mezzo social work practice involves working with small groups of people. Mezzo practice can include facilitating substance abuse treatment groups or working with a community organization to promote change. Many times social workers will find that their scope of practice is a combination of micro and mezzo social work working towards to goal of empowering change whether it be individual, family, cultural or organizational change.

    Macro social work practice entails working on an even broader scale to intervene on behalf of individuals promote communal, societal or cultural change. Research, administration, lobbying are examples of macro social work practice. Macro social work practice often involves advocating or addressing issues present in micro or mezzo social work practice but does so on a scale that is focused beyond the individual level.

    One of the many benefits to a social work degree is being equipped to work among any of level of practice - micro, mezzo, or macro social work. The heart of social work practice is addressing, supporting and empowering change whether that entails working with an individual facing homelessness, facilitating a substance abuse treatment program or advocating for funding for a community outreach program.

    Learn About these Select Social Work and Related Programs

    Capella University is now offering an online Master of Social Work that is in CSWE candidacy status. The MSW program helps prepare students to enter the general or clinical practice role (in most states). Capella also offers an online Doctor of Social Work. Click Here to contact Capella University about their Master of Social Work program or Doctor of Social Work program.

    The Worden School of Social Service at Our Lady of the Lake University’s online Master of Social Work is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Commission on Accreditation and is designed for working adults with or without a social work bachelor’s degree. Click here to request information about The Worden School of Social Service at Our Lady of the Lake University Online Master of Social Work program.