The field of social work is divided into two main categories, direct-service social work and clinical social work. Direct-service social workers help clients cope with and take steps to solve problems and improve the quality of their lives. The populations they work with include victims of parental or spousal abuse, recovering addicts, survivors of natural disasters, the homeless, and veterans. Direct-service social workers refer clients to food stamp, child care, educational, vocational, and healthcare resources. Gerontological social workers work with senior citizens while palliative care and hospice social workers help clients with serious illnesses or who are dying.
Clinical social workers diagnose mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders, and provide counseling, mental healthcare, and other treatment services to individuals, couples, groups, and families in a clinical setting. Like direct-service social workers, clinical social workers refer their clients to community and government resources and act as their advocate to get them the assistance and benefits they need.
Direct-service social workers in entry-level positions, such as caseworker or mental health assistant, typically hold a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) or a related field like psychology or sociology. Some positions will require a master’s degree in social work (MSW). Clinical social workers must hold an MSW and be state-licensed. Licensing requirements for direct-service social workers varies by state. Individuals who hold a doctorate in social work are qualified to teach and conduct research at a college or university.