Moving from the classroom to the real world of social work practice

Social workers are compassionate, responsible people who have dedicated themselves to helping their fellow human beings. They provide people with coping mechanisms and teach them skills to improve their lives.

Social work involves helping people from all walks of life: individuals, families, and communities.

Qualified social workers can find employment in schools, clinical settings, correctional facilities, private practice, and rehabilitation centers. They can also be found in community environments where they counsel individual patients or get involved in community projects such as feeding and education schemes for underprivileged families.

Social workers undergo science-based training to teach them how to understand their clients and demonstrate the choices of evidence-based methods that they may use in their interventions with different personality types and specific problems.

Professional options for social workers

Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) provide mental health interventions to clients with mental and behavioral health problems. They counsel their clients, set up treatment plans, and monitor their progress going forward.

Licensed master social workers (LMSWs) assist poverty-stricken people who are homeless or unemployed. They do not have the qualifications to provide counseling and will only treat patients if they are under the direct supervision of a qualified clinical social worker.

Becoming a licensed social worker

The world we live in is fraught with problems, and now, more than ever, there is a growing need for caring and competent social workers.

A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is the first step in the process of becoming a social worker. With this degree, you can find work in research jobs, outreach programs, welfare services, correctional facilities, and more. BSW graduates provide services such as assistance with care plans in institutions, ensuring patients’ needs are met, liaising with families, becoming probation officers, and more.

The next step toward becoming a licensed social worker is a master’s degree in social work (MSW) from a learning institution that has been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Once you are qualified, you must pass the Association of Social Work Boards test.

Thereafter, graduates who wish to qualify as clinical social workers will need to work for a further three years before applying for licensure as a clinical social worker. This work includes at least 3,000 hours of LCSW-supervised work and 120 hours of direct contact with clients.

Various verification forms are required, as well as official college transcripts and two references. If you are interested in following this route, you might like to become a licensed social worker in Georgia with FSU (Florida State University), studying online, as they provide you with accredited education and guide you through the licensing process to achieve your professional goals. Their program covers all the core concepts, including analysis of human behavior and mental health.

Social work theories and why they are important

Social work theories are explanations of human behavior that are based on scientific evidence. They analyze and describe the various intricacies of human behavior and are used by social workers to determine the correct methods of intervention when treating clients.

Social work theories are derived from a combination of philosophy, psychology, economics, and other disciplines, providing insights into the complexities of human nature and the effects that the associated social and economic situations can have on people.

Theories help social workers analyze cases and predict the outcomes of various interventions based on the expected interactions and reactions of specific personality types. By using the theories in their practice, social workers are encouraged to abandon any preconceived ideas that they may have in favor of the more scientific and evidence-based theories. They provide a starting point when consulting with clients for the first time and enable social workers to deal confidently with clients and their problems.

Social work theories often evolve over time as new situations arise and new evidence is assimilated. This means that social workers should adopt a mindset of continued study so that they may keep abreast of new theories and improved methods of practice.

Social work models

Social workers make use of various models for the treatment of clients. Based on the theories mentioned above, the related models suggest specific, evidence-based interventions that can be applied in the treatment of clients.

Theories and models are constantly updated as new evidence arises, and client intervention is monitored for successful outcomes. Choosing the correct theory and intervention can sometimes be a challenge, as some clients present with complex personality issues and multiple ecological problems, necessitating the application of a combination of theories and models to solve the problem.

Tips for making the transition from theory to practice

The large number of theories and models can seem exciting to a newly qualified social worker who is just starting out. They can utilize the numerous theories and their possible solutions when coming face-to-face with a client for the first time. Here are some useful tips on how to transition well as a newly fledged social worker.

To begin with, determine which theories are likely to be the most relevant in your line of work. Make a point of memorizing these key theories and their possible solutions. In time, you will reduce the need to refer to textbooks, save a considerable amount of time, and stay calm as you consult with your clients.

Keep your old textbooks as a frame of reference, and use them when in doubt. This practice will serve to enforce what you have learned and add to your personal repository of key theories each time you refer to a textbook.

You may want to consider further education in the specific theories and models that you have chosen to focus on. You will gain more knowledge, approach expert status, and clock up the hours you may still need to qualify for licensure.

Keep a record of your experiences with clients, documenting the theories, methods, and interventions, as well as the outcomes. This will help you determine the success rate of the various interventions and whether you should repeat them or investigate other, more effective methods of practice.

If you are working under the supervision of a clinical social worker, ask questions and determine whether you are correct in your analyses of your clients and whether you are using the correct methods and interventions relative to the theoretical diagnosis.

Key social work theories

Over the years, various experts in psychology, such as Sigmund Freud and Ivan Pavlov, have theorized about human behavior, and social workers today are being educated on these same theories and their place in society.

We touch on just a few of the useful theories that are commonly used in clinical interventions.

Systems theory

People are likely to be influenced by more than one system at a time – for example, their socioeconomic situation, family connections, and school or workplace settings. In this instance, three ecological systems can be applied to the problem at hand.

Some experts believe that much of our personalities and behaviors are formed by our family systems – our family background and interactions. Social workers may advocate for family involvement when counseling individual clients.

Behaviorism and social learning theories

Social workers who delve into clients’ social backgrounds and the stimuli that have formed their behavioral characteristics can draw enough information to form a sound understanding of their clients, possibly identifying the root cause or causes of their problems.

Psychodynamic theory

Freud was the founder of psychodynamic theory, proposing that humans are driven to seek gratification, and this forms the basis of our everyday behavior. He believed that primary drives (drive theory), including self-preservation and sex drives, affect who we are and how we act. He also advocated that our egos (ego psychology) play a role in controlling our impulses, planning, and dealing with our external environment.

Some of the psychodynamic theories are still regarded as relevant, while others have become quite controversial. Much of it has evolved over time with the incorporation of newer theories within the psychodynamic category.

Included in this category are more recent ideas, namely, the object relations theory, which analyzes relationships, and the self-psychology theory, which was first introduced by Heinz Kohut in the 1970s. Self-psychology plays an important role when analyzing clients’ personalities, requiring a careful analysis of shortcomings and occurrences in the patient’s early childhood.

Psychosocial development theory

This theory involves the mapping out of a client’s life and the patterns that have molded their behavior. Psychosocial developmental theory proposes that there are eight stages to our lives: hope, will, competence, purpose, fidelity, love, care, and wisdom. Counselors find it useful to identify the stage that the patient is currently experiencing so that they can address the associated challenges.

The transpersonal theory also suggests various stages, such as creativity and wisdom, that contribute positively to healthy individuals’ well-being. However, when a stage is lacking or absent, it can lead to psychosis. Transpersonal theory is often used to treat mental health conditions such as depression and addiction.

Rational choice theory

The rational choice theory suggests that we rationalize our actions by calculating risks and benefits before we act. Counselors who analyze their clients’ rationalizations and motives may be in a better position to understand their clients’ seemingly irrational behavior.

Coping with the demands of the job

By the very nature of their jobs, social workers are exposed to stress and anxiety in people’s lives for a great deal of their working hours. Many social workers have family responsibilities, too, and maintaining a balance between family life and work puts them at risk of burning out if they are not able to manage it efficiently.

It’s important for social workers to recognize the signs of burnout and take steps to prevent it from happening. A social worker who is experiencing mental or physical fatigue can compromise the effectiveness of their service when dealing with clients.

It’s essential for social workers to maintain a level of fitness and make sure that they are eating foods that will sustain energy and health. Make time for yourself: go for a walk, practice some yoga, listen to music, and find a hobby so that you can channel your creative needs into something constructive and satisfying.

Strategies for successful management of daily challenges

Plan your day, and if possible, leave some free time during the day for emergencies. If nothing crops up, you can use this free time for making or reviewing notes, arranging appointments, or just catching up with your family or friends.

If applicable, take five minutes to read through your case notes before seeing each client.

If you are working in a situation where you need to travel for meetings or client support, build your travel time into your schedule, as late arrivals at meetings and traffic jams are likely to put you under further pressure.

Make time for meals and have some energy snacks on hand if you experience bouts of tiredness during the day.

Drink plenty of liquids, preferably water. Our bodies are made up of 55 to 60 percent water, and it’s important to drink water during the day so that our bodies maintain their normal functions. Drinking water is energizing, and it makes you look and feel better.

Keep in touch with people in the same profession as you and make regular contact with them. It helps to share experiences and get advice over a cup of coffee with friends.

Having a mentor whom you can call upon in times of need is a great help. Ongoing study refreshes what you have learned, keeps you up-to-date with new methods and theories, and improves your knowledge.

Your success as a competent social worker

Working with people in need can present some difficulties, and it is up to the social worker to trust their high level of training is substantial enough to combat these. When you witness the improvements that take place in people’s lives as a direct result of your interventions, their success and gratitude are richly rewarding.

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