There are a lot of misconceptions out there about social workers. I should know! I am one! As a social worker, people often ask, What can a social worker help me with? It’s rare that people know the wide range of services that social workers provide. It’s also common to think that social workers all do the same thing.
Below, I’ve outlined some of the major things that social workers can do, and busted some common myths about the profession.
“Do you work for CPS?”
This. This is one of the most common questions that social workers like me are asked on a regular basis, and it reveals a fundamental misunderstanding about what we do. Sure, some social workers work for Child Protective Services, but many of us work for other social service agencies, the VA, public schools, universities, hospitals, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers. Many social workers, myself included, pursue careers as psychotherapists.
First, let’s get the basics out of the way. While most folks have heard of social workers, you might not know exactly what it means to be a social worker. Social workers receive comprehensive training to prepare them to help people in a variety of settings.
Some social workers can perform their jobs with a bachelor’s degree in social work. Most social workers hold a master’s degree in social work. Social workers with master’s degrees obtain a license to practice in more clinical settings as an LMSW (Licensed Master Social Worker) or LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker).
Still, you may be wondering, What can a social worker help me with? Maybe a better question is, What CAN’T a social worker help me with? Below, we’ve included some of the most common things that a social worker can help you with.
Signing up for benefits
If you are navigating the social safety net, including SNAP, TANF, Medicaid, SSI, and other services, you will likely be assigned a caseworker. Caseworkers are typically not social workers, but they know a lot about how to navigate the system of benefits that you might be signing up for. They will walk you through the process of filling out forms, answer questions about your eligibility, and connect you with additional services.
In fact, a caseworker might even help you to connect with a social worker who can help you with another challenge you are seeking assistance for.
Licensed social workers are qualified to offer psychotherapy, family therapy, couples counseling, and group therapy. You can find social workers at your local community mental health clinic, private psychotherapy practices, and even your university counseling center. Many social workers accept health insurance, and some are covered under Medicaid, especially at community mental health clinics.
Social workers are licensed to diagnose and treat mental illness, counsel couples on better communication, work with families who are experiencing turmoil, and lead support groups.
If you have been admitted to a hospital or had a major health issue requiring ongoing treatment (e.g. dialysis or chemotherapy), you may be assigned a social worker to help you coordinate your care and help you manage the strain on mental health that can accompany health challenges.
Social workers who work within the health system can even work with your family to help coordinate an appropriate plan of care and help educate them about the health issues you are experiencing.
Finally, hospital social workers, and other social workers in healthcare settings are typically well-versed in the complexities of health insurance, and may be able to help you coordinate your finances accordingly.
Navigating the system of care for seniors can be incredibly challenging and complicated. Luckily, geriatric social workers can help coordinate care for seniors. When it comes to paying for assisted living, home based care, and nursing facilities, social workers can help you to understand how a senior’s Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and their assets can cover the cost.
Further, they can help you lessen the emotional and physical burden of caring for an aging loved one by working with you to coordinate respite care, if you are eligible.
Geriatric social workers are also knowledgeable about the aging process, and can help families distinguish between what constitutes normal aging, and the signs of illnesses and cognitive difficulties like dementia.
One important thing to know about social workers, especially when it comes to eldercare, is that the social work code of ethics emphasizes “self-determination”. In other words, social workers work with clients to help them make the best choice for them. A social worker is not there to force a senior client to give up their independence.
Connecting with veterans services
What can a social worker help me with at the VA? Well, just about anything!
Many social workers work for the VA, and help to ensure a smooth process for coordinating care, connecting veterans with resources, and evaluating and treating mental health needs.
These social workers really do it all. They help with everything from administrative needs to mental health counseling.
So, maybe you have a need that a social worker can help you with. But how do you find one? For just about any of the categories outlined in this article, you can try contacting United Way. By dialing 211 or visiting their website, United Way may be able to connect you with a social worker who can help with your particular need.
If you are interested in finding a social worker in a clinical setting, like a community mental health clinic, you can try googling “community mental health clinic + your town”.
If you are in need of a social worker to help you navigate the healthcare system, contact the hospital or healthcare facility where you have been receiving treatment and ask if they have a social work department.
To find a social worker who can help with veterans benefits, contact the VA office closest to you.
These are some of the most common ways a social worker can help!