What is a Social Worker?

A social worker is a professional who works with individuals, families, groups, and communities to help them improve their overall well-being and deal with whatever difficulties they might be having.

They are trained to provide a range of services, including assessment, counseling, intervention, and advocacy, typically focusing on individuals who are vulnerable or undergoing challenging times.

The following quote comes from the International Federation of Social Workers:

“Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people.”

Becoming a social worker

Aspiring social workers typically require a degree in social work (BSW, MSW, or higher) from an accredited institution. However, specific qualifications can vary significantly by country or region.

Most places mandate registration or certification to practice professionally in this field.

Areas of specialization

There are many areas a social worker can be specialized in, such as:

  • Medical and health.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Child welfare.
  • School social work.
  • Criminal justice.
  • Gerontology (working with the elderly).
  • Mental health and counseling.
  • Family services.
  • International and community development.
  • Military and veterans’ services.
  • Disability services.
  • Occupational social work (within business environments).
  • Homelessness and housing.
  • Domestic violence and intervention.
  • Foster care and adoption.
  • Crisis intervention and disaster response.
  • Social policy and advocacy.
  • LGBTQ+ advocacy and support.
A female social worker talking to her client
Bing AI image adapted by Market Business News.

Roles and responsibilities of a social worker

The specific roles and responsibilities of a social worker vary depending on their area of specialization. Some common roles include:

  • Advocating for clients to ensure they have access to necessary resources and services.
  • Conducting comprehensive psychosocial assessments.
  • Helping clients navigate complex legal, healthcare, or social services systems.
  • Developing and implementing community programs.
  • Providing counseling and therapy to individuals or groups.
  • Collaborating with other professionals, such as doctors, teachers, or lawyers, to support the holistic well-being of clients.

Core principles

The foundation of social work is built upon the following core principles:

  • Service

Demonstrating a commitment to helping people in need.

  • Dignity and worth of the person

Respecting the inherent worth and dignity of each individual.

  • Social justice

Advocating for social change, particularly on behalf of vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals.

  • Importance of human relationships

Understanding that relationships are crucial in contributing to the well-being of individuals and communities.

  • Integrity

Exhibiting ethical and trustworthy behavior in all actions.

  • Competence

Maintaining a high standard of professional practice, continuing to learn, and reflecting on one’s work.


Social workers operate in diverse settings, including hospitals, schools, government agencies, non-profit organizations, mental health clinics, prisons, and private practices.

Written by Nicolas Perez Diaz, October 20, 2023.