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So You Want to Be a Social Worker…

Job Search is here to introduce you to some of the career options out there, and let you hear from those in the trenches what the job is really like

So you want to be a…

 

S
ocial Worker

How much money can you make? What type of training will it take? And what does the job actually entail? Read on to find out whether this is the job for you.


Do I have the personality for it?

Here are some of the top traits of a good social worker: empathetic, people-oriented, tolerant and non-judgmental, organized. Patient, compassionate, and perceptive.


What schooling do I need?

Most social work jobs require an MSW (Master of Social Work). Graduate programs are typically two more years. To become professionally licensed as an LMSW, you must pass a licensing exam at the end of your studies. (Regulations vary by state.) To become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), which enables you to practice independently in a clinical setting, you must work an additional two to three years (depending on the state) under the supervision of a licensed social worker.


What will I be doing all day?

Social work encompasses a wide variety of career paths, from hospital and medical settings to schools, child welfare agencies, mental health or substance rehab facilities, prisons, private clinical practice, and more. But there are certain common denominators to the job:

> Identifying people who need assistance.

> Assessing clients’ needs and develop plans of support.

> Counseling clients to help them manage their challenges.

> Connecting clients and their families to government assistance programs.

> Responding to crisis situations, such as mental health crises or abuse.


What can I expect to earn?

Salaries vary based on the type of work you do. Some median wages:

School, child, and family social worker: $46,270

Healthcare social worker: $56,200

Mental health and substance abuse social worker: $44,840


What’s the difference between a social worker and a psychologist?

A psychologist focuses on a person’s mental and emotional issues, while a social worker focuses on the “outer” problems in a person’s environment — job, housing, medical care, physical assistance.

While a clinical social worker (LCSW) provides therapeutic counseling similar to a psychologist, the LCSW’s focus tends to be more on the biopsychosocial aspects of the person’s problem — how he is impacted by his environment and his social setting.

Tales from the trenches

THREE SOCIAL WORKERS DESCRIBE THE HIGHLIGHTS AND THE CHALLENGES

Yoni Benedek of Queens, NY graduated from Touro College Graduate School of Social Work in 2016. He works at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center’s Orthopedics/Surgery Unit.

A typical day at work looks like…

As a social worker in an orthopedics/surgery unit of a hospital, my job is to be the first line of psychosocial support for patients and their families. I start my morning with rounds together with the doctors and other medical staff (this can include a physical therapist, nutritionist, nurse, case manager and more). We identify which patients will be discharged during the day and what their needs will be moving forward. Wound care? Home medical equipment? Rehab? My job is to make sure these needs are arranged.

I also conduct psychosocial assessments on every patient within 48 hours of their arrival to the hospital. I identify their prior living arrangements and level of functionality. The treatment team uses this assessment to determine the patient’s post-discharge needs.

The orthopedics/surgery unit is a busy place, and my clientele is extremely varied. I’ll see car and work accident victims, shooting, stabbing or assault victims, homeless patients, substance abusers, and people who come straight from JFK airport after having a medical emergency on the plane.

I chose to become a social worker because…

I was always interested in psychology and in helping people cope with stress and mental illness. At the same time, I love the field of medicine. I was looking for a way to fuse those two interests, by focusing my counseling on people who’ve developed mental health issues as a result of illness or disability. My advisor at Lander College for Men introduced me to the field of social work and the option to work in hospitals and other medical settings. It sounded like the perfect match.

 I landed my first job through…

Indeed.com. After doing my second-year internship at Long Island Jewish Medical Center (Northwell Health), I knew I wanted a job in a medical setting. I received a call to come in for an interview just one hour after hitting the apply button. Thank G-d, I was offered the job two weeks later — and I’m still working here. However, my long-term goal is to obtain my LCSW clinical license, which would allow me to also treat private clients. I’d like to specialize in clients who are dealing with the repercussions of recent hospitalization and long-term disability or illness. I’m currently receiving clinical experience and supervision at the hospital and will be eligible to sit for my LCSW soon, G-d willing.

What I love most about the field is…

Being able to make my mark on the lives of individuals and their families who are going through devastating challenges. I’m the first line of defense for people who are at their most vulnerable, and I also help them deal with the long-term effects of their illness or disability. I know I’m making a huge difference in their lives — and, on top of everything, I get to make a kiddush Hashem in the process, every single day.

What surprised me most when I started working was…

How much my patients already know about the role of social workers. They need us and want to speak with us about their troubles. We just have to make ourselves available and let them know that we’re here to help.

My advice for people starting out is…

Try to find a job within the field that you’re passionate about. I deal with a lot of people with all sorts of personalities and from all walks of life, and sometimes the job can be very draining. But as difficult and stressful as my job may sometimes be, I still love what I do and look forward to going to work every day.

 

Michelle Bernstein of Cleveland, OH graduated from Wurzweiler School of Social Work in 2004. She works at Brookdale Home Health, Psycho Social Therapies and in private practice.

A typical day at work looks like…

That actually depends on the day. I work at multiple jobs in the social work field. I work in a home-care setting, where I provide short-term, post-hospitalization support to patients and their families in their homes. This involves doing an assessment to determine their particular needs, and then planning with the family how these needs will be met. I also assess for any mental health issues, such as depression, and guide them to the appropriate treatment.

I also work in a short-term rehab facility, where I provide counseling to patients. And I see clients on a private basis as well.

Up until a year and a half ago, I was working in the Cleveland Clinic’s Hospice program. I loved the job, but left because of scheduling conflicts. Hospice is similar to home care in that you’re working with a medical team to help the patient and family meet their needs, but unlike in home care, where the social worker typically meets with the patient for just a few visits, in hospice, the patient remains your client until he dies, and part of your job involves pre-bereavement counseling.

How I deal with the emotional side of the job is…

One of the major rules of social work is: you can’t take it home with you. This is true no matter what area you work in — you are going to be spending your days dealing with people’s problems and meeting them when they are at their most vulnerable. You absolutely must have good boundaries between your professional and personal life — both for your and your family’s sake and for the sake of your patient. (On a side note, anyone going into the field must be prepared to hear anything and everything from their patients, and approach it with understanding and tolerance. If you are the type who is easily shocked or judgmental, this might not be the field for you.)

When I was at work in the hospice program, I was very connected and present. But I learned to disconnect when I came home, to just not think about it. This was something I had to work on. I might be empathizing together with the patient and his family while on the job, but I knew if I were to come home and cry every night as well, I would never be able to continue working. It’s not emotionally sustainable. On the other hand, because of my hospice work experience, I began volunteering for our local chevra kaddisha.

What I love most about the field is…

When you do a termination session with a client and see the progress that they’ve made, you see directly what a difference you’ve made in their lives. Even in hospice where, obviously, the patient dies at the end, you can still see how you helped the family prepare for the death, so that they didn’t fall apart when it happened.

As a working mother, I also love the field’s flexibility. There are so many different types of jobs out there that I’ve always been able to work out the right mix of jobs and schedules for myself, depending on my and my family’s needs at different stages. And, on a personal level, I’ve found that my social work training has helped me deal with medical issues that have come up within my own family, including being an effective advocate for my son with Down syndrome.

What surprised me most when I started working was…

If there’s one complaint I have about the field, it’s the level of compensation. For the amount of schooling we put in — two years of graduate school, plus another two years working under supervision (and minimal pay) to get an LCSW — the salary should really be higher. Of course, your salary depends very much on what type of job you have. For example, a hospital social worker will be paid more than someone working in a social service agency.

I always knew that the way to really make a good living out of social work was to build up a private practice. However, I didn’t realize how much of that is dependent on marketing and PR — in other words, on having a good business sense, which doesn’t always fall into the skill set of someone in the helping profession. Also, you need to be willing to invest a lot of time and effort into building up your own practice, something that we working mothers don’t tend to have much of.

My advice for people starting out is…

Realize that your job will look very different depending on what you do. For example, a social worker in a hospital is a very different experience from a social worker in a foster care agency. I recommend figuring out which areas interest you and developing that specialty area. At the same time, it’s important to get varied experiences initially, because you never know which direction your career will take.

 

Rabbi Daniel Schwab of Clifton, NJ graduated from Touro College Graduate School of Social Work in 2013. He works at Achieve Behavioral Health (a division of Bikur Cholim of Rockland County), and in private practice.

A typical day at work looks like…

I work as a Social Work Therapist, practicing in the fields of individual, marriage, and family therapy with adults, teenagers, and children. I generally employ Emotional Focused Therapy to help introduce and master a “feelings language” to assist in effective communication. I noticed that the EFT approach usually helps reduce conflict dramatically and helps the family members feel less guarded and more comfortable with one another as they learn how to use the skill of emotional listening and compassionate empathy. I’ve also been in involved in rabbinic counseling as a community rabbi since 2004.

I chose to become a social worker because…

I enjoy helping people connect to themselves and their life’s goals. I love the feeling you get when, with siyata d’Shmaya, you’ve helped someone discover his inner coping skills to survive challenges. By uncovering his hidden strength, courage, and resiliency, the client can use this to go on to thrive despite those challenges.

As the son of a therapist, I grew up inspired by the role a therapist can play in people’s lives. My father, Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Schwab, has been helping couples and families for decades. I’ve always wanted to emulate his unique talent and be able to have such a positive impact on others. In a sense, I’ve been trained as a therapist since childhood! I grew up hearing about my father’s “feelings-language-based approach” and how his skills and techniques would effectively improve lives.

Can the field of social work provide enough income to support a family? If someone were working full days all week in private therapy then I suppose they could earn enough as the primary breadwinner. However, I, personally, practice about 30 hours a week, as I’m also a community rabbi and teacher.

What I love most about the field is…

The unique ability to make a difference in the world. As you build more of a rapport and a trusting relationship with your clients each week, the potential for success is literally limitless.

What surprised me most when I started working was…

Seeing how our Orthodox community has begun to overcome the stigma of going to therapy. More and more frum Jews are realizing the invaluable life benefits that can be gained when they discover their inner coping tools. They’re seeking skilled and caring professionals — such as mental health social work therapists — to help them grow.

My advice for people starting out is…

Make sure to build up your reserves of patience!  Have patience with yourself and patience with your clients. Sometimes beginner clinicians become quickly frustrated from not seeing results immediately and begin judging both themselves and the field in general negatively. People need time to develop a relationship with the clinician and, more importantly, with themselves. Realize that simply by offering sincere interest and genuine validation, you’re providing emotional oxygen to so many.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 786)

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