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Social Work and Human Services

Social work professionals have specialized knowledge and skills that help them successfully assist people who are in a period of crisis in their lives. When students enroll in online social work degree programs, they get the preparation they need to deal with the rigors of this demanding career.

Social workers have many responsibilities when helping their clients deal with serious problems. Some of these specific job duties include the following:

  • Interviewing clients to determine what their problems are and what services they need
  • Developing a plan to help clients improve their lives
  • Intervening during emergency situations, such as when a child has been abused
  • Referring clients to the services that are appropriate for their situation, including child care, food stamps and health care services
  • Providing psychological help to those who have psychological and substance abuse problems
  • Educating the community on issues such as substance abuse, mental illness and physical disabilities, as well as the services that are available to people who have these challenges
  • Monitoring client progress to ensure that the services they received have helped them

Generally, social workers are able to find employment by just earning a bachelor's degree. However, social workers who provide clinical services generally must earn a master's degree and obtain two years of supervised clinical experience in order to practice. In addition, clinical social workers are required to become licensed in their state through the Association of Social Work Boards.

Coursework in Online Social Work and Human Services Degree Programs

An online social work degree program gives students an understanding of why people may need certain social services, as well as what services are available to members of the community and how they are delivered. Each specific program has its own curriculum and degree requirements, but there are courses that students can generally expect to find in a social work and social services department. The following are some examples of these courses.

Interviewing skills

In order to understand what their clients need, social workers must know how to effectively interview people for pertinent information. This course teaches students the principles of interviewing in a social services setting to find out how they can help clients, as well as build a rapport with them and display empathy for their circumstances. Specific topics in this course include how to set goals for an interview, ethical concerns when conducting interviews and how to resolve any conflict that may arise.

Law and ethics in social work

This class gives students an understanding of the legal and ethical concerns that social workers must be aware of. Some of the legal issues that are covered in this course include confidentiality, mandatory reporting and involuntary commitment. In addition, students learn about ethical issues like conflict of interest.

Crisis intervention

Students in this course learn about the anatomy of a crisis situation and the best techniques for diffusing one. Some of the specific topics covered in this course include intervention models, post-traumatic stress disorder and how social workers can avoid getting burned out. In addition, students learn about the emotional, health and social impact of going through a crisis situation. In order to give students a deeper understanding of the material, professors may require participation in role playing exercises.

Clinical assessment

This course covers how assessments are conducted and how to identify goals before performing an assessment. In addition, students learn how to use assessments to identify clients' needs and recommend services, as well as the strategies used to determine whether or not those services were effective. In order to demonstrate how these concepts work, students may be required to read case studies.

Case management

Students in this class can expect to learn how social workers manage their cases on a day-to-day basis and the steps they take when helping a client. Specific topics include how services are delivered, the relationship that social workers have with the agencies that provide services, how interventions are planned and delivered, and the boundaries in the client-social worker relationship.

Other courses that students in online social work degree programs may take include the psychology of social problems, research in social work, child welfare, family interventions, and public policy and social work. In addition, on the graduate level, students are expected to choose a specialization. These topics may include addiction, trauma or medical social work.

Also, depending on the program, students may be required to obtain clinical experience or complete a thesis or comprehensive examination.

Interview With a Social Work and Human Services Professor

Kevin D. BlairKevin D. Blair, professor of social work at Niagara University, teaches courses in social work methods, poverty, and social welfare policy and analysis. He received his Ph.D. from the University at Buffalo.

What are the skills, interests and personality traits necessary for a student to be successful in a social work and human services program? 

"Human services and social work are not synonymous. Social work programs are more like nursing in that we are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), and in most states there are licensing requirements (especially at the MSW level, where a license is required by all 50 states). Human services are non-accredited (hence the name/title difference), have no licensing and the curriculum is under the control of the school with no outside accreditation standards. Thus, social work has a very different level of quality control.

"As for skills, CSWE mandates that students master nine specific competencies and 31 specific practice behaviors. We approach these by first building a knowledge base (theory, human development and behavior, social welfare, etc.), then a skill base (empathy, active listening, responding directly to indirect cues, control of non-verbal communication, etc. -- there is quite a list that we work on over a two- to three-year time period), and the practical experience (CSWE accredited programs require a minimum of 400 hours of field practice).

"In terms of interests and personality traits, you genuinely have to be interested in helping people to meet challenges and to make important changes in their lives."

What is the most rewarding part of a career in social work? Why should students pursue a career in this field?

"Seeing people succeed, seeing them get a home after they've been homeless, get a job when they thought they'd never find employment, seeing them stand up to a bully at school and change their social status in their school, seeing a marriage come back together when it was falling apart, seeing an important piece of legislation get passed after a lot of hard lobbying efforts, and so forth."

What advice would you give to students who are considering earning a degree in social work?

"Social work is a little more of a 'calling' than it is a career choice. Spend some time shadowing a social worker, do some research into the many things you can do with a social work degree. You're likely to find that it is far better and more rewarding than you've ever imaged."

Career Outlook for Professionals With Online Social Work and Human Services Degrees

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports social workers will see a 19 percent increase in job opportunities between 2012 and 2022. The salary range for these professionals varies depending on their focus. The following 2014 data from the BLS shows the median annual salary, along with the typical salary range between the lowest 10 percent and highest 10 percent of workers, for various social work careers.

  • Mental health and substance abuse social workers
    Median annual salary: $41,380
    General salary range: $25,770 to $70,300
  • Health care social workers
    Median annual salary: $51,930
    General salary range: $32,060 to $76,940
  • Child, family and school social workers
    Median annual salary: $42,120
    General salary range: $27,500 to $72,510


Social Workers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm

Child, Family, and School Social Workers, O*NET, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/21-1021.00

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers, O*NET, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/21-1023.00

Healthcare Social Workers, O*NET, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/21-1022.00

Social Work and Human Services, Walden University, http://www.waldenu.edu/programs/study-area/social-work-human-services

Traditional Curriculum Snapshot, University of Southern California, https://msw.usc.edu/academic/curriculum/traditional-curriculum/

Earn Your Master's in Social Work Online, Walden University, http://www.waldenu.edu/masters/master-of-social-work

BA Degree in Human Services, Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/bachelors/ba-in-human-services/child-and-family-services

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211023.htm

Healthcare Social Workers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211022.htm

Child, Family, and School Social Workers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211021.htm

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