There are many types of clinical social workers. You can specialize in working with older clients or children. Your specialty might be working with couples or families, too.
Many clinical social workers focus on specific settings as well. For example, clinical social workers are employed by nonprofit agencies, government agencies, school systems, and medical care facilities.
Yet, despite the many different areas of focus and places of work, there are some commonalities among clinical social workers. This includes the basic pros and cons of working in this field.
Pros of being a clinical social worker
You can make a difference
People that require social work services can be in dire straights. They might not have a job or a place to live. They might have lost custody of their child or have a drug problem. Mental health issues are also common among social work clients.
With your social work skills, you can help your clients make significant, positive changes in their lives. Their success ultimately depends on their buy-in to the process, but you can set them up for success with sound clinical social work interventions.
There’s good income potential
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the highest salary clinical social workers make is in excess of $85,820 per year. As a clinical social worker in private practice, the earning potential is even greater because you set your hourly rates.
Your earning potential is expanded with more education and experience, too. If you want to maximize how much you make, getting a doctorate might be good.
There are opportunities for continued learning
The social work profession is ripe with continuing education opportunities. Whether you attend professional conferences, conduct research, get a certification, or something in between, there is always an avenue for you to gain additional knowledge and skills.
You’ll have skills that can help many different people
People from all walks of life can run into roadblocks and need help from someone. As a clinical social worker, you’ll have the necessary skills to assist with a wide range of problems, including:
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Child abuse
- Domestic violence
- Homelessness or joblessness
- Mental health conditions
- Marriage issues
You can develop transferable skills
Social workers have certain skills that are valuable for different types of careers. For example, social workers should have exceptional communication skills. This could help you transition into a teaching role later in your career.
As another example, social workers should have empathy for others. You can use this skill in traditional social work, or if you want to practice social work in a therapeutic environment, your empathy skills will be put to good use.
There are endless opportunities for advancing your career
You only need a bachelor’s degree to start out in social work. While the jobs for which you qualify are entry-level, you can still gain valuable on-the-job experience.
Additionally, some employers help bachelor’s-level social workers to get their master’s degree. This might be through time off to attend class or even with funding to help offset the cost of going to graduate school.
Social workers are always in need
It’s unfortunate that so many people in so many areas of the world are in a difficult spot in their lives. But because of this fact, social work providers will always be needed.
Whether you work in an elementary school or a hospital, a mental institution or for yourself, you will have an endless supply of clientele that could benefit from your expertise.
There is certainly a need for social workers in the U.S., but they are also in demand around the world. Finding a job shouldn’t be difficult if you choose to follow this career path.
Cons of being a clinical social worker
Some social workers have a very big workload
The number of clients you have will vary depending on your work setting. For example, if you work for a government agency, you’ll likely have a lot of clients. However, if you are self-employed and in private practice, you can limit how many clients you see.
However, with so many people in need, it can be difficult to turn potential clients away, even if you have the power to do so. The more clients you have, though, the greater your stress level is likely to be. As your stress increases, the likelihood of burnout also increases.
It can be a risky job
Some social workers are employed in settings in which danger is higher than normal, like a prison.
A completely different risk involves malpractice. If you’re in private practice, you’ll need malpractice insurance. So, not only do you have the concern about being sued, but you also have to pay for malpractice insurance, which is very expensive.
There is the risk of harm to you as well. Clients might try to physically harm you, perhaps because of a history of violence or because of a role you play in their lives.
For example, you might be part of a safety team that removes a child from an unsafe home. In the process of doing so, a parent might try to physically prevent you from taking the child and cause injuries to you.
You’ll be in school a long time
Plan to spend four years getting an undergraduate degree and 1-3 more years getting a master’s degree. After that, you’ll need to complete supervised hours to become a licenced clinical social worker, which could add another two or three years to the process.
Compassion fatigue is a real concern
Related to the previous point is that with so much work to be done with so many different clients, you face the real possibility of developing compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue can lead to loss of sleep, the development of depression, and the reliance of substances to keep you going – none of which are good situations. The emotional toll that social work can take can have long-lasting mental and physical effects on you, if you don’t take measures to care for yourself.