Social worker

What Is a Social Worker?


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Written by Emma Reliason

B.A. - Psychologist

12 Apr, 2022

When you hear the term ‘social worker’ what comes to mind? 

Maybe you think of those on the front lines fighting for human rights and social justice issues. While this is correct, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

So, what is a social worker? Why are social workers important to our society?

It’s quite alright to admit you may not know exactly what social workers do. That’s what this article is for. 

We’ll focus on three main types of social workers that spend the day in and day out helping those in need: a general social worker, mental health social worker, and an NDIS social worker.

The Practice of Social Work: A Brief Overview 

While social work as a practice didn’t begin to appear in Australian universities until 1940, training courses began to arise as early as the 1920’s.

The University of Sydney paved the way, and by 1950 social work was officially a part of higher education despite the first graduating class only bearing 114 graduates. 

Currently, Australia is home to 114,000 social workers, each trained and skilled in the study of society and the individual within society. 

Social work as a whole is defined as the study of not only human development, but the interactions between an individual and their surrounding social, cultural and economic forces. 

Social work promotes societal change and development and works to empower both people and communities. 

While this definition may seem broad, it’s because it is. Social workers are incredibly versatile and can work in a diverse range of settings. If there is a person or community in need, a social worker is there. 

What is a Social Worker?

A general social worker (one without a specific speciality) works with people, families, and communities to encourage change and aid in this process. First, a social worker goes to where a need is. This could be a family struggling in poverty, an individual with substance abuse, or a 15-year-old girl suffering from homelessness. 

Social workers have direct access to resources necessary in finding help for those in need. These could be resources such as access to homeless shelters, housing programs, job training, child care options and more. 

A social worker’s job is to empower clients to improve their life by providing them with the helping hand they need. 

General social workers often work in community centres, drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres, hospitals, educational settings, and more. 

What is a Mental Health Social Worker?

While similar, mental health social workers are more narrowly focused in their practice. 

Mental health social workers play a crucial role in improving the lives of their clients suffering from mental illnesses. 

Through a variety of treatments and interventions, a mental health social worker will utilise practices of psychotherapy, CBT, relaxation strategies and any other evidence-based treatment they deem necessary. 

Depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse are some, but not all, of the mental illnesses these social workers treat on a daily basis. 

Not only do mental health social workers treat clients struggling with their mental health, they also provide support, empowerment and resources for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking. 

Mental health social workers are employed in settings such as hospitals, battered women's shelters, mental health clinics, rehabilitation centres and more. 

What is an NDIS Social Worker?

When it comes to the core values of social work as a whole, self-empowerment is at the top of the list. Social workers aren’t there to fix every problem for their clients, but rather to uplift, motivate and guide their clients into improving their life on their own. 

This is exactly what an NDIS - or National Disability Insurance Scheme social worker does. 

Using a human rights-based approach, an NDIS social worker walks alongside their clients with disabilities in such a way as to promote personal independence and guide them into participating in society and the workforce. 

Founded in 2013, the National Disability Insurance Scheme began providing Australians under 65 years of age with the proper tools and support needed for their participants to achieve their goals and dreams. 

Providing their participants with a social worker is an indispensable part of this program. 

Not only do social workers provide case management for these participants, but they also work as client advocates, provide counselling, individual goal planning, and more, to allow those with disabilities the opportunity and ability to improve their life.  

Social Workers Are An Asset To Society:

No matter how hard we try, we can never fix every single problem within our society.

There will always, unfortunately, be those struggling with poverty, homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse and trauma

Social workers dedicate their lives to making the world a better place, one individual at a time. 

Many people who seek help from social workers simply have the desire to improve their life, either don’t know where to begin or need encouragement and guidance. 

From finding invaluable resources to help those in need get back on their feet, or simply being a helping hand for those who need someone, social workers are the superheroes of our world.

If you feel like you need the help of a social worker we can help you.

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Emma Reliason

B.A. - Psychologist

Emma is an accomplished writer with a passion for mental health. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology where she gained insight into why people think, feel and behave the way they do.

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