What They Do:

Direct-service social workers help people to solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. Clinical social workers diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues. Social workers can work with children, adolescents, adults or geriatric patients and can work in a variety of settings. 

On a typical day, a direct-service social worker's tasks might include:

  • Assessing a client's needs to determine if he or she needs help, what his or her goals are and who he or she can count on for support
  • Developing plans to assist a client
  • Referring clients to community resources
  • Helping clients get the help they need from government agencies
  • Responding to crises
  • Following up with clients

A clinical social worker's tasks, on a typical day, might include:

  • Evaluating a client for mental, behavioral and emotional disorders
  • Diagnosing a client's disorder and developing a treatment plan
  • Delivering therapy to individuals, families and couples
  • Referring clients, as necessary, to other resources
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of therapy

Being compassionate, a good listener and able to work with different groups of people are helpful in this field. Social workers often have large caseloads, so good time management and organizational skills is also helpful. Many social workers, especially those in private practice, will need to work evening and/or weekend hours to accommodate the scheduling needs of their clients.


  • Four year undergraduate education in a college or university (Bachelor’s degree).

  • Master’s Degree in Social Work (usually a 2 year full-time program).

  • All states require social workers to either be licensed, certified or registered.

  • Clinical social workers must be licensed. 

What They Make:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage of a social worker in 2019 was $50,470 per year                                        

Social workers' earnings varied according to their area of specialization. Here are the median annual salaries for social workers, employed in different specialties, as of 2016:

  • Child, Family and School Social Workers: $43,250

  • Healthcare Social Workers: $53,760

  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers: $42,700

  • All Other Social Workers: $60,230

Where They Work:

Social workers work in a variety of settings including:

  • Mental health clinics

  • Schools

  • Psychiatric hospitals

  • Medical hospitals

  • Private practice offices

  • Social service agencies, such as adoption or child protection agencies

  • Group homes and residential facilities

Career Outlook:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of social workers is projected to grow 13% from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. 


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Social Workers,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm

Updated February 2021