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How to Become a Social Worker

Find a postgraduate program in SOCIAL WORK

How to become a social worker Social work is not a profession for the feint-hearted. Clocks become redundant and schedules are dependent on circumstances as they arise, but interacting with the socially challenged in a positive way can be an enormously uplifting experience. Individuals who choose to be social workers also have a range of choices regarding the specific field of social work in which they wish to be involved. These include working with the elderly, the mentally challenged and young people in crisis with the aim of helping them to experience a fuller and more meaningful life. Advice from school counsellors on how to become a social worker may include doing some voluntary work over weekends for a community outreach programme. Combined with the higher learning degrees necessary, this always reads well on a CV.

Undergraduate qualification

BA (Hons) Social Work is the minimum requirement for registration as a social worker in the UK. It is a work-based programme that requires students to spend a specified amount of time gaining practical experience in conjunction with their university studies. Students who then wish to specialise in specific areas of social work will need to follow a postgraduate social worker course, which focuses on their chosen specialisation.

Postgraduate qualifications on offer

A masters degree in social work is the route followed by those who wish to further their career, or wish to specialise. It is a two year, full-time course that combines hands-on experience with the in-depth research necessary for a dissertation. Researching all aspects of social work will provide students with a good knowledge of the policies and theoretical foundations that govern the social work practice.

Having knowledge of the theories that drive the recognition of and intended resolution to the social issues faced by disadvantaged, disabled and elderly members of a community puts into perspective the regulations surrounding these issues. Applying these theories to the practical aspect of the degree allows the student to more fully understand how theories have developed and inspires thought on how they may be further developed or changed. It will also prove invaluable when choosing an area in which to specialise.

Case study

Emma had shown an early interest in working with disadvantaged youth and had spent most of her weekends at a community centre that, among other services, provided sports facilities and training for these children. Her commitment did not wane and when she asked a counsellor how to become a social worker her dedication did not go unrecognised. On the counsellor’s advice, Emma decided to obtain her BA (Hons) Social Work. She chose to do so at an open university that required her to have a placement and she was immediately given a job coaching hockey at the centre. Interacting with young children who faced constant challenges both at home and at school due to poverty and, in some cases, parental alcohol and drug abuse, gave her a deeper insight into the injustices and discrimination with which they struggled. On obtaining her degree, Emma was appointed as a counsellor. When two of the girls that she had coached during her early days at the centre became addicted to hard drugs, she knew that she had found her calling.

Emma obtained a bursary from the Department of Health via the NHS and registered for her masters degree at an institution that was renowned for its strength in the area of research into addiction. She was also successful getting a placement at an affiliated treatment centre for drug dependency. A requirement for completing her masters degree in social work meant that she had to complete two successful placements. She also attends AA and NA meetings whenever possible to further her own research into the psychology of addiction. Emma hopes to eventually run her own integrated practice with the focus on breaking the cycle of addiction and mending relationships within families.

Importance of research skills

Deciding on which postgraduate social worker course to follow depends largely on specific areas of individual interest. What will be required at postgraduate level is a sound understanding of research methodology in order to produce a worthy dissertation. The most common module related to a master’s degree will focus on equipping students with a good knowledge of how research should be conducted. Placements and a dissertation are required before an individual is recognised nationally as being eligible to enter a career as a social worker.

Areas of specialisation

The areas in which a social worker may choose to specialise are vast, but will involve the option of working with youth, or providing assistance for the elderly and infirm. Within these fields are a large and diverse number of further options. Young offenders, mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence are among the many specialties offered in the second year of a masters degree. Some courses provide skills that are extremely valuable in all areas of social work.

A course in psychoanalysis will provide students with a unique insight into the unconscious mind in relation to everyday living, as well as that produced by human suffering. As social work involves interaction with persons who are greatly challenged by their specific social conditions, it provides a valuable tool for promoting understanding. MSc Child Protection and Adult Safeguarding informs on policies surrounding community health teams, while it offers immensely challenging, but rewarding practical work. MA Children, Youth and International Development provides great insight into various global theories regarding aid for the most socially challenged in society.

Whatever their particular area of interest, social workers provide the much-needed support that the most vulnerable members of society would otherwise be without. It requires a mental and emotional strength that can withstand the atrocities that are sometimes committed against the weakest among us. It is definitely not a career for those who need the stability of regular routine within their own lives in order to function optimally. What it is, is a means of experiencing the type of spiritual awakening that comes with sacrificing part of oneself for others.


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