Working as a Social Worker

Social Work is a very flexible and wide-reaching profession. Although undergraduate social work programs generally offer an umbrella “social work” degree, graduate programs offer students the opportunity have specific foci. My grad school offered MSW degrees with concentrations in physical and mental health, child and family services, and church and community practice.

There’s flexibility in the number of fields in which you can work: social workers can be in child protective services, in hospitals, in prisons, in drug rehabilitation centers, or in therapy clinics.

Even within each branch of practice, there’s still much variety. In my first seven years, I’ve worked as a case manager at a residential drug rehab center, as a foster care / adoption social worker and supervisor, and a self-employed writer and contractor.

I was asked what a typical workday looks like. In social work, there really isn’t a “typical” day. As an adoption worker, my roles were several. I helped develop our program, developed training goals (and trainings) for prospective adoptive parents, presented those trainings to groups of up to 80, conducted biographical interviews, completed psychosocial assessments, monitored children’s adjustments into their home, and accompanied families to court. While doing all of that, I worked around 50 hours and drove around 700 miles a week. The driving was actually quite nice; it provided time to relax between appointments.

The variety in social work is invigorating and challenging; I’ve often commented that in the last seven years, I’ve only been bored twice. I love investing in people’s lives, knowing their stories, and watching them learn to solve their own problems. Perhaps the most joyous aspect of my job has been going to court when kids’ adoptions are finalized. I’ve probably had the only job in the world where every time I’m in court, the judge is smiling.

Now I’ve transitioned into self-employment. I write program statements for agencies, offer therapy to families considering adoption, and write movie reviews and discussion guides for adoption families to use.

The energy and variety of social work also produce some difficulties. One large challenge is that you work with people. Supervisors, other social workers, adoptive parents, birth parents, and kids all have personalities, desires, and varying levels of people-skills. It can be easy to become disheartened when another worker’s stubbornness seems to adversely affect children. The work often feels “unfinished,” and many workers work long hours trying to stay on top of huge amounts of work. Prioritization is vital!

The real challenge of social work is deeper than the work we do; it’s an internal challenge. Every social worker must have a deeply-rooted identity as an individual of worth. That way, the ups and downs of the profession don’t knock you over.

Social workers are helpers. We don’t make lots of money, but our work is very enriching to our clients and to ourselves. I wouldn’t trade with anyone.

This guest post was written by Addison Cooper, a licensed clinical social worker in California and Missouri who has helped complete 100 adoptions from foster care and writes adoption movie reviews at