Becoming a Social Worker: Myths and Realities

Are you a do-gooder with a passion for transforming the world? Are you committed to empowering and advocating for the oppressed, changing social policy, or simply helping others improve their lives and well-being? Chances are, at some point you’ve considered becoming a social worker…but maybe you were put off by what you heard about this bad-rap career path. Here, we explore the myths and realities surrounding social work. Read the article, then decide for yourself – is a master’s in social work (MSW) for you?

Myth #1: Social Workers are Baby Snatchers

When you see a movie or TV show about a troubled family, who comes in looking stressed and beat-down, interviews everyone in a grouchy, attitudinal voice, and eventually removes the screaming and bawling child from the home? Yep… it’s a social worker. Sounds glamorous, right? And yes, social workers do assume this role if they are employed by Child Protective Services. However, removing a child from its home is usually the last option, for better or for worse, after many other interventions have been tried. Caseworkers have to show evidence of serious neglect for this to happen.

There are many career paths open to social workers. They can work at medical or psychiatric hospitals, universities, community agencies, nonprofits, or private practices, to name a few options. Learn more about MSW Programs and available career paths.

Myth #2: Social Workers Get Paid Peanuts

Well, they’re not usually rich. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for social workers is $42,480 annually. However, note that some social worker positions require only a bachelor’s degree, so the median salary reference includes both bachelor's and master’s degree holders. A 2009 National Association of Social Workers (NASW) survey indicates social workers holding a master’s degree earn an average of $15,000 more than those holding a bachelor’s. In reality, well-paying social work jobs may exist for those that require and/or value them. According to USAJobs.gov, social work jobs at the Veteran’s Administration start around $50,000 and some supervisory positions pay upwards of $100,000. And, for an entrepreneurial social worker who does private practice therapy, the sky’s the limit.

Myth #3: Being a Social Worker is Depressing

It certainly can be! Social workers often are the ones to have contact with the most marginalized members of our society – homeless individuals, people with severe mental illness and drug addiction, those suffering from unspeakable traumas. That said, some of us find it fulfilling to work with those who are struggling and witness their growth and transformation. And some social workers don’t work with such chronic and acute populations. It’s your choice, really.

Myth #4: Social Workers Have No Fashion Sense

This one, unfortunately, has been historically true. While corporate jobs call for style and pizazz, being a social worker, flaunting one’s fashion sense has been frowned upon. Now, it’s still pretty déclassé to sport all kinds of bling if you work with welfare recipients, or a sexy tight skirt while seeing clients for therapy. However, the world is changing, and the lines between personal and professional expression are becoming increasingly blurred. There’s no longer a need to wear burlap sacks and clogs, as the social workers of the past did. Like anyone, social workers must ensure that their style choices match their work setting (no high heels in the psychiatric unit in case you need to respond to an emergency quickly, for example), but there seems to be increasing room for clothing that actually fits and for colors other than black, grey, brown and olive green.

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