About Social Workers

Social workers seek to improve the lives of others.

Social work is a profession for those with a strong desire to help improve people’s lives. Social workers assist people by helping them cope with issues in their everyday lives, deal with their relationships, and solve personal and family problems.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more than 715,000 social workers in the United States in 2020. With an expected growth in jobs of 12 percent by 2030, social work is one of the fastest growing professions in the United States.

Who are social workers?

Some social workers help clients who face a disability or a life-threatening disease or a social problem, such as inadequate housing, unemployment, or substance abuse. Social workers also assist families that have serious domestic conflicts, sometimes involving child or spousal abuse.

Some social workers conduct research, advocate for improved services, engage in systems design or are involved in planning or policy development. Many social workers specialize in serving a particular population or working in a specific setting.

What do social workers do?

  • Social workers help individuals, families, and groups restore or enhance their capacity for social functioning, and work to create societal conditions that support communities in need.
  • The practice of social work requires knowledge of human development and behavior, of social, economic and cultural institutions, and of the interaction of all these factors.
  • Social workers help people of all backgrounds address their own needs through psychosocial services and advocacy.
  • Social workers help people overcome some of life’s most difficult challenges: poverty, discrimination, abuse, addiction, physical illness, divorce, loss, unemployment, educational problems, disability, and mental illness. They help prevent crises and counsel individuals, families, and communities to cope more effectively with the stresses of everyday life.

Learn more about types of social work >>

Who employs social workers?

  • Professional social workers are found in every facet of community life—in schools, hospitals, mental health clinics, senior centers, elected office, private practices, prisons, military, corporations, and in numerous public and private agencies that serve individuals and families in need. Many also serve as social and community service directors.
  • According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), professional social workers are the nation’s largest group of mental health services providers. There are more clinically trained social workers—over 200,000—than psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychiatric nurses combined. Federal law and the National Institutes of Health recognize social work as one of five core mental health professions.
  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs employs more than 13,000 professional social workers. It is one of the largest employers of MSWs in the United States.
  • More than 40% of all disaster mental health volunteers trained by the American Red Cross are professional social workers.
  • There are hundreds of social workers in national, state and local elected offices. These include Sen. Debbie Stabenow (MI), Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37), Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-13), Rep. Susan Davis (CA-53), and Rep. Sylvia Garcia (TX-29).
  • Today, almost 50 special interest organizations contribute to the vitality and influence of the social work profession. There are social work groups for educators and researchers, as well as organizations for practitioners in health care leadership, nephrology, oncology, child welfare, schools, prisons, courts, and many other settings.

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Social workers are creative problem solvers who advocate for social and economic justice.
Social workers help people cope with the challenges of a complex, rapidly changing world.
Social workers are my collective heroes. They sit at the juncture between those with too much power and those with not enough.

- Gloria Steinem

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Meet NASW Members

We interview NASW members in every issue of Social Work Advocates magazine.

Read stories about NASW members

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Social Work Talks Podcast

Hear from social workers in a wide variety of practice areas about topics that effect their work.

Listen and subscribe to Social Work Talks

Social workers - Help Starts Here

Help Starts Here provides professional advice, inspiring stories, and ways to find a social worker.

Visit Helps Starts Here >>

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Social Work Oral History

The history of social work is long and deep. The stories of social workers are also about the communities they serve, the lives they changed and the policies they drove. The NASW New Jersey chapter launched a social work oral history project in conjunction with StoryCorps.

Learn about the social work oral history project

What Do Social Workers Do?