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What do social workers do

What does a social worker do?

Published 14 Mar, 2022  ·  4-minute read

Social work is one of those mysterious professions where only those who work or study in the field really know what it is. So, just what does a social worker actually do?

The role of a social worker is to provide support and advocacy for those in points of crisis or life transition. They do this by working with people and structures to address life challenges, enhance wellbeing and promote social justice.

Social workers recognise the causes of most problems can be found in social and structural factors such as inequality. Using a person-in-environment perspective to understand people’s circumstances, they work with people to create a fairer, more inclusive society. They work with people with diverse abilities, identities and cultural backgrounds across various stages of life.

Social workers work as both individual practitioners and members of multidisciplinary teams. They use a broad range of methods to work with individuals, groups and communities to create change. These methods can include:

  • case management
  • supportive counselling
  • individual and family therapy
  • group work
  • community work
  • participatory methods
  • social research
  • social policy
  • advocacy.

Wondering how to be a social worker? In Australia, accredited social work programs, like the Bachelor of Social Work (Honours) and Master of Social Work Studies at UQ, are known as ‘generalist’ qualifying degrees. This means they give social work graduates a broad set of knowledge, skills and attributes so they can work effectively in a variety of practice settings including both non-government, community-based roles and statutory/government roles.

Olivia Wells quote

We assist with behaviour change, exercise, health eating, education, coming together in groups (being social) and improving wellbeing overall.

Olivia Wells
Bachelor of Social Work (Honours)

What do social workers do in different areas?

Olivia Wells, a UQ social work student, completed a placement at Southern Queensland Rural Health (SQRH) Health and Wellness Clinic in Toowoomba, where she was exposed to the different professional routes a social worker can take.  

"Social work is a diverse profession, as are job opportunities within the profession," she says.

"Being able to complete a clinical and research placement at the same time has given me a taste of just a few of those possibilities in one go, which I am extremely grateful for."

"I think that the social work faculty at UQ has prepared us with a strong theoretical base that has been relevant to my clinical and research practice."

The courses she's covered so far in the Bachelor of Social Work (Honours) equipped Olivia with the abilities and confidence to fully embrace her placement with SQRH.

"I've also used a lot of my practical skills taught in relevant subjects, which has made the transition to 'real' work much less nerve-wracking," says Olivia.

"We assist with behaviour change, exercise, healthy eating, education, coming together in groups (being social) and improving wellbeing overall."

There are many types of social workers, working in a range of settings. Below, we outline some of the career paths you could take after studying social work at university.

    Final thoughts

    Social work agencies are looking for a lot from graduates:

    • knowledge on policy, research and the needs of clients
    • skills of empathy, critical thinking and communication to meet those needs
    • values of respect for people, social justice and professional integrity. 

    UQ’s social work programs include 1000 hours of direct practice experience to help students develop these important attributes. Explore the Bachelor of Social Work (Honours) or Master of Social Work Studies today.

    Want to know more about the types of careers you can pursue with a university degree in health and behavioural sciences?

    Discover more career options

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