What you need to know about becoming a social worker

Published: October 2, 2018 / 0 Comments

How to Become a Social Worker

At times harrowing. Frequently rewarding. The social work profession is a calling, requiring one to have a passion for people and their wellbeing.

Key takeaways

  • If you’re passionate about others, their rights and their wellbeing, a career as a social worker may be your calling.
  • Social work is a profession that focuses on helping individuals, groups and communities to improve their wellbeing through access to certain facilities, care and assistance.
  • The field of social work is complex and varied often focussing on a wide-range of issues.
  • To be a successful social worker one requires a degree in social work as well as a variety of interpersonal skills and attributes.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world. The Dalai Lama said, “It is not enough to be compassionate. You must act.” And, Dr Seuss said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Do these words stir something in you? Are you passionate about others? About their access to healthcare, education and freedom? If this is the case, becoming a social worker may be your calling.

What is social work?

When defining the term social work, The South African Council for Social Service Professions uses the following global definition, “Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge’s, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing.”

In laymen’s terms social work is a profession which focusses on helping individuals, groups and communities to improve their wellbeing. Social workers often interact with the most vulnerable members of society, working hard to improve their lives and ultimately their futures. Depending on a person’s area of interest and experience the role of a social worker and the field in which they focus can vary greatly from one position to another. Generally, however, social workers practise in one of the following areas:

  • Child and family welfare
  • Marriage and divorce counselling
  • Care of the elderly
  • Medical social work
  • Psychiatric social work – Masters degree only
  • Social work with the mentally or physically disabled
  • Addictions focussed
  • Criminal offenders
  • Social work in the workplace or school

How does one become a social worker?

In order to practise as a social worker in South Africa one needs to register with The South African Council for Social Service Professions (SACSSP). The SACSSP is a statutory body under which falls the Professional Board for Social Work and the Professional Board for Child and Youth Care Work. The Council, in conjunction with its Professional Boards, works to protect both the integrity of the social service professionals and the public at large.

The most direct route to becoming a social worker would be to enrol for a Bachelor of Social Work. During their degree students are required to register for specific courses within the Faculty of Humanities with majors in social work, psychology and sociology. In order to qualify students also have to register for an internship, which requires them to complete a number of hours of field instruction at an approved welfare organisation in the social service sector.

What are the admission requirements?

Like most Bachelor degrees a National Senior Certificate is required preferably with English as a first language, as well as a second South African language and mathematics (at least standard grade). Keep in mind that a degree can only teach you the skills, your natural aptitudes and passion will make up for the rest. To be a successful social worker it is vital that you tick the following boxes:

  • You enjoy working with different kinds of people from various cultures and walks of life
  • You have both a good IQ and a good EQ
  • You have a desire to serve others and help them to live their best lives
  • You are sympathetic, but also objective
  • You are reliable and resourceful
  • You inspire confidence in others
  • You have good communication skills
  • You’re tolerant and even tempered
  • You have a good understanding of human nature
  • You experience empathy easily

Social work is more than a qualification, it is a calling. Although hugely rewarding it can also be particularly harrowing, especially in South Africa. Unless in private practise, and not always then, social workers are often not paid particularly well. Often, as a social worker, you are working because of a passion rather than a paycheque. If social work is your calling however, the money won’t matter. Instead, you will be driven by your determination to make a lasting change and to help others. Perhaps Dieter F. Uchtdorf summarises this passion best when saying, “As we lose ourselves in the service of others, we discover our own lives and our own happiness.”

Interested in learning more about psychology? SACAP offers a range of courses, including part-time and full-time as well as distance learning options. For more information, enquire now.

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