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, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing.
Social work operates at the interface between people and their social, cultural and physical environments. Human needs are always seen in the context of socio-political and environmental factors. While social work practice is diverse, it can generally be broken up into the following areas of practice:
Sociology and social work are two related fields which both deal with the relationships of human beings to their social environments. However, the two career paths involve very different work environments, practices and educations.
Sociology and social work are very different careers with different educational pathways. While both draw on a similar body of knowledge, sociology generally focuses on research and study while social workers are more directly involved with applying knowledge about society to assisting individuals and families. Consequently, a sociology degree will typically involve more theoretical and methodological coursework, while social work degrees will often have a large practical component focusing on current policy and specific therapeutic and service techniques.
Sociologists study human society and social behavior through research and examination of groups, cultures, institutions and more. They engage in detailed research projects, often using statistical and other methods from the social sciences including interviews, surveys and observations in the field. Their main objects of study are the lives of individuals and groups in the context of larger institutional, economic, political and social events and forces. Religious, political, cultural and other factors play an important role in their research, and sociologists often work closely with leaders and policy-makers on these and other themes.
Sociology puts an emphasis on theory and focuses on social groups to lead to individuals.
Social work while it deals with similar general issues to sociology, is typically a far more hands-on field. Social workers are either direct-service social workers, who provide immediate help to people with solving everyday personal and social problems, or clinical social workers, who help their clients cope with mental and behavioural issues in a clinical setting.
What Do Social Workers Do?
Although some professional social workers go on to teach the profession in colleges and universities, most social workers work in clinics, schools, hospitals and health institutions.
Social workers work on many issues, but focus more on developing individual, group or family counselling in order to improve their clients’ mental and emotional health and develop individual or family coping strategies for such challenges.
Social work focuses on problem-solving, is practice-oriented and tries to change or improve a part of society by focusing on each individual.
In general and psychiatric hospitals, social workers are members of the treatment team. They provide a link between the team and the family as well as with community resources. In these settings they contribute to the care, treatment and rehabilitation of the aged and of physically or mentally ill individuals, as well as the care of disabled persons.
In health and community services centres, social workers are involved in the provision of counselling to individuals or families and in providing services to seniors. Some work as community developers helping citizens to identify their needs and proposing ways of meeting these needs. Others may assist with parent-child relationships and marriage counselling. The services may be offered on an individual basis or in groups.
In the correctional field, social workers may be part of a team concerned with the social rehabilitation of young or adult offenders.