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5 CAREER PATHS FOR A PH.D. IN SOCIAL WORK

By Saybrook University

A social worker works for a private organization or in conjunction with social services to support the needs of a given community. Social work aims to enhance the overall well-being of a set of people in a society, meet basic needs, and solve complex community-based issues.

What does a social worker do?

A social worker helps people manage the problems in their daily lives. Clinical social workers may also work with traumatized patients and offer support to those with emotional and mental health needs.

At a glance, the duties of a social worker include:

  • Connecting clients with social services and identifying members of the community who have social needs
  • Assessing and documenting the needs of clients, providing solutions on social problems, and linking the government and social services to clients
  • Serving as social advocates and responding to crises like mental health emergencies and child abuse
  • Providing psychotherapy services and following up with clients to ensure progress
  • Maintaining proper records
  • Diagnosing mental health conditions and protecting the vulnerable from abuse

A social worker’s clientele includes children, families, and the elderly. Many times, individuals require the help of a social worker after finding themselves in vulnerable situations or while facing personal challenges that require monitoring and empathy.

Major skills that a social worker should have include:

  • Patience
  • Empathy
  • Flexibility
  • Commitment
  • Excellent communication and problem-solving skills
  • Freedom from bias and ability to work with people from different walks of life
  • Analytical skills

5 career paths to pursue with a Ph.D. in social work

A social worker can specialize in diverse fields and work with a wide range of individuals. By achieving a Ph.D. in social work, you may be suited for these careers.

1. Child welfare social worker

A child welfare social worker provides support to children, parents, and related government agencies to ensure the safety and well-being of the child under their case. A child welfare social worker will help minors through difficult times by talking to the children and their parents, creating actionable plans, and helping families navigate legal systems.

2. Clinical social worker

As a Ph.D. holder in social work, you have the opportunity to pursue a career as a clinical social worker. This role involves working with patients struggling with emotional and mental health problems, as well as providing therapy sessions and other forms of treatment to clients.

3. Marriage and family therapist

A social worker may pursue a career as a marriage and family therapist to ensure the optimal functioning and well-being of a family unit. Marriage and family therapists may offer therapy and counseling sessions to various members of a couple or family either individually or in a group setting.

4. Social and community service manager

The nature of a social and community service manager is to manage and implement several social assistance programs and community services within a given area. In this role, you have the opportunity to enact positive development and change in a community all while tackling larger societal issues.

This role may also involve working directly with clients to deal with social and personal problems.

5. Health care social worker

By becoming a health care social worker, you could work in hospitals, clinics, or other health care facilities and serve as a patient liaison.

In this role, you’re able to help vulnerable clients and their families plan and prepare to ensure that they get the best medical attention for their conditions. Health care social workers may also offer mental health resources to patients and families.

How to become a social worker

To be a social worker, you must achieve formal educational requirements as well as experiential learning and soft skills.

Explore the six essential steps to achieving a career in social work.

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree: Having a bachelor’s degree is the first and most essential step to becoming a social worker. A prospective social worker should take courses that relate to social work like Social Work Practice and Case Management. The prospective social worker should also seize opportunities for fieldwork and internships in preparation for social work.

2. Choose a specialty in social work: This aids the future social worker to focus and have specialized knowledge in the chosen field.

3. Internship: A social worker in the making should complete at least one internship or field attachment in social work at organizations like schools, government agencies, or social services. This is one of the requirements for a social worker’s license.

4. Earn a master’s or Ph.D. in social work: This degree provides social workers with more career and research opportunities as well as specialized knowledge in their chosen field.

5. Obtain professional certification: A social worker in any state must have that state’s specific permit or license to practice. Each state has different requirements that the social worker must meet in order to obtain a license.

6. Find a job: When an aspiring social worker has met all the above requirements, it’s time to research job opportunities and work to achieve their dream role.

Programs for a Ph.D. in social work

With a doctorate in social work, the opportunity for a fulfilling career will grow across a wide variety of professional settings.

At Saybrook University, our Ph.D. program in integrative social work combines the time-honored traditions of social work with the values of social justice and social transformation.

Through enhanced leadership and research skills, graduates of this program are prepared to effect change as administrators, teachers, consultants, and practitioners in academic, community, corporate, and clinical settings.

Whatever path you choose, social work will provide you with a highly professional and prestigious career that allows others to lead safer, more fulfilling lives.


Visit our program page to learn more about Saybrook’s Ph.D. in Integrative Social Work or fill out the form below to request more information.

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