Social work is a quintessential “helping profession.” By helping people with issues in their everyday lives, social workers assist and advocate for people who need it the most. Social workers make a difference in at-risk populations through intervention efforts that work on individual and broad levels of change. Few professions can claim such a clear and direct way to impact people in need.
If you’d like to devote your career to helping people, you’ve probably considered a career in social work, but you may be wondering what it’s really like to work in that field. What does day-to-day life look like as a social worker? What are some surprising and meaningful insights to working in social work? And what should you keep in mind if you decide to pursue a career in the field?
We interviewed Kristina Stavroplos, a clinical social worker, to get her perspective on the profession.
1. Why did you want to become a social worker?
I chose to become a social worker because I grew up in a family that valued caring for others. I was often a listening ear and willing to offer others’ advice. I then thought I wanted to be a psychologist, but I found that my social work professors were so compassionate, warm, and in-the-trenches. I admired that, and I ended up double majoring.
2. What was most interesting about your education as a social worker?
I would have to say that, throughout my 6 years of education, each and every professor I had was so enthusiastic for their niche, and I soon learned that that’s how the field is. To be in this field, you have to be an open-minded, genuinely-care-for-others type of human being . . . (and) to know that I would be interacting with these amazing humans for the rest of my life in my career was a great feeling.
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3. Can you explain what your average day looks like?
The best part about being a social worker is that there is no average day. Of course, I can plan for my “ideal day” and have a cookie cutter plan, but chances are, it will never work out that way. Somehow, we all love that kind of chaos. There could be a crisis at least once a day, and that throws off everything, but it is an opportunity to help someone through one of the worst or lowest days of their life, and I get to help them. It’s a very rewarding feeling.
4. What surprised you most when you actually became a social worker?
I think what surprised me the most is how resilient my patients and clients are. Some of them have been through some pretty awful life circumstances and situations, and they are finding the silver lining. The same goes for my colleagues. They are the most selfless groups (of) people I have ever met.
5. What was something that surprised you about this career?
I was very surprised as to how generous employers are when it comes to self-care for their employees. We do some very challenging work, both emotionally and mentally, and it really takes a toll on our body at times. At my first job, I had months of vacation/sick time. Every employer I’ve had is beyond generous in time off so that I can take care of myself in order to best take care of my clients.
6. What is something you wish you would have known prior to becoming a social worker?
I wish I would have known that it’s okay not know things sometimes. People perceive us as having all the answers and can fix everything, but our job isn’t “fixing” people. My (patients) spend an hour with me a week. They put in all the work and apply what we talk about. If someone is stagnant or not successful in treatment, it’s not a reflection on me, and it took a while to come to terms with that. It can’t be taught.
7. What are some of your proudest accomplishments as a social worker?
I have saved many lives, and I value and care about each person who walks through my door. It is a gift in itself that my clients welcome me into the most vulnerable parts of their lives, and sometimes that means suicidal thoughts, self-harm, abuse, etc. I am proud that I can say I’ve saved many lives and have helped many get rid of self-harming behaviors and suicidal thoughts.
8. What is something you would want an aspiring social worker to know?
I think it can be easy to be discouraged when people know that someone wants to be a social worker. They almost pity us because of the pay. For having a (master’s) degree and starting off in the field, it’s sad how underpaid we are, but after a few years, it all works out.
9. Do you have any advice for students who are interested in studying social work?
Dip your feet in every aspect of the field that you can. The field has endless possibilities, and during grad school and even the first years in the field, you are trying to find your niche. A great reason to join the field is simply because you have so many options. After 20 years, you can switch from being a hospital social worker to, say, a school social worker or community mental health, crisis worker, etc.
Pursuing a Future in Social Work
If you’d like to enter social work, online degree options can help you to earn the education you need. The convenient online learning environment means that you’ll be able to study without having to alter work or personal commitments. You can study when and where it works for you.
Take a look at online BSW and online MSW programs today to get started.