If you know that you want to pursue a job that helps people, narrowing it down to a specific expertise or profession can be overwhelming. After all, if your main goal is to find a career that’s fulfilling and allows you to give back to others, you have a lot of choices.
You might be familiar with the field of social work and the fact that it allows you to help communities or individuals, but for many people their knowledge of the profession ends there. Like other helping professions, social work is multifaceted and can be tailored to fit your specific goals or interests.
Here’s what you need to know to compare the field of social work to other careers and helping professions.
What is a helping profession?
The American Psychological Association defines helping professions as occupations that provide health and education services to individuals and groups. Helping professions including occupations in psychology, psychiatry counseling, medicine, nursing, social work, physical and occupational therapy, teaching and education.
Social work is often considered the helping profession. This is because the primary mission of the profession is to help to meet the basic and complex needs of individuals, with a primary focus on populations that are vulnerable, oppressed and/or living in poverty. By helping their clients create a plan to address their issues in addition to helping them cope effectively, social workers focus on both the person and their environment.
Where do social workers and helping professionals work?
While many helping profession roles are restricted to their niche environment, such as nurses in a medical or clinical setting, social workers have the opportunity to work just about anywhere.
Social workers can work in a hospital providing medical case management, in a school leading workshops or other programs, in a prison providing advocacy and counseling, in a research environment studying human behavior or organizational outcomes, in a nonprofit agency in program development or grant writing, and so many others.
How do social workers and other helping professionals work together?
No matter what type of career you pursue within the field of social work, you’ll be expected to work as part of a high-functioning team.
Social workers work alongside other helping professionals to advocate in their client’s best interest. This could look like working with an attorney to present a care plan to the court on behalf of a client in foster care, or maybe it’s identifying a provider and arranging long-term care for a client in need of specialized care.
How much do social workers make compared to other helping professionals?
In 2021, the average annual wage for social workers was $51,530 with the highest 10% of earners taking home more than $82,000 per year. How much you’ll earn as a social worker will depend on the type of work you choose to do — Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) take home an average of $61,987 compared to an average of $48,472 annually for child advocacy social workers.
The earning scale for other helping professions is similar, and varies depending on experience, education and specialization. Teachers, for example earn an average of $51,443 per year, and mental health therapists take home $50,081 per year on average.
Start Your Helping Career — Become a Social Worker
If you’re ready to stop dreaming about a fulfilling career that helps people, a Master of Social Work (MSW) will prepare you for a wide range of helping professions — not just a traditional social work career. Learn more about the wide range of careers available to professionals with an MSW in our guide Social Work & Careers In Helping People.