5 Types of Social Workers5 Types of Social Workers5 Types of Social Workers

It’s not enough for a society to offer services to people experiencing homelessness, drug addiction, mental or physical illness, hunger, or oppression. People also need intermediaries to help them access care. These intermediaries are called social workers, and they reach out to clients through schools, healthcare facilities, community organizations, local government bodies, correctional facilities, and more.

Social workers train to improve people’s lives, whether by working with individuals or by conducting research and even influencing policy decisions. The field of social work offers many different career paths, as evidenced by the following 10 types of social workers.

A child welfare social worker reads a book with a young child on a bench.

Different Types of Social Workers

Prospective social workers can choose to specialize in different environments, where they may encounter diverse types of clients. Licensing and education requirements differ across the social work spectrum. Notably, clinical social workers — those who can diagnose mood and behavioral disorders — need a master’s degree and a state license to practice. These professionals are known as licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs).

However, many nonclinical careers in social work need only a bachelor’s degree. Credential requirements vary by state; in some states, individuals may become an LBSW, or licensed baccalaureate social worker.

1. Private Practice Social Workers

Private practice social workers, who may operate as part of a group or in solo practice, address such diverse problems as:

  • Unemployment
  • Divorce
  • Addiction
  • Mood disorders
  • Abuse
  • Illness

Private practice social workers assist their clients in finding resources to cope with these issues. They then follow up on their clients’ progress. As clinical social workers, they need to hold a state license.

2. Community Health Workers

Community health workers advocate for communities — often for marginalized people or for specific demographics, such as children or the elderly — and ensure these populations get access to social services. Community health workers help combat major persistent inequities in healthcare, like those affecting immigrants, minority communities, and LGBTQIA individuals.

3. Disability Social Workers

These social workers offer support for people with disabilities. They connect clients with services such as healthcare and job training, as well as educate them about their legal rights to accommodation and freedom from discrimination. Disability social workers can act as valuable allies when dealing with bureaucracy and other problems.

4. School Social Workers

School social workers assist students of any age in facing daily challenges. They also intervene in mental health crises and other emergencies. Educational leadership may call on school social workers as consultants on disciplinary policy, according to the National Association of Social Workers. School social workers can help connect students with community resources outside the school system.

5. Mental Health Counselors

These social workers specialize in helping clients suffering from mental illnesses such as:

  • Mood disorders
  • Addiction
  • Eating disorders

Like other types of social workers, mental health counselors may specialize in working with certain types of people, such as people with addictions, teens, or elderly people.

Licensing requirements vary by state, but mental health counselors often need a master’s or other advanced degree in their field. They may be classified as LCSWs.

6. Probation Officers

Probation officers connect individuals who are incarcerated, paroled, or on probation to services that can help them reintegrate into society. These services may include:

  • Job training or placement organizations
  • Addiction counseling centers
  • Nonprofits specializing in prisoner reentry

These social workers also assess incarcerated people’s progress toward rehabilitation.

Federal probation officers need a bachelor’s degree, while state probation officers have varying requirements. In some states, they only need an associate degree.

7. Eligibility Workers

This type of social worker carries out assessments of people who may be eligible for government-provided social services. Governments themselves often hire these workers to match potential clients with social services like:

  • Medicaid
  • Public housing
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits
  • Employment services

A small number of eligibility workers lend their talents to nonprofits. Eligibility workers often have a bachelor’s degree or an associate degree.

8. Child Welfare Social Workers

As some of the most vulnerable members of society, children sometimes need social workers’ advocacy. Often, this means that social workers advise families on nurturing and raising children. Unfortunately, social workers may have to remove children from their homes to ensure their safety. They connect these children with services to protect their welfare.

The child welfare social worker role requires a bachelor’s degree at minimum.

9. Healthcare Social Workers

Healthcare social workers can aid people in hospitals and clinics, helping their clients navigate healthcare systems and review treatment options. Like mental health counselors and private practice social workers, healthcare social workers often need training and licensure beyond a bachelor’s degree.

10. Social Work Researchers

This category is something of an outlier among these 10 types of social workers. Rather than deal directly with the public, social work researchers usually remain in academia or enter research institutes or government agencies, where they study the effectiveness of social work policies and practice. These researchers aim to improve the field of social work as a whole.

Social Work Career Growth

Social work is an expanding field. As the American population ages, inequality grows, and healthcare crises like COVID-19 continue to loom, social workers play an important role in keeping people housed, fed, and healthy. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts social work jobs will grow by 12% between 2020 and 2030.

Overall, social workers in 2021 earned a median salary of about $50,390, according to the BLS. Salaries vary widely depending on the field and the required training and experience. As of June 2022, eligibility workers’ typical salaries ranged from around $29,000 to $57,000, according to PayScale, while probation officers’ salaries ranged from about $32,000 to as high as $72,000.

Choosing Your Social Work Path

If you have a passion for helping people weather dire situations and improve their lives, you may have a future in social work. Read about Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Social Work program to get started on this fulfilling career path.

Recommended Reading

BSW vs. MSW: Exploring Two Social Work Degrees

Improving Community Safety Through Social Work

Mental Health Counseling vs. Social Work


Indeed, “Social Worker vs. Counselor: What’s the Difference?”

LegalJobs, “Probation and Parole Officer: Duties, Requirements, and Job Prospects”

National Association of Social Workers, School Social Work

National Association of Social Workers, Specialty Practice Sections

National Association of Social Workers, Types of Social Work

ONet, Eligibility Interviewers, Government Programs

Oxford University Press, “The Critical Importance of Community Health Workers as First Responders to COVID-19 in USA”

Payscale, Average Eligibility Worker Hourly Pay

Payscale, Average Probation Officer Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social Workers

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