7 Types of Social Workers Who Change Lives Every Day


You’re the friend to step up and offer a listening ear when you sense someone’s had a hard day. You’re the one to pull your family together through tough times or offer friends a shoulder to cry on. Your compassion stretches past your immediate circle, with a finger on the pulse of social justice and human rights. You’re a helper with a big heart and you’ve probably known for some time that you want to utilize these natural abilities throughout your career.

volunteer group receives food donation

That’s why you’re drawn to the social work field. You know it would provide the opportunity to make a difference. But what you may not know is that the term “social worker” is actually quite broad. In reality, there are several types of social workers specializing in different areas of practice, helping different groups overcome their own unique struggles.

Lucky for you, the outlook for the social work field is optimistic. Jobs are expected to increase at the faster-than-average rate of 12 percent through 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

This is encouraging for aspiring social workers like yourself. But which area of social work would be the best fit for you to live an impactful life? Keep reading to learn about seven types of social workers and get a taste of your options.

Types of social workers making a difference in the world

Studying social work provides students with the knowledge, skills and values to apply across contexts, communities and populations. However, there are various specialties social workers can pursue throughout their career. Check out these seven types of social workers that help specific populations.

1. Substance abuse social worker

Substance abuse social workers work in hospitals and rehabilitation facilities to assist those struggling with addiction, substance abuse or mental health problems. They work to provide short- and long-term solutions, offering resources and assessing everything from discharge plans to medicinal options.

By providing stability and support, this type of social worker helps individuals explore ways to overcome their addiction or work through an acute mental condition and ultimately lead as healthy a life as possible.

2. Community social worker

Community social workers help plan, coordinate and organize efforts related to specific local populations. They also work with community-based nonprofit organizations to help counsel families and neighborhoods in the wake of tragedies and natural disasters.

These professionals also work to solve local issues through community outreach, applying to grants and speaking with local politicians. They may work for advocacy groups, aid organizations or government agencies.

3. Hospice & palliative care social worker

When a family receives the devastating news of a terminal illness or a bleak prognosis, hospice and palliative care social workers can help ease the agony of the painful process for all involved. This type of social worker helps care for someone who is seriously or terminally ill, helping to provide pain relief, assist with difficult decision-making and improve quality of life for patients.

Their services go beyond the patients themselves, however, and also extend to patients’ family and friends. They assist these individuals with the trauma associated with having a sick loved one. Hospice and palliative care social workers help patients and their families navigate the last stages of life — and the realities of what is left behind for families.

4. Military & veterans social worker

social worker with military veteranA military and veterans social worker can help soldiers, either veteran or active duty, work through their feelings and adjust to life and family outside combat. The stress of military duty can cause turmoil within the lives of soldiers and their families. Many return from duty with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), guilt over actions in combat, terrible nightmares or even boredom with everyday life.

Whether helping soldiers who have just been deployed or those returning home after time served overseas, military and veterans social workers specialize in providing support to soldiers and their families for post-traumatic stress, role adjustments, the implications and stressors of returning home, and the substance abuse that may occur as a result of combat.

5. Child, family & school social worker

The child, family and school social worker handles all sorts of situations involving youth. They may help a child who has experienced trauma or abuse, or assist parents in acquiring resources for their child who is suffering from a mental illness.

Those working in a school setting help identify and overcome obstacles that interfere with learning. Whether it’s counseling students through the loss of a peer, helping to bridge the gap between school and home life, or resolving behavioral issues, these professionals are employed to support children and help them thrive.

6. Psychiatric social worker

For patients who have received mental health services in a hospital setting, it might be difficult for them or their family members to know where to turn after hospitalization. That’s where a psychiatric social worker can help.

These social workers provide therapy and assess the psychiatric health of their patients. They work with the individual’s family to make referrals, provide resources, and understand legalities and long-term care options.

A psychiatric social worker ensures patients are discharged only when ready and can further assist by providing mental health assessments or therapy. In a world of confusing procedures and legal ramifications, a psychiatric social worker can make things easy to understand and much less stressful for patients and their loved ones.

7. Healthcare social worker

Healthcare social workers are found within the healthcare industry and help patients navigate the emotional, physical and financial hardships associated with serious medical conditions. Patients that are in and out of hospitals with chronic or terminal medical conditions may be overwhelmed with turmoil. They and their family may not know what to expect. They may not understand the breadth of treatment and end-of-life care options. They may need financial guidance or connections with religious leaders in the area.

During this time of stress, grief and uncertainty, healthcare social workers provide stability, reassurance and direction to those who may not know where to turn next.

Be the source of strength for those who need it

Everyone goes through tough times — whether it’s poor health, tragedy, natural disaster or other difficult life experiences. Luckily, no one has to go it alone — professional social workers work every day to provide the guidance and reassurance individuals need to land on their feet and get their lives back on track.

And now you know there are plenty of types of social workers out there. This means you can choose to apply your passion toward a position you’re proud of.

Regardless of which area you choose to serve, it takes a special mix of compassion, emotional strength and personal drive to take on a career in social work. It’s not for everyone, but for those with the perfect balance of care and courage and practitioners of wellness and self-care, the call to social work must be answered.

Check out the Wheelock College Social Work page to learn more about how you can elevate individuals and communities to their utmost potential though our human rights and social justice-infused program.


  1. Great article.
    The vast majority of social workers I know went into it because they felt a sense of social justice and a need to support vulnerable people and make society a more equitable place for those at the bottom. I still volunteer many hours for charity now I’m qualified and being paid to help people as I feel it’s my duty and yes, it gives me an amazing feeling to know I’m changing lives. There truly is no better feeling than showing somebody who has been let down by the system and judged and disadvantaged by society that they are worthy of compassion and respect and we believe they have the ability to change their life for the better. The best compliment I’ve ever had is ‘you don’t just tell me what to do, you really listen and care about me’. That keeps me going when the days are long and the emotional strain is great.

  2. Great article.
    The vast majority of social workers I know went into it because they felt a sense of social justice