Five Settings to Find a Job in Social Work

Social Work Job Environments

Social workers can find employment in various different settings ranging from hospitals to military bases and from schools to correctional facilities. Social workers can open private practices, work for non-profit organizations, or choose from a wide range of other environments depending on their qualifications, interests, and areas of expertise. Although licensing occurs on the state level and specific credentials required may vary from state to state, in general, there are four major levels of social worker, those with bachelor’s or master’s degrees but no post-graduation experience, advanced generalists holding an MSW degree and having at least two years of supervised experience, and clinical social workers holding an MSW and having at least two years of clinical work experience. Some of the more common environments in which social workers can find positions include:

  • Hospitals
  • Correctional Facilities
  • Substance Abuse/Addiction Treatment Centers
  • Schools
  • Private Practice


Clinical and generalist social workers can choose to work in hospitals and form an integral part of healthcare teams. Increasingly, medical professionals are aware of the degree to which social environments and support systems can affect medical outcomes. Social workers can help patients communicate with other medical personnel and serve as patient advocates, often ensuring that the patient is treated as a full person rather than simply as a collection of diseases or conditions, and ensuring that the patient experiences a smooth transition out of the hospital and the needed support for a prolonged recovery.

Correctional Facilities

Social workers have many opportunities to work in correctional facilities in roles such as youth correctional counselors or corrections social workers. In such positions, social workers may address mental health and addiction issues as well as providing supervision and counseling essential to the gradual rehabilitation and reintegration into society of inmates. Such positions may be available in jails, prisons, juvenile facilities, and halfway houses.

Substance Abuse/Addiction Treatment Centers

Social workers are on the front line of the struggle with addictions and substance abuse, helping clients with addictions to alcohol, drugs, nicotine, pornography, gambling, and other activities or substances. Although according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addictions may be treated in many different environments, one type that frequently employs addiction social workers are addiction treatment centers technically known as “therapeutic communities.” These centers can range from luxurious for-profit facilities to ones that specialize in working with lower income clients, and everything in between. They afford social workers specialized in the treatment of addiction the opportunity to concentrate on their area of expertise.


Social workers have multiple roles in schools, ranging from helping special needs students to providing a channel of communication between schools and families. They can intervene to help bullied children or alert authorities when there are signs of child abuse. Some work in university student health centers, providing clinical services.

Private Practice

Clinical social workers can be employed in private practices, focusing on such areas as psychotherapy, addiction, or family counseling. They can start their own practices or work as part of a group practice. Although the majority of social worker private practices focus on psychotherapy or counseling for individuals, some social workers create business consulting companies which work with the corporate sector.

Related Resource: Top 10 Affordable Master of Social Work Online (MSW) Degrees

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the forecast for employment in social work is much faster than average growth with a projected growth rate of 16 percent over the next decade. Social workers will continue to have opportunities to work in diverse settings from schools to nursing homes, hospitals to private practices, and addiction treatment centers to correctional facilities, with different areas of specialization and certification opening up a wide range of career options.