What kind of person makes a good social worker?

I’m planning on going into an MSW program in fall 2007, concentrating on trauma work (UC-Denver has this program, and UW-Washington offers it as a separate module.) I’d like to work in hospice care, and also with rape and sexual abuse survivors. I plan to do 2 years of supervised work and then get my LCSW, probably going on to a social work PhD after that. (I already know I should probably stay away from DCS!) My question is, what kind of personality is best for different kinds of social work, maybe especially for the kinds of work I’m thinking about?


From my own experience, someone who is going into Social Work has to have the abilty to leave the work at work. A lot of areas of Social Work can be emotionally exhausting, and it can be difficult to have a home/family life if all your joy is sucked out of you by the things you have to deal with at work. I admire people who can do that. I wasn’t one of them. I tend to take my work home with me. (That’s why I have 8 cats!)

From those I’ve known it takes a very self-aware person. Someone who will know when it’s time to take a break, maybe hospice is getting too sad, rape/sexual abuse issues making you too angry. Time to do something else. Also someone who is willing to take a good hard look at whatever issues he/she has personally, address those, and keep them away from work. Assertive communication skills seem important, too. Be respectful, not aggressive, but very firmly hold your ground and accept nothing less than respect for yourself. Also, sounds obvious, but excellent listening skills.

Yes. Somebody who can empathize and be connected with clients, and also set appropriate limits about how much time s/he spends thinking about them when not at work. Being in therapy while in training is very helpful, too.

I agree with what others have posted so far. I have my Masters in Counseling Psych and did some of the work you are considering (not the hospice, but the rape and SA work).

Bundaries early, boundaries often—that’s the biggest piece of advice I have. Boundaries with your clients, your employers, even the other people in your life.

I think it’s natural when just starting out to be very full of energy and idealistic. I know for me, I was in a much different place personally (no husband or kids), so I was less affected by being on call all the time. I encouraged my clients to page me whenever, without strict parameters around when it’s necessary and appropriate. Thing is, people will page you for an emergency (to them) that isn’t an emergency (to you) and it’s very difficult to set boundaries after the fact.

It’s rewarding work, but also exhausting work. Make sure you build in vacations where you leave your beeper/cell phone/ whatever at home and have someone else cover your caseload. This can be difficult at the beginning when you’re not pulling in a lot of money, but it’s the best thing to prevent burnout.

The boundaries with friends was important to me because I had some very needy people in my life who treated me like I was their therapist. Most days, I was so tired from listening to other people, that it was just unbearable to have one more person talk at me and want me to help with their problem. You need reciprocal relationships.

And after you graduated, when you’re still needing to build up hours before getting your LICSW, be careful who you go to work for. I was working at an agency that pretty much chewed people up and spit them out (after getting as much work as humanly possible out of them and then some). Fee for Service might seem attractive because it pays pretty well, but remember that you will have to pay self-employment taxes and that your time spent doing paperwork and making phone calls will be uncompensated.

Well, I’m getting ahead of your question, I guess. But it’s really important to look at how this will fit into your life big picture. I say this as someone who no longer sees clients and doesn’t think she will ever, ever go back. But that’s me—I had terrible boundaries, worked myself to death, and just burned out.

You have to be compassionate enough to really care about your clients and really be invested in making their lives better, while at the same time setting limits that keep you healthy and not burnt out. It’s really hard to do especially when you start out really energized to make a difference.

Be neutral and don’t apply your own point of view or biases too strongly rather than listening to what they really need. And have some basic optimism about other people and humanity in general because you’ll see some messed up stuff.

I got burnt out on it too and realized I am better at administration behind the scenes.

Good luck and don’t be discouraged, just be realistic.