March is Social Work Month

Melanie Dallas

The following item was submitted by Highland Rivers Health. – KtE

With only 12 months in a year and numerous causes to be recognized, it is inevitable that some months will have several awareness campaigns.

For example, while March is National Developmental Disabilities Month – as my last column recognized – it is also the month we honor a profession vital to the work we do at Highland Rivers Health: social work.

Sponsored by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the theme of Social Work Month 2021 is Social Workers are Essential. As head of an agency that employs dozens of professional social workers, I couldn’t agree more.

Social workers are not only essential to delivering professional mental health, substance use and disability services in our communities, they are essential to helping thousands of individuals achieve a life in recovery.

The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) developed a global definition of the social work profession, writing that, “Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people.”

The last part of the IFSW definition is a simple statement that captures the essence of social work as it applies to recovery: “social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing.”

That, exactly, is what social workers do at Highland Rivers – engage individuals (and often families) in addressing the challenges of mental illness, substance use disorders, and disabilities, in order to enhance their quality of life by learning to manage their illness, increasing their independence and being productive members of their community.

According to NASW, there are approximately 700,000 social workers in the U.S., a number that is expected to grow to 800,000 by 2029. In Georgia, which remains one of the fastest-growing U.S. states, there are 14,000 social workers, who earn on average of just over $50,000 a year, higher than the state’s average income.

Although there are many people whose professions might fall under the broad category of “social work” – such as licensed professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, legal guardians for juveniles, mental health case managers and peer specialists, among others – the title of social worker actually only applies to professionals with a specific type of academic degree as well as specific professional license certification.

The Georgia Composite Board of Professional Counselors, Social Workers and Marriage and Family Therapists oversees state licensing guidelines for social workers, administers the necessary exams and issues the licenses.

First, to become a licensed social worker in Georgia, you must have a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. While it is not necessary to have a bachelor in social work, an MSW is required in most, if not all, U.S. states.

A person who has earned an MSW may first pursue an associate license (LMSW – licensed master social worker) by passing the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Masters exam; while this step is recommended, it is not required.

In order to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) – the professional standard for social workers – an individual with an MSW must acquire 3,000 hours of supervised social work experience over a time period of three to nine years, and pass the ASWB Clinical exam.

Obviously, becoming an LCSW requires a several-year commitment to education and training – but that important credential allows a social worker to practice independently and greatly increases his or her earning potential.

For most social workers, this profession is not just a job, it is a calling. Social workers may fill a variety of roles in a variety of organizations, but all of those roles – and the professionals who fill them – have something very important in common: their focus is helping others. I can’t think of a more important calling. Thank you to Highland Rivers’ social workers, and to professional social workers across the U.S.

Melanie Dallas is a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Highland Rivers Health, which provides treatment and recovery services for individuals with mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities in a 12-county region of northwest Georgia that includes Bartow, Cherokee, Floyd, Fannin, Gilmer, Gordon, Haralson, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Polk and Whitfield counties.

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