Changing Lives: Career Opportunities in Human Services and Social Work

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The common factor in all human services disciplines is a commitment to improving people’s quality of life. The human services field comprises a broad range of interdisciplinary subfields, and while some roles and responsibilities may overlap across disciplines, each subfield has its own unique academic and professional characteristics. Through advanced study of human services, social work or counseling, students can gain deeper insight into why the human services professions are so valuable to society.

What Do Human Services Workers Do?

Human services professionals take a number of different approaches to assisting their clients, depending on their areas of expertise. For example, psychologists and therapists focus primarily on providing mental health and counseling services. Some social workers and caseworkers also provide counseling services, but they may have a variety of other responsibilities, such as advocating for underserved members of society. Unlike these specialized fields of human services, people who choose to pursue general human services degrees typically learn how to coordinate the business aspects of firms that offer human services.

Human Services vs. Social Work

There are a number of unique responsibilities that set social work apart from other types of human services. People with degrees in social work are trained to help clients work through various types of challenges, ranging from substance abuse to family trauma. They can also help their clients obtain the resources they need to improve their quality of life, such as housing assistance or referrals to mental health care providers. After an initial consultation, social workers may either work directly with clients or refer them to other professionals who are capable of helping them.

All state social work licensing organizations require applicants to have a master’s in social work, have at least two years of supervised clinical social work experience and pass an exam. Many professionals in the field work either for or with social work agencies, and they may have opportunities to qualify for management roles as they gain experience.

In contrast, those who have general human services degrees are more likely to pursue careers that involve managing the administrative affairs of human services agencies. These responsibilities range from handling basic tasks, such as planning employee schedules, to setting organizational goals and creating long-term strategies. This gives them the versatility to cross into a variety of different industries, such as community management and social services.

Other Human Services Careers

There is a broad spectrum of work opportunities in human services-related industries, but advanced education is often necessary to qualify for advanced positions. By pursuing a master’s in counseling or human services, aspiring professionals can avail themselves of more lucrative job options in a number of different fields, such as the following:

Community Service Management

Public agencies that operate in any community often need skilled workers to oversee the administrative aspects of planning programs and projects in their areas. This requires analyzing data to measure the effectiveness of community programs and working with other stakeholders to determine when improvements should be made or whether a new program should be implemented. Because this process involves frequent planning and collaboration with other individuals and community groups, it helps to be skilled in communication, teamwork and time management.

Many community service management positions require at least a bachelor’s degree. Employers also typically prefer candidates with some relevant work experience, but the amount varies. By pursuing a master’s in human services or a related field, students could gain a competitive advantage when applying for more senior-level positions.

School Counseling

Students from kindergarten through high school need specialized attention from counselors to ensure that they are properly developing mentally, emotionally, socially and academically. School counselors assess the needs of students and design interventions that will help them find success in various aspects of their lives. Therefore, they must be equipped with the skills and knowledge to evaluate people and create personalized solutions to their problems.

There are different approaches to school counseling for different student age groups. For instance, elementary school counselors may focus on helping students develop basic skills, such as problem solving, while high school counselors spend much of their time helping students develop suitable academic and career plans. Many schools, including Wake Forest University, offer master’s degrees in counseling with concentrations in school counseling, allowing students to develop specialized knowledge in this area of the profession.

A master’s in counseling and state certification are required to practice as a school counselor. In order to earn the certification, graduates must complete a supervised internship or practicum and pass an exam. Some states may also require applicants to have a year or two of teaching experience or to hold a teaching license before they can apply for a counselor’s license.

Mental Health Counseling

Mental health counselors help individuals or groups of people work through serious problems, such as addiction, stress, depression and anger. This challenging occupation is best suited for people who have a high level of patience and empathy. Someone with these traits will be more capable of communicating effectively with their clients, making it easier to identify the root causes of their issues and develop effective interventions.

By earning a master’s in mental health counseling, students can expand their knowledge of the techniques and theories that they could put to use in future work settings, such as mental health facilities, hospitals, primary care offices and social services organizations. Every state requires mental health counselors to be licensed, and most require a master’s degree to apply for a license. Applicants may also need to complete one or more years of supervised internship work.

Employer demand for professionals in all of the aforementioned occupations is rising. The number of jobs in each of these professions is forecast to grow at a faster rate than the national average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Whether students choose to pursue a postgraduate degree in social work or other human services, there are many career possibilities for them to explore in the future.

Learn More

The online master’s programs in counseling and human services at Wake Forest University teach students valuable skills that can help fuel success in a number of possible career options, including social work, counseling and other human services subfields. If you are interested in becoming a catalyst for positive change in people’s lives, learn more about how Wake Forest University can help prepare you to achieve your professional goals.


Recommended Readings
What Is Human Services?
Counseling, Social Work and Psychology: What’s the Difference?
How the Pay-For-Success (PFS) Model Is Transforming Human Services

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social and Human Service Assistants
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social Workers
National Association of Social Workers
National Organization for Human Services