National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Recognizing the Important Role of Social Workers
By Angelo McClain, Ph.D., LICSW
March is National Social Work Month and social workers across the U.S. are celebrating this year with the theme “All People Matter.”
Social workers help people overcome life’s most difficult challenges: mental illness, addiction, poverty, discrimination, abuse, physical illness, divorce, loss, unemployment, educational problems and disability. They help prevent crises and counsel individuals, families and communities to cope more effectively with the stresses of everyday life. Social workers focus on improving individual well-being in the context of family and other social structures, such as work and community.
The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs of those who are vulnerable, oppressed and living in poverty. Clinical social workers are the largest group of professionally trained mental health providers in the United States, rendering the majority of counseling and psychotherapy services in the country. There are more clinically trained social workers—over 200,000—more than psychiatrists, psychologists and psychiatric nurses combined. Federal law recognizes social work as one of five core mental health professions. Social workers are highly trained and experienced professionals. Only those who have earned social work degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral levels—and completed a minimum number of hours in supervised fieldwork—are professional social workers.
Social workers are employed in mental health clinics, schools, hospitals, homeless shelters, senior centers, universities, social service agencies, and the military. They can be found in all levels of leadership in the non-profit, for-profit and government sectors, including state and federal elected office.
Since the profession began over 100 years ago, social workers have been leaders in social reform movements in the United States. They continue to address the needs of society and bring our nation’s social problems to the public’s attention. Social workers were instrumental in the civil rights movement, the establishment of Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, efforts to ensure humane treatment for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities, and on-going efforts to expand health care access for all.
I’m honored to belong to a profession that recognizes that all people matter. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the dedication of social workers throughout our nation.
Angelo McClain is the chief executive officer of the National Association of Social Workers. For more information about social workers, visit www.socialworkers.org or follow hashtags #SocialWorkMonth and #AllPeopleMatter on Twitter.