Unfortunately, misconceptions exist in every profession and social work is no exception. The prevailing misconceptions often hinder individuals from accessing the valuable support provided by social workers and/or dissuade aspiring students from pursuing a social work degree, both of which place an enormous strain on the mental health system. At the Toronto Psychology Clinic, we provide education to the public on mental health and its related services. We want to do our part in shattering these myths and exposing the realities of social work. In this blog, we aim to debunk some of the most common misconceptions about social work in hopes of cultivating informed and healthy communities.
Generally, a social worker’s job entails assisting their clients to achieve optimal psychosocial and social functioning by helping them develop better coping skills and find effective solutions to their problems.
Social Workers only work with CAS or people in extreme poverty
It is true that many social workers provide assistance to clients in poverty who are unable to seek representation for themselves and require access to needed resources. This is typically due to the fact that social workers are often the only professionals in mental health who have the expertise and availability to provide services in poverty-stricken communities. However, a broad range of specializations exist in social work aside from poverty and child welfare interventions. Social workers can work in family agencies, hospitals, mental health settings, addiction treatment facilities, correctional facilities, schools, seniors’ services, grassroots social action organizations, government offices, social planning councils, employee assistance programs, and more. In Ontario, it is actually social workers who provide the majority of counselling and psychotherapy services. These social workers can address a variety of therapy needs, including, but not limited to, trauma, anxiety, depression, grief, couples counselling, addictions, and more. Some even have advanced clinical training to help with severe mental health issues.
Anyone can call themselves a social worker
This is a pervasive myth that undermines the effort and commitment that social workers have to their profession. Like any regulated practice, successful social workers must encompass a wide range of knowledge and skills that will prepare them for the challenges they will face. Knowledge of the tangible and technical skills learned through formal education and training is required, but social workers also require soft skills that develop over time through experience, such as communication, critical thinking, and cultural competence. The professional commitment to their work requires a level of dedication to their clients, strong ethics and social justice. Social Workers must adhere to a code of ethics and standards of practice.Social workers have university degrees in social work. These degrees can include the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), the Master’s in Social Work (MSW), and the Doctorate in Social Work (PhD/DSW). Social workers may also have additional training in specialized areas of practice. To be called a social worker, the individual must be registered with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers.
Social service workers and caseworkers are “social workers”
The short answer is that social service workers and caseworkers are not social workers unless they acquire a social work degree and are registered with the Ontario College of Social Workers.
‘Social work’ is a broad term and there are a variety of occupations within this field that deal with individual, interpersonal and societal issues. Understanding the different but sometimes overlapping occupations is an area of confusion for some people. Social service employees often work in group homes, shelters, maintenance and youth programs, and other community-based health centers. Alternatively, social workers have a wide range of workplace settings, such as family service agencies, general and psychiatric hospitals, community centers and school boards, correctional institutions, federal and provincial offices, and social service agencies. Both social service employees and social workers are regulated by the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers and are protected titles, but the scope of practice and educational requirements differ for each. After obtaining a two-year college diploma in a Social Service Worker program (or equivalent), you can register with the OCSWSSW as a social service worker. In order to become a social worker, a Bachelor of Social Work is required, which is four years of post-secondary education.
Caseworkers and community workers require a college diploma and generally help provide community services to their clients, such as legal help, medical attention and financial assistance.
Social Workers take kids away and separate families
Infamously known for removing children from families in TV series and movies, social workers are often depicted as the catalysts of emotional trauma and deep distress for lovable characters. These scenarios can become the first known association many people have with social workers, influencing their perceptions and adding to the confusion of this already misunderstood profession. Furthermore, these climactic moments have historically included white-identifying social workers and their clients of colour, creating an obvious racial disparity. Although the most common ethnicity of registered social workers remains white, there is a rise in ethnically diverse social workers in the profession. It is important for clients to seek therapists and organizations that grasp the historical significance of race and how it impacts our day-to-day lives, work and interactions.
Social workers have a strong focus on strengthening families with the intention of creating safe and loving homes for children. Like all other professionals, social workers have a duty to report suspected child abuse. It then becomes the responsibility of children’s aid societies to investigate the allegations of abuse or neglect. Substantial evidence is required in order to remove children. If these circumstances do occur, they are not permanent, and the agency will reassess the family situation to see if the children can be safely returned to their homes. Social workers who are employed by children’s aid societies are exclusively centred on the children, as mandated by provincial regulation.
Psychotherapists and psychologists give the best counselling
Psychologists and psychotherapists often receive training that focuses on mental health diagnosis and treatment, whereas social workers are trained in community-based interventions as well as psychotherapy. Social workers are the unsung heroes of the therapy world. They identify people and communities that need help and offer various forms of counselling and therapy in an effort to improve individual and collective well-being. This is a profession that advocates for social justice and social change, fair rights, and access to health and social services.
Social workers can also assess for clinical needs, but unlike psychotherapists and psychologists, they cannot offer a diagnosis. They can do client assessments in order to plan treatment or decide what service level the client requires and they can also collect information from multiple sources to evaluate if the treatment is effective or if the symptoms have reduced. Typically, psychotherapists and psychologists provide a diagnosis and then refer the client to a social worker for therapeutic treatment or talk therapy.
The essence of therapy relies on therapist-client compatibility, as they work together towards a common goal. It is important to find a therapist, regardless of their designation, that is the right fit for a client’s specific needs. Oftentimes, social workers offer sessions at a lesser cost with more availability and shorter waitlists. It is important for clients to prioritize their therapy needs and take advantage of suitable services accordingly.
There are no specialties in social work
While completing their bachelor’s and master’s programs, students enrolled in social work may choose to specialize in a variety of fields of practice. In an effort to increase their chances of finding future employment, these specializations can assist social workers in obtaining specific expertise and knowledge in their chosen area of focus. For example, a social worker may work in a legal or correctional facility if they are seeking to specialize in justice work. Other specialties in social work include, but are not limited to, advocacy and community organizing, international social work, child/family/school social work, mental health and substance abuse social work, social work with military and veterans, and social work administration and management. Another way social workers continue to grow in the workforce is by expanding their skill set and gaining certificates through professional development (such as certificates in CBT, EFT modalities, etc.).
Social Workers do not have a lot of training in psychotherapy
There are many social workers who have experience in hospital settings and private clinics providing individual, group, couples, and family therapy. Those who have been in the field for several years will charge as much or more than psychologists and psychotherapists. From a legislative perspective, psychotherapy is talk-based therapy and in Ontario, social workers can offer psychotherapy in a regulated environment. Differences in training may exist due to the social worker’s education, supervised experience, and the specific mental health issues in which they have competency.
At the Toronto Psychology Clinic, we believe that psychotherapy is about helping patients manage their mental and emotional health in a way that positively influences other areas of their lives. The high-quality psychotherapy services we offer can equally be provided by our social workers, psychologists, and psychotherapists. As a client-centred clinic, we understand the nuances beyond education and experience, and we strive to understand what our clients are looking for to find the ideal therapeutic fit. Our clinic has a variety of therapists who specialize in many clinical care services to provide ongoing mental health support services for our valued clients.
We want our clients to know that the Toronto Psychology Clinic is intentionally recruiting social workers and all therapists who understand the racialized lens. Our clinic strives to reface the occupation with equitable strategies focused on diversity and inclusion to enhance the learning experience of our staff.
Our social workers have advanced clinical training in providing psychotherapy in several different settings such as hospitals, community agencies, private clinics, etc. Through regular consultations and ongoing training efforts, our social workers are well-versed in a variety of therapy modalities such as EFT, CBT, and Gottman. We hope we have shed some light on the common misconceptions in the field of social work to highlight the highly beneficial therapy services that social workers in our clinic, and our community, have to offer.