Social Work

9 Must-Read Books for Anyone Considering a Career in Social Work

9 Must-Read Books for Anyone Considering a Career in Social Work
If you're curious how social work began; want to know what compassion fatigue is and how to identify its onset; or if you just want to read the real-life stories of 58 hard-at-work social workers (and then another 62 more), we've got nine great books for you. Image from Unsplash
Nedda Gilbert profile
Nedda Gilbert May 30, 2019

Debunking the myth that social work can't be lucrative, plus a math-phobic MSW's guide to making it to graduation.

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Thinking about a career in social work? There’s much to consider. The day-to-day work that social workers perform is highly rewarding, but it’s also emotionally taxing.

The path to becoming a social worker is just as demanding. One minute, you’re in the classroom immersed in the required curriculum; the next, you’re working in your field placement helping a hospice patient navigate end-of-life decisions. Intense? Yes.

So, how can you know whether or not you have the temperament to endure as a social worker? Or whether you will enjoy the profession once you have cleared all the hurdles necessary to earn your license?

As in many professions, on-the-job learning is most effective, but what about those who aren’t in the field yet? The next best thing is to learn from those who have spent a lifetime as social workers. Fortunately, many of them have written excellent books that reveal all aspects of this rich, challenging, and extremely rewarding profession.

If you’re curious how social work began; want to know what compassion fatigue is and how to identify its onset; or if you just want to read the real-life stories of 58 hard-at-work social workers (and then another 62 more), we’ve got nine great books for you. Consider the below list a starter library for the prospective social worker in your life (especially if that person is you).

Note: Some of these books are very expensive. We recommend checking your local library first — or a local, public university (most of which have robust libraries that are open to the public, usually for a nominal annual fee). Many of the books on this list are available to rent (as ebooks) at more reasonable prices. When possible, we’ve provided links to the publishers — and it’s worth checking other online vendors to see if you can get a better price.

101 Careers in Social Work by Dr. Jessica Ritter__

Ever wonder how many career paths you can pursue with just one social work degree? If you want to learn about the versatility of an MSW or need help making an informed decision about whether to pursue a career as a social worker, 101 Careers in Social Work will set you right. Ritter provides insights into careers for those pursuing both the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) or the Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. The book also includes sections on social work salaries, debunking the myth that social work can’t be lucrative.


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Days in the Lives of Professionals by Linda May Grobman__

Another must-read for anyone considering a BSW or MSW, Days in the Lives of Professionals: 58 Professionals Tell “Real Life” Stories From Social Work Practice offers individual chapters focusing on the real-life professional experience of individual social workers. Most practice areas, though not all, are covered in these first-hand narratives that provide insights into the daily tasks and challenges of social workers.

Learning about all the career possibilities from well-chosen, representative practitioners should help any social worker trying to decide on a specialization. Grobman also published Days in the Lives of Social Workers: 62 Professionals Tell “Real-Life” Stories from Social Work Practice, which is worth checking out.

Empowerment Series: Research Methods for Social Work by Allen Rubin and Earl R. Babbie__

Every accredited social work school requires students to complete at least one research and statistics course. For math-phobic potential social workers, Empowerment Series: Research Methods for Social Work is the book to get them through that course.

Written in a reader-friendly, humorous style, authors Rubin and Babbie decipher the most confusing quantitative and qualitative research techniques and explains them in straightforward, surprisingly easy-to-understand terms. The book also spotlights changes to social work practice that have resulted from research studies, which should help motivate you when your confidence interval is low.

The Human Service Internship: Getting the Most From Your Experience by Pamela Myers Kiser__

Recognized as a national expert on internships and service learning, Myers Kiser offers a six-step model for making the most of the fieldwork experience in The Human Service Internship: Getting the Most From Your Experience.

Of particular value to any social work student are practical tips on how to make a stronger connection between classroom learning and fieldwork learning, and then how to apply fieldwork learning in the classroom. The book offers a six-step process for starting, completing, and processing the field-work experience.

Myers Kiser includes helpful real-life student reflections on their internship experiences. Regardless of where you do your field placement, the book will help you focus on maximizing the experience, serving as an invaluable guide in helping BSW and MSW students write their fieldwork reports and compose their final summations.

Note: The book covers all human services internships and is not focused exclusively on social work practicums.

Introduction to Social Work by Lisa E. Cox, Carolyn J. Tice, and Dennis D. Long__

The comprehensive Introduction to Social Work invites aspiring social work students to explore social work’s roots, history, and frameworks. The book focuses on advocacy practice as the primary means by which the social work profession has traditionally tackled social issues, and covers the various practice settings and career paths available to social workers.

The second edition reviews the 2018 Code of Ethics from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the accreditation parameters from the Council on Social Work Education in establishing the standards and practices for today’s social work profession.

Real World Clinical Social Work: Find Your Voice and Find Your Way by Dr. Danna Bodenheimer__

Many individuals pursue an MSW because they envision careers as clinical social workers (i.e. private therapists). In fact, clinical therapist/social worker is one of the most popular academic and professional tracks in the field of social work. In Real World Clinical Social Work: Find Your Voice and Find Your Way, Bodenheimer takes students and post-grads into the real world of clinical practice, covering practice settings, management of practice finances, and the intense transference and unforeseen feelings that can occur between therapist and client.

Bodenheimer offers valuable wisdom and thoughts on how to establish one’s professional identity as a clinical social worker. For any student considering this career and/or opening a private practice, this book is a must-read.

Sally Social Worker: You Know You’re a Real Social Worker If… by Laura H Frohboese (illustrated by Greg Russell)__

Not many people understand what it means to be a social worker. Sure, you want to save the world, but the work is insanely tough, the pay can be low, and you may find yourself in some dramatic, crazy, impossible situations. Who would even take this job?

Well, maybe you are just like Sally Social Worker, a tireless advocate for the vulnerable who believes in hope and also finds the humor in many social work situations. Presented in cartoon format, Sally Social Worker: You Know You’re a Real Social Worker If… is a fun, entertaining read that depicts many issues that social workers face, including having to explain to other people exactly what social workers actually do and why they chose the career.

Social Work Practice and the Law by Lyn Slater PhD and Kara Finck JD__

Many social workers work for vulnerable and low-income clients but lack the legal background and knowledge to represent them. Social Work Practice and the Law is a standout resource because of its focus on social work issues and perspectives. It’s low on legal jargon and high on legal information. Each chapter includes case studies illustrating the intersection between social work and the law in critical areas.

Social Workers’ Desk Reference by Kevin Corcoran and Albert R. Roberts__

Your one-stop resource for all things social work, the encyclopedic Social Workers’ Desk Reference is indispensable for students and practitioners alike.

Many students buy this book to supplement their learning in school and the field, for help with their school papers, or to use in preparing for the social work licensure board. Case studies included in the book bring true-story insights to social work learning.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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About the Author

Ms. Nedda Gilbert is a seasoned clinical social worker, author, and educational consultant with 25 years of experience helping college-bound and graduate students find their ideal schools. She is a prolific author, including The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and Essays that Made a Difference. Ms. Gilbert has been a guest writer for Forbes and a sought-after keynote speaker on college admissions. Previously, she played a crucial role at the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company and was Chairman of the Board of Graduate Philadelphia. Ms. Gilbert holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University and is a certified interdisciplinary collaborative family law professional in New Jersey.

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


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