What Are Social Work Interventions?
February 01, 2022
Social work interventions are the long and short-term actions that social workers take to provide resources, advocacy, and services to people who need them.
When a social worker takes action or provides support to a client to help change a behavior or resolve an issue, that constitutes a social work intervention. These interventions can range from one-on-one counseling to community-wide policy implementations.
Social workers rely on various social work theories to identify, analyze, and treat problematic behaviors and mental health issues presented by their clients. These social work theories provide practice models and evidence-based frameworks for effective and comprehensive decision-making, problem-solving, and holistic treatment plans that social workers can utilize in partnership with their clients.
Systems theory, which places an individual at the center of an interrelated and complex set of systems (such as family, work or school, culture, and environment) and seeks to understand their influence on the individual, is one such framework. By viewing the client in the context of their larger environment or ecosystem, social workers can provide advice, advocacy, and guidance about social services and initiatives designed to help them. They also can provide ideas and solutions for reframing and restructuring those same environmental forces that negatively influence individuals.
Using evidence-based theories and frameworks helps social workers avoid bias and personal beliefs in their work, focusing instead on informed problem-solving techniques and the resources that are available to help their clients.
This article answers the question what are social work interventions? and also discusses:
- Micro vs. mezzo vs. macro social work
- Micro, mezzo, and macro social work jobs
- Do I need a master's in social work?
- What is a social work master's?
- What are the top schools that offer social work master's?
What are social work interventions?
Social work interventions are the long and short-term actions that social workers take to provide resources, advocacy, and services to people who need them. These interventions can involve arranging for housing, healthcare, health insurance and other social safety net benefits, child welfare services, family therapy, psychotherapy, academic support, and other human services that can help individuals or communities improve their education, health, and well-being.
For example, social workers sometimes deal with child welfare cases by removing a child from a home with violent family members or caregivers. They then work to provide support or additional resources to both the children and the family. Other times social workers can shift focus onto the larger forces influencing families and communities. They make recommendations to protect human rights by addressing discrimination, education, public safety, and social justice concerns.
Micro vs. mezzo vs. macro social work
Social work interventions are not limited to direct, one-to-one actions. Many involve providing resources to an underserved community. Shifting between the individual and the larger circles of influence constitutes a significant portion of what social workers do. These different levels of social work are divided into three groups: micro (individual client and families), mezzo (community, neighborhood, work, and school), and macro (culture, law, government, and historical influences).
The micro-level is the most familiar form of social work. Social workers here are focused on the individual or small family unit. They might utilize a crisis intervention model to address domestic violence or trauma, identify clients in a mental health crisis, or recommend treatment for someone suffering from substance abuse. Treatment and intervention on the micro level are one-on-one and focus on resources to find clients a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, a mental health counselor in a hospital, or temporary housing and food support.
The mezzo-level of social work widens the focus. It allows the social worker to examine larger groups of people who may need greater access to resources. This level looks at communities and neighborhoods, workplace environments, and school districts. It might involve finding funding for local programs, setting up clinics for youth at risk, and working with community organizers on gun violence or homelessness in a community.
The macro-level takes the widest perspective and examines institutional issues. Social workers here might work on changing healthcare laws or act as advocates for people with disabilities or veterans. Macro social work includes problem-solving at the state and national level through lobbying and policy change.
These three levels are interconnected and influence each other in positive and negative ways. The health of the individual is impacted by their community, and the reverse is also true. Social work training includes an understanding of all three, and how they impact each other.
Examples of micro, mezzo, and macro interventions
- At the micro-level: Social workers working one-on-one with a client might use cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness to help a client identify how their feelings and thoughts impact their behavior or reframe the discussion with narrative therapy to help separate a client's actions from their sense of self and self-esteem.
- At the mezzo-level: Social workers operating in a school system might help LGBTQ students form support and empowerment groups. Or, they might organize career academies in an underserved high school to provide academic and employment opportunities for students. They might also do group work in the community to support people grappling with alcohol use and addiction or grief and loss, or work on case management and outreach for a shelter or group home, or with helping new immigrants settle into a community.
- At the macro-level: Social work might take place in a nonprofit that supports veterans services, or an organization that works to support reproductive rights, wrongly convicted prisoners, or gun safety measures. This level of work is focused on research, reform, and improvement on a large scale—sometimes at the national level—lobbying government officials to address issues with healthcare, poverty, homelessness, disaster relief and unemployment.
Micro, mezzo, and macro social work jobs
Micro-level jobs include one-on-one care in positions like marriage and family therapist, hospice care worker, and counselor in child welfare, elder care, veteran counseling, and substance abuse counseling, or victims advocacy.
Mezzo-level jobs shift from the individual to groups and might involve being a caseworker at the VA, in homeless shelters, or for kids in foster care. Mezzo-level social workers may BE employment or housing assistance providers, support group counselors, community group leaders, or local health safety educators.
Macro-level jobs might include administrative or research work for organizations like the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the Association for Community Organization and Social Action (ACOSA), or the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP). Jobs can include program developer, program evaluator, social science researcher, policy analyst, lobbyist, and legislative aide.
Do I need a master's in social work?
For entry-level positions in the world of social work, a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) might be sufficient. However, if you plan to work in complex roles at any level, whether one-on-one in counseling as a clinical social worker or as a policymaker in a government position, you'll need a Master of Social Work (MSW) and licensure.
Earning an MSW means not only successfully finishing the curriculum but also completing the many hours of required fieldwork and on-the-job training. Years of experience count heavily toward applying for a master's in social work, as well as any job you apply for on your career path.
What is a social work master's?
A social work master's degree is designed to prepare graduates to work at all levels of care, and for licensure and certification to practice in their state. All MSW programs in the US must be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
How long does it take to earn this degree?
Typically, a social work degree takes two years of full-time study. Many MSW programs are offered in a full or part-time format, and in-person or online to give students the flexibility they may need if they are both working and going to school.
Some schools offer advanced standing programs which apply credits earned from an accredited bachelor's degree in social work toward a master's degree, which saves you time and money. Other options include an accelerated program, which allows students to work over four consecutive semesters to complete their degree. Both options include fieldwork placement and the same levels of coursework and research.
In addition to the anticipated application fee, there are some general guidelines you can expect for admissions to an MSW program. You will need to provide undergraduate transcripts with a 3.0 GPA, a personal essay that demonstrates your understanding of the profession, its values and ethical code, a resume, and letters of recommendation from professors, mentors, or supervisors that underscore your dedication to social work. Some programs may require Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test scores, though this is typically when an applicant's undergraduate GPA is below 3.0.
The curriculum will be program-specific, but many courses are foundational to social work. Students can expect to learn the history of social work, social work theories including systems theory, psychosocial development theory, and learning theory, as well as micro, mezzo, and macro levels of social work.
Coursework will highlight individual, family, and group work, ethics and law, the history of race and gender in social work, cultural competency, social welfare and social justice.
Specialization is where your coursework begins to focus on your career goals. Where do you see yourself practicing? Are you interested in one-on-one therapy work? Or do you see yourself helping to write policy?
Research the offerings of each MSW program you are interested in to see how you can specialize in areas like clinical work; management and policy; integrated health; community, policy, and political social action; or families, youth, and transition to adulthood.
What are the top schools that offer social work master's?
There are a number of top schools that offer a master's of social work including Boston College and Boston University, New York University and Columbia University, Howard University, Tulane University, University of Southern California, and Virginia Commonwealth University.
Most of the top schools listed above also offer online and hybrid MSW options. These flexible programs allow students to continue to work or participate from across the country in competitive and connected classes. They can save time and oftentimes money, and may be worth considering as you begin researching the best school for you.
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