Careers in Human Services
Working in the human services field can be a rewarding experience. As the name implies, the field involves various levels of providing services to people in need. The needs range from financial assistance, housing assistance, foster care, counseling, substance abuse, health services and the list goes on and on. Job opportunities can range from direct care professionals to clinical psychologist. It really depends on how far you want to go.
Human services professionals usually (not always) have at least a four year degree, typically in the following areas of study:
- Social Work
- Criminal Justice
- Early Childhood Development
A Masters or Doctorate degree in any of these areas can increase your chances for advancement. You can increase your opportunities by becoming a licensed provider in your state. A graduate degree is almost a necessity in today’s competitive job market.
Typical Career Opportunities (Not limited to this list)
- Counselor (Licensed or Unlicensed)
- In-Home Counselor
- Social Worker (Licensed or Unlicensed)
- School Social Worker
- School Guidance Counselor
- Outpatient Therapist
- Case Manager
- Probation Officer
- Behavioral Specialist
- Substance Abuse Counselor
- Eligibility Specialist
- Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist
Typical Career Challenges
Human services positions typically involve caseloads that can range from 30 clients to over 100 clients depending on the position. Eligibly workers in local social services agencies typically have the highest caseloads. I personally have a caseload of 30 high intensity clients.
In addition to high caseloads, many if not all of these positions are monitored by some state and/or local regulatory agency. Most agencies (public and private) that provide human services depend on some form of public funding from the federal, state, and local government. In most instances, the state requires documentation to be completed in a particular timeframe. In addition to the state deadlines, local deadlines are even more rigid to avoid Medicaid audits and paybacks.
When I first became interested in psychology and counseling, I always imagined myself sitting in a chair and talking to someone lying on a couch. That’s not exactly how it turned out but I can’t imagine doing anything else. I help people in need every day and I feel like I’m making a difference in my community.
Five things to know if you are pursuing a career in the human services field:
- Be prepared to write. Documentation is one of the most critical aspects of the human services field. As the old saying goes “If it isn’t in writing it didn’t happen”. Documentation of services that are provided is tied to funding and serves as evidence that services have been provided in accordance with any treatment or service plan. Documentation such as progress notes, quarterly reports, and assessments are also subject to subpoena and can be used as evidence in court.
- Be prepared to handle people with difficult behaviors. Many positions in the human services field require training in behavioral management. Depending on the position, you may encounter clients with aggressive behaviors. You may need to have additional training in specific physical techniques to manage aggressive behaviors. These trainings are usually necessary if you working in a psychiatric hospital or other residential setting.
- Stress is a part of the profession. I can’t think of any stress-free profession. Stress is natural in the human service field. In most cases, you’re working with people who are going through difficult times in their lives and they depend on your knowledge and expertise for support. Human service professionals deal with a great deal of stress that the general public may not realize. We deal with citizens who are often in crisis on a daily basis. Imagine yourself as an emergency services clinician dealing with individuals with suicidal and homicidal thoughts on a daily basis. How about working in a psychiatric facility and being at risk of being injured on a daily basis? Despite our training, there is no way to avoid frustration, stress, and feeling burned out. Every profession has some level of stress. However, stress in the human services field is more personal when you’re working with children, the elderly, and families in crisis.
- Develop good time management habits. Time management is also critical component to being successful in the human services field. As I mentioned earlier, human service professionals are often faced with heavy caseloads, deadlines, and regulations from state and local governments. It’s important to develop a plan to prioritize certain tasks to prevent being overwhelmed.
- Develop good communication skills. Communication is probably one of the most important skills needed to be successful in the human services field. Written communication in the form of assessments and competing reports is necessary to ensure that the services that were provided are documented appropriately. Oral communication is equally important. Public speaking and learning to effectively use verbal communication will give you an even greater edge and increase your likelihood for advancement.
Do you think a career in human services is right for you?
© 2013 Martin D Gardner