Human Services

1. What is the Human Services industry?
2. What skills are needed to work in the Human Services industry?
3. What graduate degrees are necessary for working in the Human Services field?
4. What Human Services resources are available?

1. What is the Human Services industry?

Human services careers fit into two categories: social services and mental health services. Social services specialists help people improve their quality of life. Mental health specialists work   directly with individuals who are trying to change behavior or achieve a better mental outlook. Whether someone is overcoming an addiction or healing after emotional trauma, a trained mental health specialist can provide the right guidance.

Social Services

Many community members need a helping hand to meet basic needs or to enjoy a higher quality of life. Among these are the developmentally disabled, the elderly, immigrants and refugees, substance abusers, and crime victims and
offenders. Social workers play an integral role in improving the lives of these individuals.

At a group home setting for developmentally disabled persons, a social worker might create exercise and recreation programs, oversee daily routines, and arrange medical care.

Professionals in nursing homes and senior community centers give direct care and help with issues related to social security and healthcare, while those working with immigrants and refugees do everything from getting work permits for their clients to finding them inexpensive medical clinics to helping them learn English.

One of the major sectors of social services is family service programs. A social worker involved in family issues helps to create a positive, safe environment within households. Duties of a family service social worker vary with specialties. A case manager often works for government agencies or for private groups funded by religious or fraternal organizations. Both child advocacy and adoption assistance make up especially large service sectors employing case managers. Some family service social workers specialize in counseling individuals within particular categories, such as victims of domestic violence or pregnant teens.

Other specialties include addiction recovery, childcare assistance, and help for low-income families. While there are many different options, the bottom line is that a social worker in family services helps meet a family’s critical needs.

Mental Health Services

While most counselors and psychologists see clients with a variety of needs, they tend to specialize in one or two areas. Specialties include family, marriage, children, adolescents, career, crisis intervention, substance abuse, and rehabilitation. Some counselors work in hospitals, clinics, schools, or correctional facilities; others venture into private practice. In every state, most types of counselors need some kind of licensing or certification. Getting a license generally requires earning a master’s degree, completing a specific number of supervised hours of practice, and passing an exam.

Sometimes counseling alone is enough to help a person get back on the right track in life; other times, more intensive treatment is needed. A psychologist is qualified to offer treatment that goes beyond guidance and support. He or she is a professional with a doctoral degree (PhD) and is qualified to test, diagnose, and treat a patient. Depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety problems, personality disorders, and childhood psychological issues are among the problems that psychologists are trained to handle.

Many times, psychologists work in conjunction with other human services professionals. A case manager or a family counselor will refer a client to a psychologist, while a psychologist will rely on a social worker’s reports for detailed background information on the patient. Teamwork is a vital element of the human services industry.

2. What skills are needed to work in the Human Services industry?

Employers in the human services industry are seeking individuals who possess the following skills: good listener, compassionate, objective, insightful, empathetic, supportive, balanced, sensitive, accepting, encouraging, analytical, and creative.

3. What graduate degrees are necessary for working in the human services field?

Masters in Counseling (MS, MA, MEd, MAEd): Counseling focuses on helping people resolve problems or role issues related to career, school, personal, or family matters. Counseling is generally concerned with “normal” developmental issues and challenges related to mental health and wellness rather than pathological problems. Clients’ issues are often instigated by a significant life transition.  Look for graduate programs in counseling that are CACREP accredited. Typical career paths include: Community Counselor, Gerontological Counselor, Rehabilitation Counselor, Substance Abuse Counselor, Marriage and Family Counselor, School Counselor, and Career Counselor.

Masters in Social Work (MSW): Social work focuses on the relationship between people and their environments or communities. Social workers often work with people who are members of disadvantaged or impoverished groups. Social workers strive to alleviate poverty, address injustices, and support the oppressed. Some social workers also work as therapists, performing roles similar to counselors. Typical career paths include: Social Worker, Case Manager, Child Abuse Investigator, Domestic Violence Counselor, Geriatric Specialist, and School Social Worker.

Masters in School Psychology (MS): School psychologists administer psychological tests and conduct research on the effectiveness of academic programs and behavior management procedures. They also consult with parents, faculty, school administrators, and other mental health professionals. The typical career path with this degree is School Psychologist.

Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT): Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) work primarily with families, couples, and individuals and frequently treat anxiety, depression, substance abuse, adjustment disorders, marriage and family conflict, and behavioral disorders in children and adolescents. The typical career path with this degree is Marriage and Family Therapist.

Doctorate in Counseling and/or Counselor Education (PhD, EdD): Doctorate programs in counseling most often focus on counselor education and supervision, i.e. teaching and supervising graduate students in counseling programs. Typical career paths include: Professor of Counseling, Counselor, and Administrator.

Doctorate in Social Work (PhD, DSW): Doctorate programs in social work provide preparation to teach or do research or policy analysis in either academic or non-academic research. Typical career paths include: Professor of Social Work, Administrator, and Social Policy Creator.

Masters or Doctorate in Industrial-Organizational Psychology (MA, MS, PhD): Industrial-Organizational (I-O) psychologists study behavior in the workplace. I-O psychologists are particularly interested in the interaction between people in the workplace, leadership development, organization and change, quality of work life, and consumer psychology. Typical career paths include: I-O Psychologist, Researcher, Trainer, and Human Resources Professional.

Doctorate in (General) Psychology (PhD): Psychology programs focus on conducting psychological research. Areas of psychological research include cognitive, developmental, behavioral, social, etc. Typical career paths include: Professor and Researcher.

Doctorate in Counseling Psychology (PhD): Counseling psych programs provide training in both psychotherapy and academic/career counseling. These programs also include some training in research methods, but usually are not as rigorous as in clinical psychology programs. The counseling psych model of practice emphasizes solutions and problem-solving, focus on normal lifespan development (as opposed to pathology), and work from a scientist-practitioner model. Masters degree programs in Counseling Psychology exist but are rare. Typical career paths include: College/University Psychologist, Professor, Researcher, and Administrator.

Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (PhD): Clinical psychology exemplifies the scientist-practitioner model more so than other types of psychology or counseling, in that clinical psych emphasizes both scientific research and clinical practice. Training in psychotherapy, and psychological testing are also important parts of clinical psychology. Masters degree programs in Clinical Psychology exist but are rare. Typical career paths include: Professor, Researcher, Psychotherapist, and Administrator.

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD): The PsyD is a fairly new degree, which focuses almost exclusively on psychotherapy training and minimizes training in research. Some PsyD programs do not require a dissertation and are best for people who are interested in practicing psychology and have no interest in teaching or research. One thing to watch out for with the PsyD: There are a lot of “Professional Schools of Psychology” popping up these days, so be careful about where you apply. It is always risky to apply to a clinical program (be it PsyD or PhD) that is not approved by the American Psychological Association. State licensure as a psychologist may be either very difficult or impossible to obtain if you don’t attend an APA-approved program. Typical career paths include: Psychologist and Professor.

Medical Doctor (Psychiatrist) (MD): Psychiatry is actually one of two related fields, the other being Neurology. Whereas, in general terms, counseling, psychology, and social work take a developmental approach to behavior, psychiatrists work from a medical model. Psychiatrists’ patients most often have some sort of physiological chemical imbalance, which results in abnormal behavior. Typical career paths include: Psychiatrist, Researcher, and Professor.

Others: There is a plethora of other specialized degrees and programs related to human services, such as therapeutic recreation, art therapy, dance therapy, and music therapy.

4. What human services resources are available?

American Counseling Association
National Board for Certified Counselors information for students
Council on Social Work Education
Advice on Grad School in Social Work
American Psychological Association
Careers in Psychology
Psych Web
Lots of Psych links
Human Services Career Network