What Does It Mean to be a Social Work Generalist?

Social work generalist practice as outlined by the Council on Social Work Education is defined as follows. Generalist practice introduces students to basic concepts in social work, which include promoting human well-being and applying preventative and intervention methods to social problems at individual, group, and community levels while following ethical principles and critical thinking.

While this definition outlines well what social workers do, what type of jobs does a bachelor's in social work prepare you for? That is, what skills does the degree give you and how can they be applied to a real job opportunity post-graduation?

Social work education prepares students to enter the workforce with three perspectives which, when combined with personal interest, can be tailored to fit nearly any professional goals you might have.

Perspective 1: A Client's Right to Self-Determination

The first of the three perspectives is a client's right to self-determination. A client has the right to determine what's best for themselves within reason. For instance, if you like working with the elderly, you might be hired as a social service manager at a nursing home, where your duties may include working with a client to establish what services are needed (i.e. assistance with bathing), whereas a client may not be deemed legally fit to develop her own plan.

Perspective 2: Strengths and the Holistic Perspective

Second is a strengths perspective. That is, looking at a person holistically in order to determine what skills, networks, or resources a person might have in order to face a challenge. For instance, you might be hired by the county to work as an economic support specialist; you might be responsible for assisting clients to get enrolled in the Foodshare program. But let's say you are working with a family of six. While the Foodshare might meet part of their needs, some need is going unmet. Having a strengths perspective would be a useful tool to help you address how to meet the the remaining unmet need. (Perhaps a local church with a food pantry could assist in meeting their food needs).

Perspective 3: Eclectic or Integrative Perspective

The third perspective a social work education provides is the eclectic perspective. What this means is that social work integrates information from a variety of disciplines in order to make evidence-based decisions. Perhaps you are hired as a hospital social worker in an oncology department, where not only a need of social systems is important, but it must be integrated with knowledge of research on cancer patient treatment outcomes.


Being a good social worker means assisting clients in a variety of ways, utilizing these perspectives to make informed decisions. Being a social work generalist prepares you to enter nearly any profession within the social and human service field, depending on your own interests, by equipping you with three perspectives: client's right to self-determination, a strengths perspective, and an eclectic perspective. Therefore, utilizing these perspectives will help you be ready to enter nearly any social or human services role.

About the Author

Sean Inderbitzen graduated from Cairn University with a Bachelor's in Social Work. Certified in the state of Wisconsin to practice Social Work, he is actively involved in philanthropy for non-profits in north-western Wisconsin, working with organizations that provide services in the fields of mental health in both children and adults. You can follow on Google+.