Human services practitioners focus on the basic needs of struggling or vulnerable individuals and groups, such as the disabled, low income families, seniors and youth. They also offer support to individuals with mental health issues.
Providers of this psychology subspecialty often create individual treatment plans to ensure their subjects are physically and emotionally accommodated. The typical human service worker is a professional or paraprofessional working in a group home, halfway house, correctional facility or community mental health or development disability center.
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What Does a Human Services Provider Do?
On the Surface
Human service workers assist their clients in becoming more self-sufficient. Achieving this goal may involve the teaching of new skills, the recommending of resources designed to push clients toward independence or helping clients bounce back from whatever setbacks they may be experiencing. Some human services workers will work directly with clients who are unable to care for themselves.
These individuals may include displaced children in foster homes and elderly persons in nursing homes or assisted living situations. In these cases, practitioners would simply provide or coordinate the provision of basic needs.
The number one objective for any human service worker regardless of level is to provide support that improves their clients’ lives. How they go about doing this will vary based on their client, level of training, organization type and their role within the organization.
Duties will vary by employment, but there are many common elements from job to job. The practitioner starts by evaluating the needs of their client. They do this by working closely with the individual; identifying existing problems; and observing factors like support system, environment and values.
The next step is to create a treatment plan that takes all these factors into consideration while keeping the client’s needs at the forefront. During this part of the process, a human service worker must realize that help cannot be forced, nor do they have the right to assume command over a client’s life.
Many human services professionals can empathize with the desire to step in and take care of clients with whom a bond has been formed, but the main objective must be to assist, not to control. That means trying to help a client make good decisions and giving them the resources and the inspiration to do so.
The last step in the process is to help the client put the plan into action or — in cases of those who cannot function physically on their own — coordinating the proper organizations and services to assist the individual.
Permeating this process is the need to provide emotional support. Since human service professionals work so closely with their clients, they are often in the position of seeing clients struggle emotionally with frustration, grief, loneliness and a variety of issues that arise from not having their needs met.
It is important for practitioners to recognize when a client is in need of emotional support and to provide it. That’s why a caring heart is essential before stepping into the role.
Steps to Becoming a Human Services Professional
In terms of advanced education, becoming a human services professional isn’t as demanding as some other areas of psychology. Credentials in this field run the spectrum from high school diploma to master’s degree, depending on the type of work and what level of responsibility is granted.
At the associate’s and bachelor’s degree level, a human services worker is likely to spend part of their day conducting entry-level tasks with some case management workload. A worker with a bachelor’s degree may also provide clinical assistance. A practitioner with a master’s degree in human services generally provides counseling to clients, though they may have to do so under the supervision of a licensed PsyD or PhD. Depending on the state, a human services practitioner with a master’s degree may also be required to attain licensure.
1You may want to volunteer at an entry-level position to see if human services work is the right path for you.
2Set your educational goals. How far do you want to go in human services?
3Obtain the degree necessary to reach your goal — associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, etc.
4Pass any licensure or proficiency exam if required by your state or employer.
5If working for a government agency you will usually need to pass screening for drugs and alcohol.
Skills Required to Become a Human Services Professional
The skills required to become a human services professional are largely cross-discipline. That’s why many workers have heavily diverse educational backgrounds. The more advanced your position is within an organization the more specialization is required, but the following are essentials:
1Active listening skills, or the ability to listen and respond in a way that boosts mutual understanding.
2Management skills. Case workers and clinical practitioners deal with multiple cases and challenges.
3Business organization skills, to understand leadership hierarchy, client-worker borders and confidentiality.
4Patience, since the desire to help may not be realized if client is unwilling or unable to help themselves.
Human Services Degree Options
An associate’s degree is not a requirement to work in human services, but many workers possess one at a minimum. An associate’s degree takes two years to attain and ensures that students have the general education requirements necessary to pursue their four-year undergraduate. While some schools offer a specialized two-year human services degree, it is not a prerequisite for employment.
A bachelor’s degree is also not a requirement for human services professionals. However it does improve marketability in these fields and will likely get you a bump in pay. Much of the work that bachelor’s degree graduates do in human services is the same as associate’s degree holders — entry-level case management — but they do have more opportunities to assist at the clinical level under supervision.
A master’s degree will open doors for those desiring a career in human services. Programs can take as long as three years to complete on top of the four it takes for a bachelor’s. Many providers who go this route pursue their master’s degree in a psychology-related field. This makes sense as several states throughout the U.S. require clinical practitioners to attain a license.
How Much Does a Human Services Practitioner Make? State By State
The BLS reports that median pay for social and human service assistants was $29,790 annually (or $14.32 per hour) in 2014 at the national level. This describes workers at the entry-level of the profession (associate’s, bachelor’s) and does not account for those with master’s and beyond where it’s possible to earn a higher salary. The median for human services practitioners with graduate degrees generally fell between $45,000 and $50,000 in 2014, with some earning much higher depending on organization and location.
The top paying states for entry- and mid-level positions were Connecticut ($40,190 median), California ($39,460), District of Columbia ($38,460), Nevada ($37,010) and New Jersey ($36,280).
Job Growth and Career Trends
The job outlook for those with a human services degree is promising, with a higher-than-average 11% growth rate expected over the 10-year period from 2014 to 2024. In 2014 there were 386,600 jobs available. That is expected to jump by 44,200 over the next decade.
As positive as that trend is it falls 1% short of pacing equally with counselors, social workers and other community and social service specialists over the same 10-year period. According to the BLS, your prospects will be strongest if you obtain a healthcare degree from an accredited college.
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