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Counseling, social work agencies are hiring
Want job security? Become a social worker or mental health counselor

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Date published: 6/19/2008


As a Baylor University student, Courtney Chapman first planned to study political science but switched to social work because she wanted to improve people's lives in a more direct way.

Employers are looking for people like Chapman, who graduated last month from the Waco, Texas school with a master's in social work. She quickly found a job with Fredericksburg Baptist Church following an internship here this spring.

The online job search site Jobfox announced social workers reached the top 10 most in-demand careers. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the need for social workers will rise by 22 percent by 2016.

Jobfox credits the rising demand to tough economic times. However, those who know the field say it may have more to do with changes in the social work industry.

Social workers do more than ever, said Debra Riggs, director of the Virginia Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

"We are in lots and lots of practice settings," she said. "In fact, 80 percent of mental health providers in the country are licensed social workers."

Social workers also work in schools, open private practices, help in hospitals, work for corporations, physicians offices and even veterinary practices, Riggs said.

Jobfox also reported mental health counselors as another in-demand field. As education about mental illness rises, more people are willing to seek help, said Lynn DelaMer, director of Mental Health America of Fredericksburg.

Her office had 200 more calls last year than the previous year. And many clients complain about a shortage of therapists in the area, citing long waiting lists for services.

Terry Diebold of The Center for Family Counseling in Fredericksburg has experienced that trend, too.

"Counseling is much more accepted in our culture now. Even over the last five to 10 years, people are much more open about, 'Oh, yeah, I'm going to counseling,'" she said. "It's just so much more commonplace now."

While a slow economy does lead to more anxiety and depression, Diebold said she has yet to see more clients walk through the door because of the downturn.

Some fields of social work, however, are seeing a greater demand these days, Riggs said. Social workers at nonprofits and in hospitals help people without resources or insurance get the services they need.

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Some social workers will see more want ads than others. Those who specialize in substance abuse will be needed the most in the next few years, followed by those who work with the elderly and their families, those who work with special-education students and those who work with home health care agencies.

--U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

In the Rappahannock United Way's 2007 survey of community needs, mental health issues came second only to the need for affordable housing in the area.

Some 22 percent of surveyed households reported a personal or emotional crisis in the past year. One in five said they had depression or anxiety. And 2 percent needed suicide prevention services.

In 2007, Mental Health America of Fredericksburg's help line received 1,800 calls.

Area departments of social services say they're receiving more reports of child abuse and more calls for services such as Medicaid and food stamps.

--Amy Flowers Umble