Do you have a heart for helping make people’s lives better? Have you always wanted to make a difference and have a career with a higher purpose? While there are many directions those passions can take you, you’ll be able to put your love of helping others and find incredible career versatility with degrees in Human Services.
What is the Field of Human Services?
Those who are interested in pursuing a career in Human Services should expect to focus on the prevention, remediation, and improvement of the overall quality of life for the population that they serve.
The field of Human Services is akin to social work but with a big picture focus. Generally speaking, social workers work directly with clients to carry out social programs, whereas a Human Services professional examines social issues and systems to determine how best to foster social change. However, there are topics that overlap. For example, cultural competence is an important component of both Human Services and social work careers. Being able to integrate and transform knowledge about individuals and groups of people into culturally appropriate policies and services is of paramount importance in today's increasingly diverse world.
What Can I Do With a Career in Human Services?
People who pursue a career in Human Services have vastly different interests and backgrounds which help determine the direction their career will take. Some are drawn to help a particular demographic, such as children, aging adults, or veterans. Others want to work in a specific sector, such as health care, community services, government, counseling, non-profit, family services, or law enforcement. Because there are countless agencies, programs, and organizations that advocate for underserved populations across the local, state, and national spectrum, the career options for human services are wide open.
Some examples of careers in Human Services include:
- Case Manager
- Juvenile or Family Court Liaison
- Community Outreach Coordinator
- Group Activities Coordinator
- Life Skills Instructor
- Crisis Intervention Counselor/Advocate
- Behavioral Management Aid
- Child Welfare Advocate
- Intake and Interviewing Specialist
- Mental Health Associate
- Probation Officer
- Rehabilitation Specialist
- Youth Worker
- Home Health Aide
- Group Home Worker
- Cultural Liaison
- Social Worker
Many who start out with degrees in Human Services go on to become clinical social workers who diagnose and treat those with mental, behavioral, and emotional issues. This requires a master's degree, two years of experience in a supervised clinical setting, and state licensure. After earning an online bachelor’s degree in human services, an online masters in addiction counseling or an online masters in counseling are good degree options for this career track.
What Makes a Good Human Services Professional?
Any professional who makes a difference joins their passion for their chosen field with the right personal attributes that together lead to career success and satisfaction. For a career in Human Services, six primary qualities make a good professional.
Working with underserved people facing a host of obstacles and unique situations will require the Human Services professional to listen not only with their ears, but with their brain and heart, as well, even when it’s the 10th person they’ve helped that day. Often the important information is read between the lines of a person’s narrative, which will help get to the true nature of the problem or identify a need that might have gone unnoticed.
Consider cultural competence. Human Services professionals must be able to deal fairly and knowledgeably with diverse clients. Not only must they value diversity, but they must also proactively acquire and assimilate relevant cultural information to provide services in an appropriate cultural context within the communities and populations they serve. Beyond personal interactions, they must incorporate that information into competent policies and administrative practices.
The human services profession requires interaction with different types of people who have various kinds of needs. If you get easily irritated at others' life choices or come across as indifferent, you will not be an effective Human Services professional. Instead, you must empathize with the person, reflect back that you hear and care about their situation and pain, and let them know that you are there to help. In short, you need to put yourself in their shoes.
There is also self-care to consider. A career in Human Services, by nature, is a selfless and demanding field, and it's not for everyone. You are pouring yourself into others and their needs daily, and you will need to have a great deal of inner strength to hold up under that weight. Because of that, it is of utmost importance to consistently take care of yourself to prevent burnout. For example, you should develop healthy methods for relaxing, leave your job at the office, invest in yourself, and create a support system. You won't be any good to those you're trying to help if you are mentally, emotionally, and physically spent.
While empathy is a trait directed towards others, emotional intelligence is about being self-aware. The Human Services professional must have the ability to understand and manage emotions while being able to communicate effectively, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.Essentially, Human Services professionals with high levels of emotional intelligence can deliver more effective services.
Those you’re helping will quickly be able to assess whether you genuinely care or whether you are just “doing your job” and going through the motions. If you don’t have some of the other qualities listed here, like empathy, EI, and cultural competence, you will likely come across as unauthentic. Your heart must be in it; you must really believe in what you’re doing. If you don’t, it’s likely time for some self-care or a reevaluation of your career choice.
Yesterday’s solutions usually won’t address today’s problems. While many social needs stay the same –food, shelter, jobs, elder care – changes in technology, regulations, culture, delivery systems, etc. require that the Human Services professional stay ever-abreast of industry changes. Continuing education is a core prerequisite for success as a human services professional.
How Do I Become a Human Services Professional?
A degree in human services is usually the first place to begin when preparing for a human services career. For example, at Ottawa University, you can earn an online bachelor’s degree in human services or an online bachelors degree in addiction counseling. If you already have a bachelor’s and you’re ready to further your career, you can pursue an online masters in counseling or an online masters in addiction counseling. Throughout your studies in Ottawa University's accelerated online degrees, you will strengthen your Human Services skills and gain real-world experience through immersive, hands-on internship opportunities. We are the best online university in the Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Phoenix areas, and we are here to help you get started helping others in a human services career.
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