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What is Human Services?

The human services professional assists individuals and communities function as efficiently as possible within their living environment. Human services careers include occupations in social and mental health settings designed to meet the current economic, social and political challenges. Job titles and duties vary depending on the employment sector and the types of clients served.

Human services jobs seek to enhance opportunities and access for families and individuals who live in poverty. By helping disadvantaged communities and individuals, it is possible to strengthen and transform the human services sector. A full array of tools to foster change include program-related investments and project grants. Partnering and working with foundations and the private, public and nonprofit sectors enables the benefits of multiple organizations to provide assistance to those in need.

Competencies, Skills and Traits Required for Human Services Professionals

A strong desire to help others, understanding, caring and patience are essential job skills for a human services professional. Other important traits include a keen sense of responsibility, excellent communication skills, and the ability to manage time effectively.

Employers in the human services industry want individuals who are empathetic, objective, good listeners, sensitive, accepting, encouraging and insightful. Training and preparation change as a function of the work setting and the level of organization work. However, overall required knowledge, skills and attitudes include:

  • Ability to recognize the nature and significant interactions of individuals, groups, communities, organizations and societies
  • Understanding functional limitations of the social human systems
  • Skill in exploring and choosing interventions with growth potential and goal fulfillment
  • Experience in preparing, executing and assessing interventions
  • Consistency in selecting interventions that are harmonious with the human services profession, values of clients, and the employing organization

Each competency has practice behaviors based on knowledge, skills and values needed for general practice.

Where Human Services Professionals Work

Human services professionals frequently work under the direction of professional staff despite differences in job titles. Precise job responsibilities reflect organizational designs and staffing guidelines based on the educational preparation and experiences of the human services professional. Work is performed in a community, residential or institutional settings to provide direct services that include leading a group, offering individual counseling or organizing an activity in the following areas:

  • Mental Health Services. The clients of most psychologists and counselors have an extensive list of needs. Some mental health professionals work in schools, hospitals and correctional facilities. Others enter private practice. Regardless, every state requires counselors to have a license or certification.
  • Social Services. Many community members need assistance to meet basic needs or to enjoy a higher quality of life. Social workers in family services perform an integral role in improving the lives of those requiring assistance by helping families meet fundamental needs.

Employers screen applicants for appropriate personal qualifications to be as selective as possible because most work involves direct contact with people who are impaired and vulnerable to exploitation. For instance, volunteer or work experience is preferred in addition to relevant academic preparation and licensing.

Educational Opportunities for Human Services Careers

There are myriad programs and specialized degrees related to human services. While a bachelor’s degree is not required for most jobs in this occupation, employers are increasingly seeking people with education beyond high school and relevant work experience. To provide students with the most opportunities for hands-on experience, many programs utilize field work and supervised internships. General education courses in the humanities, sciences and liberal arts are also part of most curriculums. Students can choose specialized courses related to gerontology, addictions, abuse and child protection.

Human Service Professionals Graduate Degree Programs

Educational levels often influence the type of work and the degree of responsibility that is assigned. For example, workers with just a high school education are likely to receive extensive on-the-job training to work in direct-care services such as helping clients to fill out paperwork. Human service assistants with volunteer or paid experiences in social services often have greater independence in their job. Likewise, those with a college degree may manage a group home, provide supportive counseling or coordinate program activities.

Regardless of experiences and the academic training of workers, most employers offer in-service training, such as workshops and seminars. Here is an overview of various graduate degrees offered in human services.

  • Master's in Social Work (M.S.W.): Social work focuses on the relationship between people and their environments or communities.
  • Master's in Counseling (M.S., M.A., M.Ed., M.A.Ed.): Counseling helps people resolve problems or role issues related to personal, school, career or family matters.
  • Master's in Marriage and Family Therapy (M.F.T.): Marriage and Family Therapists work primarily with families, couples and individuals.
  • Master's in School Psychology (M.S.): School psychologists conduct testing and research on the effectiveness of behavior management procedures academic programs.
  • Master's or Doctorate in Industrial-Organizational Psychology (M.A., M.S., Ph.D.): 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.
  • Doctorate in Counseling or Counselor Education (Ph.D., Ed.D.): Doctorate programs in counseling focus on counselor education and supervision, such as teaching and supervising graduate students in counseling programs.
  • Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (Ph.D.): Training in psychotherapy and psychological testing are essential components of clinical psychology.
  • Doctorate in (General) Psychology (Ph.D.): This program focuses on conducting psychological research in the areas of psychological research include cognitive, developmental, behavioral and social.
  • Doctorate in Counseling Psychology (Ph.D.): The counseling psych model of practice emphasizes solutions and problem-solving, focus on natural lifespan development and work from a scientist-practitioner model.
  • Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.): The PsyD degree focuses on psychotherapy training and minimizes training in research.
  • Psychiatrist (M.D.): Psychiatry and Neurology take a medical developmental approach to behavior.

Online degree programs offer flexible options across a broad spectrum of human services careers. These programs encompass a rigorous core curriculum in human development, child and family studies, and health and social issues.

Outlook for Human Services Careers

The employment outlook for human services workers is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations over the next decade. In fact, opportunities for qualified applicants are expected to be excellent because of projected rapid growth in the industry and substantial replacement needs.

Jobs with degrees in human services are expected to expand by nearly 34 percent in the upcoming years, with various specialties growing at diverse rates. For instance, a large increase in substance abuse counseling needs is anticipated as society becomes more educated about addiction and the correctional system shifts to rehabilitation and recovery over jail time for offenders. In addition to case workers, parole officers, and crisis intervention counselors, other career options in the human services field include:

  • Psychologists: Recognition of the association between increased health care costs and unhealthy lifestyles is driving force behind this growth, making treatment and prevention of psychological and emotional disorders more significant.
  • Social workers: Similar increases are expected as substance abuse counselors focus on trying to rehabilitate offenders rather than send them to prison.
  • Marriage and family therapists: Demand will increase for counselors in this area of specialty as it becomes more common and accepted for people to seek help with family and marital problems.
  • Sociologists: Expertise offered by sociologists is increasingly critical in a comprehensive range of disciplines, and companies are seeking to employ sociologists to work with and advise large teams.

Job opportunities are expected to be outstanding, particularly for applicants with relevant education. Additionally, as social welfare systems change focus, there will be more need for workers to teach job skills to the people who are new or returning to the workforce.

Human Services and the Impact on Society

Human services professionals profoundly impact society, the results of which are felt throughout society from elder care and education to health care, public policy planning and criminal justice. Those choosing this career perform a variety of essential services making the organizations and individual they impact function at healthier, efficient and safer levels. The entire community benefits from the tremendous influences of the human services professional.

Networking Organizations and Resources Available to Graduates

Networking with colleagues is a primary reason to join a professional group or an association. Individuals seeking a career in human services may be interested in a variety of professional organizations, including:

  • American Counseling Association
  • National Board for Certified Counselors
  • Council on Social Work Education
  • National Council on Family Relations
  • Human Resource Research Institute
  • Advice on Grad School in Social Work
  • American Psychological Association
  • National Organization for Human Services
  • Careers in Psychology
  • Human Services Career Network

Many regional human services associations and organizations also exist across the United States and are ideal ways for graduates to grow their career by networking.