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Roles and Work Environment
Human Services careers cover a wide range of occupations, including social workers, counselors, and others who support the wellness of other people. This field is projected to grow 14 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than average for other occupations according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Examples of roles include:
- Mental health counselors
- Social workers
- School counselors
- Career counselors
- Rehabilitation counselors
- Marriage and family therapists
- Occupational therapists
- Recreational therapists
- Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists
- Art or music therapists
- Health advocates
When considering the human services field, you may want to ask yourself questions such as what population do I want to work with (children, adolescents, adults, elderly people) and what challenges do I want to address (homelessness, mental health, alcohol or drug abuse, mental or physical disabilities, health, child or family welfare). Professionals in this field may also work in a variety of environments, including:
- Government agencies
- Private practice
- Group home
- School or university
Skills and Training
Educational requirements in human services vary by state, employer, work setting, and managerial level. Some professions require a specific certification in addition to your undergraduate degree (for example, the Child Life Specialist certification). For some professions, such as social worker, counselor, or therapist, you will ultimately need a master’s degree or in some cases a doctorate. However, there are entry-level roles in many government agencies or nonprofits where you can gain exposure to the field if you are not ready or unsure about graduate school, and there are many professionals that play other roles in human services that do not require advanced degrees. Come talk to a career counselor about what education is required for your profession of interest and what programs are the best fit for you and your goals.
If you’re interested in human services, taking classes in psychology, sociology and related fields is a good place to start. If you are looking for graduate school programs, you also want to consider what licensure you will be eligible for when you complete the program. Professional licensures in this field include:
- License of Clinical Social Work (LCSW)
- License of Professional Counseling (LPC)
- Professional School Counselor
Depending on what you are interested in, a master’s degree program may be sufficient to obtain those licenses and apply for the positions you desire. LCSW and LPC professionals can both conduct counseling sessions with clients, and many counseling programs have additional concentrations (e.g., mental health counseling, marriage and family counseling, rehabilitation counseling). If you are interested in a more clinical degree or an academic path, you may need to apply for a doctoral program in psychology (e.g., Ph.D. or Psy.D). If you are interested in school counseling, check out the School of Education and Human Development's webpage on how to become a certified school counselor in Virginia.
If you are interested in mental health services, but are unsure about a graduate degree or are interested in gaining more experience, consider gaining a Qualified Mental Health Professional (QMHP) certification.This is a qualification provided by the Board of Counseling at the Virginia Department of Health Professions for undergraduate degree holders. There are 3 types varying on degree type and amount of clinical experience: QMHP-Eligible/Trainee, QMHP-Adult, and QMHP-Child.
Nonprofits and government agencies post positions closer to the time of hiring (i.e., spring semester). However, if you are looking to apply to a graduate school program, you should be putting together your applications in the fall in order to meet deadlines.
Volunteering is a great way to gain experience in human services. It can be challenging to get experience in counseling or social work sometimes because of confidentiality, but there are many volunteer programs that can give you a taste of the experience. It can also be helpful to connect with professionals in the field.
- Madison House Programs (HELP line, Housing Improvement, Recreational Therapy, Youth Mentoring)
- Young Women Leaders Program and Men’s Leadership Project
- Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center at UVA
- Adult and Drug Abuse Prevention Team (ADAPT)
- Career Peer Educators
- UVA Department of Psychology undergraduate handbook (clinical opportunities and graduate school information)
- Mental Health First Aid Training (offered locally by Region 10)
- ConnectVA - Richmond and Central Virginia nonprofit opportunities
- The Center for Nonprofit Excellence - Charlottesville nonprofit opportunities. Check out the member directory for contacts at local organizations.
- The Social Work Career Center
Applying and Interviewing
Resumes and Cover Letters
If you have never interviewed before, make sure to check out the interviewing section of our website. You can also conduct a mock interview with a career counselor for practice.
Additional Industry Resources
Blogs and Industry Research
- Vault guide to Social Services jobs (Access Vault via Handshake)
- What Is Health and Human Services?
- Psych Central
- Human Services Edu
- Mediation Center of Charlottesville
- Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators
- School Psychology Careers (National Association of School Psychologists)
- Young Nonprofit Professionals Network - Richmond Chapter (YNPN RVA)
- Association of Child Life Professionals
- Virginia Counselors Association
- American Counseling Association
- American School Counselor Association
- American Psychological Association
- American Psychiatric Association
- National Association of Social Workers
- Social Work Organizations