5 Key Terms Every Social Worker Should Know

If you’re interested in social work, you’ll need to become knowledgeable about a number of concepts related to your chosen field. What can make this somewhat difficult is that many terms used in the arena of social work have more complex meaning than they do in regular conversation. Here are some of the terms that someone going into this line of work should familiarize themselves with.


Advocacy is working on behalf of an individual or group of individuals in an effort to secure their rights and ensure that they have access to needed resources. Advocates may fight for individual rights or for the rights of groups and communities, and their efforts may be on the local, state, national or international level. In particular, advocacy focuses on representing and speaking for people who are unable to defend themselves or obtain rights or resources on their own due to issues like disability or structural barriers in society.


In your role as a social worker, you may be called upon to do social research to understand the culture and needs of people. Beneficence is an ethical mandate that states that those involved in this type research create benefits for individuals being studied. It entails promoting the common good for both the research community and those being researched. This is an idea that is related to nonmaleficence, which is to first do no harm, but nonmaleficence does not obligate a person actively seek to do good.

Cultural Competence

According to the Association of Social Work Boards Glossary, cultural competence is a developmental process that evolves over time and is an awareness of how people deal with their differences and similarities in a social context. Cultural competence involves understanding and being aware of how different cultures interact and how personal and professional values may conflict when individuals with different backgrounds interact. The goal of cultural competence is to ensure that people are aware of what language and behaviors are appropriate in a group of culturally diverse individuals.


In an effort to protect the public from untrained or unscrupulous individuals, licensure has been established to indicate that a person has met certain standards established by the government. Licensure to practice social work or identify yourself as a regulated practitioner of social work may also be identified as registration or certification. To obtain licensure, you will need to submit an application to a local licensing board and have received at least a Bachelor’s degree from a school with an accepted social work program. You may also be required to meet established standards for good moral character.

Code of Ethics

The National Association of Social Workers code of ethics explains the purpose of social work and what is expected of social workers. It also outlines the process for how people should solve ethical dilemmas. The goal of social workers is to help people meet basic needs and improve the lives of all people, and there is a particular focus on assisting individuals who are vulnerable, living in poverty or oppressed. Social workers are tasked with understanding forces that create and contribute to lower standards of living and working to mitigate them.

As these concepts demonstrate, helping people as a social worker involves doing so in a particular manner and according to a set of established ethical standards. Understanding these terms may help you get a better idea of the type of environment you will be in and the work that you can expect to do as a social worker.

Related Resource: Top 10 Best Online Social Work Degree Programs