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Defining Human Services: An Overview

12 January 2012 Written by: Kristen Reuter No Comment
Defining Human Services: An Overview

If you’re looking for a career that serves individuals and your community and is also highly rewarding, challenging and has a potential for job growth; look no further than human services. The field’s definition is so broad that you could pluck any five people currently working as a human services coordinator and each would tell you their day-to-day duties and experiences are vastly different. There is one common theme that rings true in anyone that has chosen human services as their career, a need to help people through a tough situation or unfortunate circumstance. Learn a little more about what human services practitioners do, the profession’s history, educational requirements to work in the field and its future job growth before deciding if this honorable vocation is right for you.


What is a Human Service Practitioner?

The daily duties of a human services practitioner once again varies depending on who you ask, but all will tell you their job entails helping individuals struggling with obstacles that keep them from meeting their basic needs. In some instances, this can mean helping handicapped veterans find gainful employment. Another practitioner might aid women suffering from domestic violence, while another councils families after a natural disaster. Whatever the case, the profession at its core is about helping individuals and families lead a more meaningful, enriching existence.

History of Human Services

The idea of human services as a profession is a relatively new concept, which began in the late-1950s and early-1960s with the stark realization by several communities and government agencies that groups, including the impoverished, unemployed, the disabled and substance abusers required social, economic and mental rehabilitation services. Many individuals were also being deinstitutionalized, as it was believed their lives were better enriched by community outreach programs and outpatient counseling. With this influx of potential patients and clients, several community-based mental health organizations saw the need to educate and train more professionals to deal with this commanding issue. Hence the seeds of the modern day human services profession were planted.

Educational Requirements

The degree requirements to obtain employment as a human services professional vary greatly depending on the field. In some instances, all that’s required to become a human services assistant is a high school diploma. Several others working in the field also hold an Associate’s degree in a more specialized field, including addiction studies or gerontology. Many positions require employees hold at least a Bachelor’s degree in several areas of studies, including psychology, social work, sociology and even business. As the career options become more specialized, and the pay scale takes a dramatic leap, expect to earn a Master’s degree in one of several fields related to human services, including psychology, public health or occupational therapy.

Whatever degree or position you hold, whether it is executive or entry-level, the one thing you can expect during your career is the necessity for continuing education. Many human services employees are expected to attend seminars, classes and training to better prepare them to serve their community and clients.

Human Services Professional Roles

The vast scope of the human services field translates into a variety of different career goals and opportunities. Here is a short list of the many occupational titles found under the human services purview:

  • Social worker
  • Alcohol counselor
  • Probation officer
  • Child advocate
  • Child abuse worker
  • Family support worker
  • Assistant case manager
  • Parole officer
  • Community action worker
  • Crisis intervention counselor
  • Administrator
  • Community planner
  • Vocational rehabilitation
  • Behavior specialist
  • Outreach worker
  • Therapeutic assistant
  • Adult day care worker

Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the overall job outlook for human services careers are favorable. For instance, the entry level Social and Human Services Assistant, which only requires a high school diploma in many instances, is expected to grow almost 30% until 2020. The Social and Human Services Manager, which requires an advanced degree, is also expected to have a favorable job outlook over the next several years. Before choosing a concentration, major or career path; do your homework to determine if that facet of the human services profession possesses a favorable job outlook.

Working as a human services practitioner is a potentially rewarding experience for everyone involved, including the clients. Not only do you have the opportunity to participate in a growing field, you also can literally save or change another human being’s life.

Kristen Reuter is working towards a degree in human services and plans on using her degree to help victims of abuse and domestic violence.

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