Reader Question – International Social Work

Dear Alanna,

I have one main question: from your experience, what would you say the need for international social workers is in NGOs?

Background info: I have an MA in international and I work for a NGO in the US, in their Africa dept – as a program associate, so I don’t go to Africa. I am going to go to (redacted) for a bit more than 3 months in September and will volunteer in a hospital that treats raped women. I know 3 months is not nearly enough to give me credibility, but that’s all I can do.

Now I’m thinking about going back to school. I am leaning towards a MSW that would allow me to focus on mental health and trauma. Do you think this would be valued in the NGO world?




Dear Katherine,

International social workers in NGOs – it’s a tricky question. There is a tremendous need for psychosocial help for survivors of disasters, and NGOs are paying more and more attention to those needs. International Medical Corps has some useful links: A social work background would fit in nicely and meet a need.

That being said, everyone I actually know with an MSW who works in international development is doing something unrelated. It ends up being treated as just another master’s degree – a credential for a job that requires that level of education, but not a set of technical skills that are actually used in daily practice. Since you already have a master’s degree, I am not sure what the value added would be for you.

Your best bet might be to spend a year or two doing other things to build your skills and background on trauma and mental health. Your volunteering is a great start. Maybe you could also volunteer with trauma victims when you come back to the US? I know the DC Rape Crisis Center will train people to be advocates and answer their hotline. There must be other opportunities as well. You can put that kind of thing on your resume and frame yourself as having the right background and then start applying for the jobs that you feel passionate about.

Here’s an obvious thing, but just in case you have not thought of it – have you searched or a similar site to see what jobs require an MSW, and if they interest you?



Mental health in the rest of the world

Psychotherapy for All: An Experiment – New York Times. The NYT looks at an Indian experiment in providing mental health treatment at Indian clinics. A lot of people believe that illnesses such as depression and anxiety are first-world luxuries. Anyone who’s spent time abroad can tell you that’s not the case.

This is interesting to me because while donors and NGOs are starting to pay some attention to mental health in emergency situations, it’s still very rare to look at mental health in ordinary life. Like dental care, it tends to be low priority. This Indian intervention may mean that is changing.