The term “human services” is extremely vague — because the field is so vast and important. Human services include all manner of vital programs and services that support society, allowing the most vulnerable members of a community to survive and the rest of the community to thrive. To prepare for work in human services, students need a wide array of knowledge and skills. Whether you are pursuing an undergraduate degree or preparing for a master’s in human services, you should expect to take courses in the following subjects:
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Sociology is a broad social science that studies human societies. All human services professionals are likely to take several sociology courses to learn more about social institutions, social relationships, and the general development, structure and functioning of different types of societies. Human services emerged from the field of sociology, so courses in this field are an essential facet of any human services degree program.
Developmental psychology is a field that focuses on how humans grow and develop during their lifetimes. Human development depends on a range of biological, cognitive and psychosocial factors, which students explore during the course. Understanding developmental psychology is imperative for human services professionals, who may need to facilitate certain types of development through the services they provide.
Though the types of cases that human services professionals will oversee will depend on their specialization within the field, a case management course will help students gain knowledge and skills associated with delivering human services to those in need. Often, case management courses train students in interviewing, group dynamics, ethics and the maintenance of effective relationships, all of which help increase opportunities for success in the field.
Tragically, human services are notoriously and persistently underfunded. Both private and public human services agencies rely on grants for a significant portion of their funding, so human services professionals need to be adept at applying for and obtaining grants from different funding agencies. A grant writing course provides essential technical skills in this area by training students in writing as well as teaching them how to identify funding sources, preparing budgets and completing other essential grant-related tasks.
Human services professionals who opt to specialize in the field of criminal justice — thereby committing their career to helping individuals navigate the criminal justice system in various ways — will by necessity enroll in criminal justice courses. These courses will help human services students understand contemporary justice systems, to include laws and regulations that impact those systems, as well as both offenders and victims of crimes, who are most likely to benefit from human services in this field.
Some human services professionals advocate for political change or work alongside policymakers to improve community outcomes. To improve the effectiveness of their works, students interested in this avenue of human services might participate in pollical science courses. Political science focuses on the theory and practices of all levels of government, and human services professionals operating in this sphere need to understand politics in this way to effect change.
For too long, society has overlooked the importance of mental health in its human services programming. Thankfully, greater awareness of the challenges and impacts of poor mental health has allowed a broader development of mental health services. Students interested in specializing in mental health services should engage with a larger number of mental health–related courses during their degree program, which should help them understand various aspects of mental health, from the consequences of untreated conditions to the most useful programs for families of mental health patients.
Child, Adolescent and Family Services
Children and families are some of the most vulnerable members of communities, and many human services efforts are directed at strengthening resources and programs for these groups. Courses in child, adolescent and family services often inform human services students about common concerns for these groups and appropriate resources and programs to ensure more positive outcomes for communities.
Gerontology and Aging
Another incredibly vulnerable group are older adults, who often suffer from fixed income, serious health conditions, mobility issues and other challenges. By enrolling in courses associated with gerontology and aging, human services professionals can learn more about what kinds of programs older adults need to survive and thrive.
Humans need all kinds of services — which is why human services is such an incredibly broad field. With the right education, human services professionals can deliver exactly the services required by their communities to ensure mutual success.