Social workers are often the first and most important response to clients experiencing mental health issues. These clinically trained social workers are trained to diagnose mental conditions, making it easier to reach a larger number of clients quickly.
According to a report by the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there are over 100,000 employed mental health and substance abuse social workers.
With these numbers, the years of study, and the compassionate nature of medical social workers, it is no wonder that those living with mental health issues become survivors.
We will look at the following steps that social workers use to achieve the goal of improving lives.
Social work procedure for mental health care
This procedure is separated into four sections: diagnostic assessments, guidance and therapy, risk management, and vocational rehabilitation.
The first step is to obtain knowledge. Social workers know what to do and how to proceed only when they understand what is happening. They do not work on assumptions.
Diagnostic assessment requires learning about the client by collecting information that helps to assess the person’s behavioral health needs.
Information needs to be collected to understand if the client has a mental health issue exacerbated by certain relationships or environmental factors. Knowing these factors will allow the social worker to formulate a treatment plan.
This assessment, which is a clinical evaluation by a licensed medical social worker, is done using an established guide as a navigator. However, since each client’s situation is unique, social workers are trained to be adaptive. They use this adaptive ability to the highest advantage for the quick assessment of clients.
Let’s take a look at the process involved in diagnostic assessment.
A medical examination is the first point of call in a diagnostic assessment. It is done to ensure that there are no physical injuries to the client that need immediate attention. Also, through the medical inspection, some mental health issues that can only be diagnosed by surveying symptoms are identified.
Others will have a physical cause that medical tests will note, such as a client with a traumatic brain injury. The next step begins when the medical examination starts, and approximate treatment is administered
A social worker and a psychiatrist are similar in their attentive listening training. Anything that the client wants to discuss is heard and considered useful for both parties.
The social worker must build rapport with the client; nobody opens up to someone unconcerned. A social worker is trained for this, as they possess the most important ingredient, a desire to help.
Rapport will be built over a period of time but speaking directly about the mental issue is necessary when the social worker begins to work with a client. A Structured Clinical Interview DSM-Five(SCID) guides these sessions for efficiency.
The SCID is a semi-structured interview guide used by social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, and all other mental health professionals.
These sessions discussing the mental issue remind the client that their social worker is not just another friend, but a friend equipped and determined to get them back on their feet.
Empathic listening, coupled with the next points on the observation of the client, will enable the social worker to determine an accurate diagnosis.
Interviewing family or friends
Another step in the process is to talk to any associate of the client, especially third parties in constant contact, such as spouses, parents, and siblings. Also, friends and colleagues are good sources of necessary information.
The information obtained from other members of the client’s community provides more insight into the data obtained from the client. During this time, the social worker uses this medium to observe how each relationship affects the client.
After interviewing the relations, the social worker is then able to put together questions for the client to answer. These questionnaires are research instruments for gaining insight and are employed by social workers to gather more information.
Questions that might seem intimidating, personal, or might not have come up during one-on-one discussions can be collated, and the client can answer in a discrete and safe manner.
The psychosocial analysis is an additional assessment tool the social worker uses to understand the client’s situation based on unsullied personal observation of the client’s interaction with the social world.
The social worker must remain objective and unbiased and not be influenced by what has been reported by the client and relations. What has been observed must correlate with the things that have been drawn out of the discussions.
Recording the information
Recording information is very critical and should not be taken lightly. Every session, every personal observation, and every research tool must be documented.
There are various instruments for this very purpose; psychiatrists can use recording technology during individual sessions, or simply take notes during the session. The equipment to be used by the social worker must put the client at ease.
Comparing with diagnostic tools
The real need for diagnostic assessment is to assist the social worker in understanding the client’s condition. With the data available, the last step is to determine the condition by comparing the information with the diagnostic tools available.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-Five) is the most influential diagnostic tool. The DSM-Five is the handbook consulted by healthcare professionals as a definitive guide for diagnosing mental disorders. Using this guide, the social worker has a concrete foundation to determine what mental health matters are being dealt with, and what progress has been made.
Assess the risk posed
The progress made is used to conduct a risk assessment to confirm two things:
- The level of care a client might need
- If the present situation is relatively safe for the client
Knowing this helps the social worker prevent avoidable fatalities due to ignorance.
Before moving on to the next step, it is important to note that the diagnosis of mental illness is partially subjective. This makes the social worker a determinant of whether a client receives the treatment they need.
This position is why social workers drive for professional competence by studying through MSW advanced standing programs online, attending seminars on mental health, reviewing new research, and continually striving to improve themselves. Completing further study of the subject at accredited institutions such as Keuka College can keep social workers abreast of developments in the field and help them progress in their social work careers.
Therapy and guidance
Therapy and guidance are two stages that require malleability. At this stage, the social worker must be able to tailor the treatment plan to fit the assessment of the diagnosis.
Guidance and therapy use data retrieved from diagnostic assessments too. Here the social worker looks for everything possible to help the client.
Depending on the nature of the mental issues, the social worker can involve additional medical personnel to focus on different aspects of treatment. For example, the social worker cannot prescribe drugs. Only psychiatrists are licensed to do so, hence the need for cohesive effort from all medical providers.
Everyone who is a part of the treatment plan can assist by confronting every issue with an understanding of the client’s shortcomings and strengths.
The social worker then communicates the present and updated treatment plan to the client.
The social worker also needs to determine the client’s development during this period, whether there is a need for hospitalization or if the treatment is more effective if the client is unconfined.
Social workers ensure that every planning aspect is achieved using the resources needed. In the following section, we examine some therapies used by social workers.
Psychotherapy is the major therapy used and is also known as talk therapy; during the diagnostic assessment, the social worker is only a confidant and does more listening. In talk therapy, the focus is on the actual mental health issue and the options for dealing with it.
Since the atmosphere the social worker creates is compassionate, the client can speak, listen and gain insight, changing their original outlook for a more positive and progressive one.
This therapy has six types: behavioral, cognitive, interpersonal, psychoanalysis, psychodynamic and supportive psychotherapy. Social workers can make use of any of these.
Individual and group therapy
Individual and group therapy is psychotherapy employed in two different forms. Individual therapy is restricted to the client, the social worker, or the psychiatrist alone. Individual therapy is more confidential and allows the client to open up more effectively.
Group therapy creates a therapeutic environment for more than one person with similar mental health issues. The good thing here is that clients can make friends and now know they are not alone. The different types of psychotherapy can be used in both forms of therapy.
The 12-step program for mental health
The 12-step program for mental health underwent critical appraisal to demonstrate that it is indeed a universal principle. The 12-step program is used by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) to overcome addictions and compulsions.
It has been adopted by social workers to help clients living with mental health issues to get back on their feet. Social workers help clients to follow the steps as enumerated below:
- Accept the truth of mental illness
- Surrender and know you are powerless
- You need help, and you can be helped
- You take inventory of your weakness and strength
- Accept your wrongdoings
- Understand that there is a higher power capable of removing the defect
- Ask the higher power to remove the defects
- List out the people you have hurt
- You amend your past mistakes
- You keep asking for help
- You find a support group
Continuing risk management
Patience is a virtue of the social worker. Risk management does not stop at diagnosis but continues even after treatment. Should the client relapse, the social worker creates a safety net for them to fall into.
After treatment, the social worker works to ensure an effective reentry into society. Especially for clients who have been in a treatment facility, proper reintegration implies that the client is not being forced or hurried.
Most clients may be completely whole and not require frequent visitation; others will need a couple of visits to help them adjust.
Vocational rehabilitation (VR)
After treatment and the ongoing risk management, the social worker may introduce the client to vocational rehabilitation. That is, if the client expresses interest in applying for work. Work challenges will stimulate their mind and improve their self-esteem.
VR offers the following services: counseling, interest, aptitude testing, job placement assistance, diagnostic evaluations, education and training, rehabilitation technology, employer consultation, and school-to-work.
Why do social workers provide the best mental health care?
A repetitively valid strength of the social worker is the ability to empathize. Most people who seek a social work degree do so because of their desire to help others.
Some social workers are themselves living with mental health issues. So, they know how much the clients need help. This pushes social workers to pour themselves into their work, giving it their all.
According to the World Health Organization, about one in four people worldwide have had a mental health issue at least once. The world population is over seven billion, and the numbers are just astronomical. Hence the need for more active social workers.
Social issues, lack of exercise, and poor social connections are the leading causes of mental health issues. So many who need help cannot do it on their own and don’t know how to access assistance.
The good news is the number of social work positions is increasing. The template social workers use is effective, and lives are improved through their assistance.