Social workers diagnose, treat, and provide support to mental health patients. These professionals work closely with patients to help them manage their conditions and encourage them to build relationships with society. A social worker might take on several roles for individuals, including individual therapy, family counseling, case management, and even advocacy.
However, while these experts are crucial to the growth of mental health patients, their role can be tasking, and it’s important that they look after themselves as well as their patients. Spring Arbor University offers an online BSW program where future social workers can learn the intricacies of their profession while learning the best ways to stay in tip-top shape throughout their careers. This program is flexible and consists of 100% online coursework. This article will explore how, with the right education from a reputable institution, social workers can make a real difference in the mental health of their patients.
The importance of social workers
The support of social workers is integral to patients with mental health issues for a variety of reasons.
Access to resources
Social workers act as a link between patients and the resources they need. If a schizophrenic patient is struggling with managing their medication and housing and felt socially isolated, a social worker might help them get their prescription filled, find stable housing, and connect them with community programs for companionship. Patients can utilize social workers’ expertise to navigate the complexities of these challenges.
The primary responsibility of social workers is to advocate for patient rights. They enlighten patients about their healthcare rights, consent, and privacy. This, in turn, empowers patients and helps them build their confidence to live and interact with people around them.
They also act as a voice for patients, helping them interact and communicate with healthcare providers or insurance companies better. Social workers in higher positions can also use their hands-on experiences to influence healthcare policies at organizational or government levels; they may advocate for changes that uphold patients’ rights and improve access and quality of care.
Social workers provide immediate intervention to patients in critical situations. They assess the crisis, implement de-escalation strategies, and provide emotional support. They may also coordinate emergency healthcare and liaise with relevant professionals or family members to help the patient in need. Their intervention is a stabilizing force that mitigates harm and guides patients toward appropriate care.
Seven ways social workers care for mental health patients
Social workers are an integral part of mental healthcare. Here are seven ways they support patients.
Assessment and diagnosis
In order to support patients in the right way, it’s essential to assess and diagnose them properly. An incorrect diagnosis may cause more harm than good to patients with mental health issues. Social workers are adept at assessing a patient’s mental health condition.
They use various tools and techniques to do this. One of these techniques is interviews, in which they will interview a patient to understand how they feel. Here, the social worker engages the patient in a conversation to understand their experiences, behaviors, feelings, and thoughts. This way, they can easily build trust and rapport, which are essential for effective therapy and support.
Another way they can diagnose patients is by observing them. Social workers note how patients behave during their interactions by looking for signs of distress, anxiety, depression, or other symptoms that might indicate a mental health disorder. This observation can provide valuable insights into the patient’s mental state that conversations alone may not discover.
They may also use psychological assessments. Psychological assessments can identify specific mental health conditions, such as anxiety and schizophrenia. These test results can measure the mental health status of a patient accurately and guide healthcare professionals on the best course of treatment.
Social workers can use the information from these assessments to diagnose patients. Their diagnosis determines the treatment that’s most beneficial for the patient. For instance, a social worker might recommend cognitive-behavioral therapy for a patient struggling with an anxiety disorder. The same social worker might recommend a combination of medication and psychotherapy for a patient with bipolar disorder. An accurate diagnosis helps social workers provide targeted and effective care, increasing the chances of successful treatment.
Social workers may get in touch with a therapist to aid the patient through a recovery process. There are various therapies that the social worker may implement.
Individual therapy is one-on-one sessions where the therapist uses various therapeutic approaches to address their patient’s needs. One of these therapeutic approaches is the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This approach identifies and challenges the patient’s negative thought patterns contributing to their mental health issues. Social workers work with the patient and therapist to turn these thoughts into positive and realistic ones, significantly improving the patient’s mood and behavior.
They also use dialectic behavior therapy (DBT) for patients with borderline personality disorder or those who find it challenging to manage their emotions. This therapeutic approach aims to help these patients manage their emotions better. DBT has four vital components that can help achieve its objective. These are distress tolerance, mindfulness, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. These four components help patients navigate their relationships with people and themselves.
Regardless of the therapeutic approach, individual therapy helps patients recognize their behaviors, and learn coping mechanisms. For instance, patients might learn to recognize the factors that trigger their anxiety and develop calming techniques to manage them. Another patient might challenge their feelings of worthlessness that often stem from depression by identifying and appreciating their strengths and achievements. The personalized nature of individual therapy allows tailored treatment plans that address each patient’s unique needs. A social worker will also assist them outside of the therapy setting to ensure the treatment plans are working and to assist if anything happens.
To reinforce individual therapy, social workers often facilitate group therapy sessions. These sessions allow patients to share their experiences with the group and learn from other patients that have the same condition as them. This kind of therapy fosters a sense of community, understanding, and shared learning among these individuals.
The role of a social worker in this setting is a facilitator. They guide the discussion, ensure everyone respects each other, and introduce therapeutic strategies. They guide the group through structured activities or open-ended talks, depending on what they need and the specific goal of the therapy.
Group therapy aims to help individuals realize they’re not alone in their struggles. Hearing others share their experiences with similar mental health issues can give patients a sense of relief. It also helps them normalize their feelings and understand their conditions better by looking at them from other people’s perspectives. Group therapy encourages its members to support themselves, and this creates a community of individuals who understand and empathize with each other’s struggles.
Besides this, group therapy can also be a space for learning. Patients can learn from each other’s experiences, challenges, and successes; one group member’s successful coping strategies might be helpful to another’s. This therapeutic approach can help patients reduce feelings of isolation and stigma associated with mental health issues. It can also promote skill development, where individuals can learn things that they can then use outside their therapeutic settings.
Family is important to the outcome of a patient’s mental health. PubMed Central research shows that most of their mental health patients had their families as their primary source of strength.
Social workers understand the crucial role of families in an individual’s mental health journey. This is why they encourage family counseling to educate family members about the patient’s condition, how to support them and help them cope with the challenges of caring for a loved one with a mental health disorder.
In this case, social workers serve as mediators and educators. They help these individuals understand each other and encourage them to communicate. This often involves educating family members about the patient’s symptoms and how they might affect their behavior. This way, they can inform the family members about what to expect and how they can offer support.
They also teach family members the best ways to offer that support. This could include strategies on how to respond to certain patient behaviors, how to manage their crises, and ways to help them encourage healthy habits. They might also provide educational materials that family members can read to understand this challenge better.
Another advantage of family counseling is that it focuses on the family members. Caring for a mental health patient can be challenging. Social workers provide emotional support and teach stress management techniques to these family members. They also encourage them to address any guilt or frustration they may experience while caring for the patient. Gaining knowledge about the patient’s condition can help the family reduce feelings of helplessness and improve the quality of support they provide. This way, families may experience less stress and conflicts as they learn to understand themselves.
Social workers are also case managers. They coordinate and oversee all aspects of a patient’s care, acting as a central point of contact and ensuring they have access to the services they need.
First, the social worker comprehensively assesses the patient’s needs. This might involve understanding the patient’s mental health condition, social and economic situation, and physical health issues. Then, they develop a personalized care plan with this information to address the patient’s needs.
A vital part of case management is coordinating with other healthcare specialists involved in the patient’s care. Social workers often need to work with doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, and other specialists. They ensure that all parties communicate effectively and work together to improve the patient’s health. They might facilitate meetings, share essential updates on the patient, and coordinate the implementation of the care plan.
They can also help patients access necessary resources. They might help mental health patients schedule and attend appointments, secure transportation, and obtain prescribed medication. Social workers also help patients navigate complex healthcare systems, ensuring they receive the care they’re entitled to.
They then monitor the patient’s progress and adjust the care plan as necessary by doing regular check-ins with the patient and tracking their progress toward their goal.
Advocacy is a cornerstone of social work, especially in the mental health field. Social workers advocate for the rights and needs of their clients, ensuring that they receive equitable access to care and support. They may advocate for an individual client, a specific group of people, or the broader mental health community.
When advocating for individuals, social workers ensure they can receive the support they need without discrimination. They assist their clients with healthcare paperwork and applications and speak on their behalf in meetings or discussions. Social workers may also intervene when clients face discrimination due to their mental health condition. For instance, a landlord or potential employer may discriminate against a mental health patient and deny them housing or employment; social workers fight for fair treatment and protect their client’s rights.
Social workers also advocate at systemic levels. They push for policy changes that improve mental health services. For instance, they might lobby for increased funding for mental health programs or better access to mental health services. Social workers often work alongside policymakers, community leaders, and other stakeholders to drive these changes. Advocacy efforts of social workers can help shift societal attitudes toward mental health and help people understand and accept these conditions.
Social workers implement psychoeducation to educate patients about their mental health conditions. They may discuss their diagnoses and treatment options with patients and reiterate the importance of their medications. This information helps patients better understand their situation and provides them with the knowledge they need to improve their recovery actively.
Social workers provide psychoeducation in various ways. It could be one-on-one sessions where the social worker discusses several aspects of a patient’s condition with them. Psychoeducation could also take place in a group setting where the professional can discuss common issues and strategies among patients. They can also provide resources that patients can use to further learn about their conditions, including books, websites, and support groups.
Psychoeducation is aimed at empowering patients. Patients that understand their medical condition can easily make informed decisions about their treatment options and the lifestyle that’s beneficial for them. It can also improve their ability to manage their symptoms and adhere to treatment plans.
Social workers support patients through various services and approaches. They provide patients with the necessary support, tools, and resources to manage their conditions and lead meaningful lives. Whether through direct therapy, advocacy, or psychoeducation, social workers’ impact on mental health can’t be underestimated.