What does a Social Worker do? It’s a statement we Social Workers hear often. There are many misconceptions about our role, and it’s one that we struggle to define ourselves. “I am a: basic agent for positive change, a client advocating, injustice fighting, therapy providing, systems testing, family preserving, social conscious raising, data collecting, rights protecting, child defending, staff developing, human assisting, strengths focused, social rights championing, ego lending, and crisis intervening, teacher, facilitator, listener, encourager, supporter, and leader with professionalism, integrity, concern, empathy, values, love, trust, honesty, and warmth- Social Worker (NASW- NYC chapter).
As a Hospice Social Worker specifically, we are often able to reframe what is important to patients and families at end of life using their vocabulary, their experience, and acknowledging an understanding that western medicine does not necessarily align with their beliefs. Social Workers work with the team to help manage symptoms so that we, as individual team members, can help to actualize their end of life goals; through creatively accessing community resources, foundation support and team collaboration. An example of this is a pediatric patient expressing his desire to survive until his next birthday. From a medical model, this may or may not be realistic, however from a strengths based model it is the answer to treatment. This patient was able to celebrate his birthday early with much support; the community provided an art space for his closest family and friends to create a tribal instructional painting, while the foundation provided the resources to create a joyful and celebratory environment.
As professionals with a wide range of experience in assessment and crisis intervention, Social Workers are skilled at performing risk assessments while also normalizing and holistically treating the underlying causes of mental illness, safety, and the possible association of fear surrounding the upcoming death. We don’t shy away from these conversations, but rather explore patterns, negative self-talk and alternative solutions which may include a death plan to enhance their sense of autonomy. For example: identifying a particular genre of music that has brought joy and meaning to one’s life, assisting patients to access DWD, and helping to mend estranged relationships. We provide trauma counseling/EMDR or specialized counseling to patients who have had traumatic experiences themselves and/or family members who have experienced complex trauma as a result of grief, and connecting them with long term supports. Even for those not suffering from trauma, we help to identify coping skills, support systems, and process functional changes for the patient and role changes for the caregiver.
As Social Worker, our role can be difficult one, it is not one that is always filled with simplicity or ease. It can often involve difficult conversations, challenging perceptions, or offering insight and awareness of options so patients and families can make informed decisions. But ultimately, our role is to listen and acknowledge one’s experience. So the next time you ask “what does a Social Worker do?” It is filled with a multidimensional answer, which is why we love what we do!