A psychiatric social worker is an advocate that helps patients with mental illness experiencing a crisis, often working in hospitals and clinics. The job of a psychiatric social worker entails assessment, therapy, crisis intervention, rehabilitation and outreach services.
Throughout the process of advocating for their patient, they often serve as mediators between the patient and their family, their community and in many cases facilities such as a hospital, rehabilitation center or a government agency.
Psychological and Risk Assessment
One of the first assessments a psychiatric social worker performs is a biopsychosocial perspective. This model takes into account that there are a myriad of factors that can contribute to a person’s mental health and well-being, such as the patient’s biological and family history, their personality and psychology as well as environmental factors that may contribute to their mental health or illness.
As part of the diagnosing process, the mental health social worker must assess many different factors. Here are some examples:
What is the patient’s environment in which they live and how does this impact their current circumstances?
Is the patient severely mentally ill?
Does the patient need to be stabilized as an inpatient or can they be treated as an outpatient?
What are their needs?
Are they able to perform the activities of daily living?
Is there a history of substance abuse?
Is there a history in their family of mental illness?
Are they currently victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse or have been in the past?
Being an Advocate and Discharge Planning
One of the most important aspects of this job is giving a voice to someone who is not able to use their voice effectively in communicating their needs due to low-functionality or hostility in their crisis.
Here are a few examples of how to best advocate for a mental health patient:
Utilizing additional resources in the hospital or clinical setting that a patient or their family member may not know is available.
Report abuse to authorities.
Implement group or individualized therapy.
As a social worker, it is so important to know what resources are available in the community for patients with mental illness to help them thrive.
Set them up with long term and short term goals that they can focus on for stabilization. After discharge, if possible, following up with the client can be one of the best tools available for long term success.
Due to the intense nature of this career, a psychiatric social worker needs a graduate level education to best utilize their skills and resources as an advocate for their patients. When choosing a Master’s program, ensure that the school is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
Depending on the state in which the graduate lives, certain requirements will need to be met before they can become licensed. The requirements vary greatly by location, so be sure to reach out to your state’s board of social work examiners.
After obtaining a graduate level education, social workers may choose to attain additional credentials or certifications to demonstrate their level of expertise in working in the mental health field such as Qualified Clinical Social Worker or Certified Advanced Social Work Case Manager.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 16 percent growth in social work jobs between 2016 and 2026, an astounding 9 percent higher than the national average of job growth. The median wage in 2017 for social workers was $47,980.