Mental Health

Did you know that social workers provide most of the country’s mental health services? According to government sources, 60% of mental health professionals are clinically trained social workers, compared to 10% of psychiatrists, 23% of psychologists and 5% of psychiatric nurses.

Social workers provide mental health services in a variety of settings, including:

  • Community mental health programs;
  • Disaster relief programs;
  • Employee assistance programs;
  • Military and veteran services;
  • Private practice;
  • Hospitals and skilled nursing facilities;
  • Schools; and,
  • Rehabilitation programs

Social workers see people within their environment—as part of a family, an employee in an organization, or a community member. Because of this, their mental health work is multi-faceted, combining psychological, social and practical elements. They have special skills in assessing, treating, and preventing psychological, behavioral, emotional, social and environmental problems affecting individuals negatively.

Social workers provide an array of varying mental health services. In an employee assistance program a social worker may help employees with personal problems and workplace concerns. Social workers also help their clients adjust to major lifestyle changes due to the death of a loved one, disability, divorce, or loss of a job. They also provide substance abuse treatment and help people experiencing depression, anxiety, a crisis or trauma.

Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, social workers were among the first on the scene providing mental health care to rescue workers, families, and others in the community. Many Americans were grappling with grief, anxiety, fear, and uncertainty; social workers, as part of the Red Cross Disaster Relief program, quickly offered assistance and counseling to families and loved ones as well as to other relief workers overcome with trauma.

Other social workers, especially those working with children, offered counseling and advice to parents and families in reaction to the attacks.

In one example, Jim, a clinical social worker, was mobilized to go to the plane crash site in Pennsylvania where he would spend days providing emotional and psychological support for emergency and recovery workers. Jim is a member of a critical incident stress management team (CISM) and is trained to provide peer support for emergency workers. Jim knows that it’s important to get people to discuss what they have seen and what how they feel. If such feelings aren’t adequately addressed, additional and perhaps more serious problems can arise later. Though what happened was abnormal, members of the critical incident teams determined that the feelings of stress and anxiety were very normal. Many Americans are still battling the after effects of September 11 and mental health counseling has not only been key to the recovery of emergency workers, but also vital for those directly affected by the attacks.

Using individual, group or family counseling, clinical social workers are skillful in helping people to gain an understanding of their problems and in alleviating major stresses that impact daily life. Whether it’s for a child, adolescent, adult, or older individual, clinical social workers can be counted on to provide the best mental health care in the nation.

Gibelman, M. (1995). What Social Workers Do (4th ed.).
Washington, DC. NASW Press.

NASW (2000) Social Work Speeaks (5th ed.).
Washington, DC NASW Press.
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