A psychiatric social worker helps people who struggle with mental health issues cope with their problems and obtain important social services. He or she provides counseling to patients and family members, and helps them obtain both financial resources and medical services. The social worker might also investigate housing and job placement options for recovering patients. Mental health social workers are employed in many different settings, including inpatient psychiatric hospitals, outpatient mental health centers, prisons, and governmental social service offices.
Types of Patients
Psychiatric social workers focus exclusively on patients with various mental illnesses, conditions, or delusions. The job is usually both diagnostic and therapeutic — that is, the social worker works to identify the root of the patient’s troubles then helps the patient find ways of coping.
Focus on Social Integration
The main goal of most psychiatric social workers is to help patients live and work in society with the highest degree of independence possible. Professionals arrange special living situations in inpatient hospitals, halfway houses, or assisted living facilities. Social workers may also contact potential employers to find out about job possibilities and explain a client's situation.
Most psychiatric social workers work closely with psychiatric hospitals or designated hospital wards. When patients are admitted with mental health concerns, social workers are called in to help assess the situation. Sometimes, brief counseling is all that is required. More often than not, however, professionals must spend a lot of time with patients, understanding their situation and helping them strategize ways forward.
Work Within Prisons and Government Psychiatric Institutes
Mentally ill patients in prisons or public psychiatric facilities are often assigned to a specific psychiatric social worker, typically one who works for the government. Most of the work done within these settings is rehabilitative. Professionals usually work with patients to help them understand the gravity of their crimes or other social missteps. These sorts of caregivers may be called upon to testify in trials and to write official reports making assessments about a patient’s mental state.
Some social workers hold jobs in private counseling firms or within community-based counseling centers. Those who believe they or a family member are suffering from mental illness may voluntarily seek out the assistance of a psychiatric social worker in one of these settings. These professionals generally provide interpersonal counseling services to help patients, family members, and caregivers learn more about mental disorders and the best ways to cope with them.
A master's degree and one to two years of supervised experience are usually the minimum requirements to become a psychiatric social worker in any setting. In many places, new graduates must pass a written licensing exam before working independently. Licensing tests are designed to ensure that examinees fully understand the pertinent risks, confidentiality requirements, and legal regulations associated with the job. Social workers in psychiatric hospitals usually receive additional training to learn how to best handle violent or severely ill residents.
Experienced psychiatric social workers are often able to become supervisors or administrators. Some professionals become involved in public policy jobs, where they advise government officials on the creation of new programs and facilities to meet the needs of mentally ill people in the community. Others go on to teach in universities or other training programs.