What does a Psychiatric Social Worker do?

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  • Originally Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 December 2018
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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.


Hospital Jobs

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.

Private Practice

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.

Required Training

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.

Advancement Possibilities

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.


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Discuss this Article

Post 7

Being a psychiatric social worker is the most rewarding and challenging job in the health services. I have been in it as a student, worker and now as a lecturer in counseling at the university. -- Dewkurun

Post 6

What is the scope of the medical social work in hospital settings?

Post 5

@anon342356: I think I can help you out. The title is asking how social workers specializing in the psychiatry field can help their clients by taking the stigma, or shame, out of having a mental illness, particularly schizophrenia, for them.

Many times, persons with a diagnosis of mental illness, and especially schizophrenia, are ashamed of their illness and feel labeled by it, which causes them more stress. This article then, is exploring ways to remove the stigma or shame, thereby helping a schizophrenic client function at a higher level. Hope this helped!

Post 4

I need a bit of help here. I am a student from Germany (social work) and have to translate a title into English. Does this make sense?

"Stigmatisation and mental illness – Implications for psychiatric social work regarding destigmatisation strategies of Schizophrenia."

Do you understand what it means? I would be glad for some help!

Post 3

I am a psychiatric social worker. I have been working in this field for 22 years. It can be very rewarding. It is a challenge, particularly when people are not used to a social worker who is trained and experienced in providing psychotherapy for individual, family and groups.

Post 2

I know many people who have pursued degrees to have a career as a social worker, and I am not sure many considered this sort of route. I think most people associate social work with things like children's services or people who have problems relating to poverty, but there are so many other ways that people can help others through jobs in social service.

Post 1

I admire people who work in psychiatric services on any level. While I enjoy helping people and listening to their problems, I am not sure I would be at all equipped to do so as a career. Psychiatric social worker jobs especially seem like they could be challenging careers, both emotionally and mentally.

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