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The Role of Mental Health Social Workers

role of mental health social workers

Mental health and substance abuse disorders are pervasive challenges that affect people of all walks of life. These issues not only impact the person affected, but are known to affect families, communities, even society as a whole. In such cases, a mental health social worker often serves on the front lines of the complex and multi-layered landscape of mental health treatment. That is why we celebrate social workers in March, National Social Work Month.

Mental health social workers offer a blend of compassion, advocacy skills, and a holistic or “whole patient” approach to addressing people’s mental health needs and challenges. In fact, social worker Katherine “Kat” Holbrook, LCSW, has been named the new Clinical Director of Northpoint Recovery.

What is a Mental Health Social Worker?

Admittedly, the term “social worker” sounds very broad. It accounts for various forms of assistance to people as they seek to cope with everyday challenges. However, at its core, mental health social work assesses, addresses, and treats issues related to mental, emotional, or behavioral health.

Social workers are trained and licensed to treat people experiencing a mental health disorder or substance use disorder, helping them connect with community services or other resources to enable their recovery. They often work with other mental health professionals like psychologists and psychiatrists to design and implement the effective treatments for their clients.

The Role of Social Work in Addiction and Mental Health

Before delving into the role of social workers in addiction and mental health, it is important to get one’s arms around the problem. Substance abuse disorders and mental health disorders are often intertwined—this is known in medical professional circles as “dual diagnosis” or “co-occurring disorders”. 

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), individuals with a diagnosed mental health disorder are more likely to experience a substance use disorder than those not affected by a mental health disorder. This underscores the need for comprehensive, holistic care.

Social Workers Make Mental Health Assessments

Social workers are integral members of mental health and substance abuse treatment teams, contributing significantly to the assessment process. These workers are trained to conduct psychosocial assessments, taking into consideration such factors as family dynamics, socio-economic status, cultural background, and personal medical history. 

In this way, mental health social workers can identify the root causes of the patient’s issues, which helps in the creation of a personalized treatment plan. Also, social workers conduct risk assessments to determine whether the patient presents the potential for harm to themselves or others.

Social Workers Take a Holistic Approach to Treatment

One of the distinguishing features of mental health social workers is their emphasis on a holistic, or “whole patient” approach. Social workers recognize that people facing certain challenges sometimes require support in different aspects of their lives. Therefore, they collaborate with patients to address not only their mental health symptoms or substance abuse issues but also the social determinants that influence their mental health.

This perspective extends beyond the patient to encompass their family, friend groups, and their community. Social workers engage in family therapy, support groups, and community outreach initiatives to build a supportive environment for the person under their care. By addressing systemic issues such as poverty, discrimination, and lack of access to education or employment, social workers help break down barriers that can impede recovery.

Social Workers Aim for Empowerment

Social workers are staunch advocates for their clients. They champion their rights and work to eliminate stigma associated with mental health and substance abuse disorders. This involves empowering patients to take an active role in their recovery: navigating complex healthcare or legal systems and ensuring access to resources and support.

Social Workers Work Within Interdisciplinary Teams

Effective mental health and substance abuse treatment requires a high degree of collaboration among professionals. Social workers often team up with psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, and other healthcare providers to develop comprehensive and individualized care plans. Such a collaborative model enhances the likelihood of positive outcomes for patients.

Social Workers Provide Crisis Intervention and Support

When it comes to mental health and substance abuse treatment, crises are not uncommon. Therefore, social workers prepare to provide intervention and support during periods of acute distress. 

Whether it involves a mental health crisis, relapse, or some combination of the two, social workers can assess the situation. Then, they can  implement immediate interventions to ensure the safety of their patients.

The role of social workers in mental health and substance abuse treatment is multifaceted and indispensable. From conducting assessments to intervening during crises, social workers contribute to the well-being of those facing complex challenges. And as the culture continues recognizing the  ways in which substance use and mental health interconnect, mental health social workers will prove pivotal in treatment.

Find Addiction and Mental Health Treatment with Northpoint Idaho Today

Have questions about our approach to substance use and mental health treatment? The specialists at Northpoint Recovery can get you answers. We’d love to be your source for inpatient recovery from substance use disorder and any co-occurring mental health issues. Call us today at 208.225.8667 or fill out our online message form.