Psychiatric social workers are responsible for treating and assessing individuals with mental, emotional or substance abuse problems. They may have to provide group therapy, case management, crisis intervention and client advocacy. Psychiatric social workers also monitor, evaluate and record client progress with respect to treatment goals and counsel clients to assist them in dealing with mental illness.
The duties required of a psychiatric social worker include counselling and helping families understand and deal with the patient, supervising and directing other workers, developing or advising on social policy and conducting social research to advance knowledge. They must also plan and conduct programmes to combat social problems or to improve health and counselling services in the community, recording the client’s personal data, recognising physical or emotional abuse, and matching clients to community resources.
The skills required of a psychiatric social worker include active listening skills, social perceptiveness, speaking skills and critical thinking skills. Active listening skills are useful for actively listening to what patients and other health-care professionals are saying and giving full attention to them. Social perceptiveness is useful for being aware of the reactions of the patients and understanding the reason for those reactions. Speaking skills are useful for conveying verbal information to others effectively, such as the client or other health-care professionals. Critical thinking skills are useful for using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses or each solution to problems. Psychiatric social workers should also have writing, oral comprehension, inductive reasoning and oral expression skills.
Psychiatric social workers should have knowledge of scientific research methodology, grief counselling techniques, current social research, confidentiality procedures, conflict resolution, and behaviour modification techniques. They should also be familiar with intervention techniques, interviewing procedures, patient observation procedures, and institutional care procedures. Psychiatric social workers should be able to develop policies, procedures, methods or standards, develop plans for programmes or projects, monitor patient progress, and manage detailed case records in a social work setting.
The requirements necessary for becoming a social worker include at least a bachelor’s degree in social work, a BSW, which is the most common requirement. Some social workers, however, have majored in sociology, psychology and related fields. Certain jobs in public and private agencies may require an advanced degree, such as a master’s degree in administration or social services policy.
Most full-time social workers work a traditional 40-hour work week, but some occasionally work evenings and weekends, whenever necessary. They may have to attend community meetings, meet with clients or handle emergencies. Some social workers do work part-time for voluntary non-profit agencies. Travel may be required as part of the job to visit clients, attend meetings or meet with service providers. Most social workers work in offices. While the work can be rewarding, some find it emotionally draining.
As of 2008, the average annual salary for a psychiatric social worker was roughly £26,000, according to My Plan.