Psychiatric Social Worker

A Master of Social Work degree or M.S.W. is perhaps one of the most versatile available.  One can take a macro track with it and go in to policy development, administration, program oversight and other related fields.  Equally, one can take a more micro track and focus on the provision of direct human services ranging from providing community and individual supports to the provision of psychotherapy.  I personally have dabbled in all of the above, but spend most of my time in the micro practice area of Social Work in the delivery of psychotherapy services.  Or as it is more commonly referred to, the delivery of clinical social work services.

As a Psychiatric Social Worker, I conduct psycho-social evaluations with the purpose of reaching a diagnostic conclusion for individuals; triage and interview individuals; perform psychiatric involuntary hold assessments; and all related documentation to support this work.  This role can be fulfilling if you like helping people, instilling a sense of hope where appropriate and realistic, intervening in helpful ways, and meshing academic knowledge with the day-to-day understanding of human motivations and behaviors, along with a variety of opportunities throughout the day to keep you busy, then the role of Psychiatric Social Worker might be one to consider.

This position has the opportunity to be quite rewarding for the individual who enjoys this type of work.  Perhaps the most satisfying role one plays is that of actually saving lives, even in the darkest times of people’s lives, such as when you are talking to them as they are readying themselves to implement a suicide plan and you interrupt that.  While perhaps a sad commentary on our society, this is no longer a rare outcome.  Other opportunities to be effective include being the first to validate the trauma or stress that someone has been carrying all of their lives; linking an individual to resources that are designed to help and support them move toward healthy ways of being; providing a brief therapeutic intervention that allows someone to better cope with intra-psychic pain and provides symptom relief; etc.  There are many other ways that this role can be rewarding.

And at the same time, this work is not for the faint-of-heart either!  I can’t think of a day that has gone by during this pandemic, where I haven’t triaged someone who hasn’t at least contemplated suicide.  In this role, one must be able to “hold trauma”.  We are constantly bombarded with real stories of trauma, angst, abuse, injustice, and the fall out of every “ism” out there!  Some calls are intense as well.  I recall a gentleman who was suicidal, had his “tools of self-destruction” with him in the vehicle, and would not tell me where he was located so I could send help (I eventually figured it out and he’s safe).  In the hospital, I’ve had people attempt to spit at me, call me every vulgar name known (many in other languages too!), attempt to assault me, and other similar unpleasant episodes.

You might ask, “with all of that stress, is it worth it?”  Or, “why do you do it then?”  The answer is fairly simple.  I’ve always been “a helper” type of person.  I enjoy trying to make a difference in people’s lives.  I’ve learned how to “turn off work” at the end of the day (that’s a whole blog entry in itself!), there’s a vague sense of spiritual obligation to help, and I like talking to people and doing so in a way that uses myself professionally to help.

By Christopher DeLima
Christopher DeLima