Hide Your Kids. Hide Your Wife. A Social Worker Is At The Door
March is Social Work Month; a month to highlight the contributions of those in the field of social work. Culturally, social workers have been given a bit of a bad reputation. When social work is mentioned as a profession, it is generally synonymous with ‘taking people’s kids’ in the culture. While there are some individuals that are tasked with the job of child protection, I want to share more about the profession of social work. I will also offer a service comparison with other mental health professions.
The field of social work is a vast one. Metaphorically speaking, it is like the continent of Africa. Portrayed so poorly by the media, but absolutely full of beautiful opportunities and experiences once inside of the field. Social work is a professional field that was founded with the premise of shining light on various injustices, in order to bring resolution and improvement to the lives of the greater public. My broad definition offers a weak illustration of the field, as there are many smaller branches in the field of social work.
As an example, there are three different categories that a social worker can choose to enter professionally. Those are the micro, mezzo and macro levels. The micro level is composed of work on the individual level. This involves working with the individual or family units to assist in improving their quality of life. Mezzo work focuses on local communities, schools or organizations; while macro focuses on change within larger systems that affect the mezzo and micro levels. These levels of interaction are what set social work a part from many other mental health or helping professions. There is a lot of room to be creative and actually build your own lane.
Once degreed or licensed, a social worker can provide social work services in schools, churches, grassroots organizations, hospitals, state agencies, prisons, universities, governmental offices, law enforcement agencies, fortune 500 companies, and many other places. They can become executive directors, clinical directors, presidents, organizers, professors, therapists, case managers, administrators, lobbyists, policy makers, consultants, business owners, and more. There’s so much more to the field than what the field is known for. Ultimately, social workers aim to help others to fill voids that negatively impact their ability to be their best self.
I receive many calls asking me to do the work of a psychiatrist. While I can do the work of some of the other mental health providers, I can’t do the work of others. Some of the more well noted mental health professionals are as follows: psychiatrist, nurse practitioners, psychologist, clinical social worker, marriage and family therapist, and professional counselor. There are a few others such as clinical alcohol & drug abuse counselor, peer specialists, pastoral counselors and life coaches; that are considered when others think of mental health.
While I won’t discuss all of the above here (please read the full version on my blog at www.bonhomiellc.com for explanations of all the above professions), I will note some highlights. I am a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). This essentially means that I have a master degree in social work, and have passed two exams to become licensed to practice independently. Many individuals with this title provide, or have provided, therapy. That is not the case for all LCSWs, as they can act in all of the roles that I mentioned above. One of the questions I get asked a lot is can I prescribe medications. No, I cannot; but I will tell you who can.
Psychiatrists, are one of two mental health professionals that can prescribe medications. Psychiatrists are actually medical doctors or doctors of osteopathy; doctors with a specialty in mental health. The focus of psychiatry these days is mainly on medication management. The client will go to the psychiatrist, share the symptoms they are experiencing, and be prescribed medications based on that information. There are some psychiatrists that still provide psychotherapy; as well psychiatric evaluations.
In addition to psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners are also able to prescribe medications in some cases. Psychiatric nurse practitioners are registered nurses that went back to graduate school for nursing that focused on psychiatry and therapy. They usually work alongside or under the direction of a psychiatrist. Generally speaking, they can prescribe most to all of the same medications that a psychiatrist can prescribe. They too focus mostly on medication management, but are able to provide therapy.
I also am asked very regularly if I am a psychologist. Psychologists have a doctorate degree, usually with a focus on clinical psychology. Psychologists can also offer psychological testing and evaluations, perform research and become professors; to name a few. While psychologists have doctorate degrees, they are not medical doctors. As a result, they are unable to prescribe medications as well.
Licensed marriage and family therapists are also master degree prepared professionals. Their programs generally require hours of direct contact with therapeutic clients with a focus on marriage and family based concerns. Their license allows them to provide therapy to couples and families.
The professional counselor is another well-known mental health profession. Professional counselors hold master degrees in counseling obtained through education departments of varying universities. They are trained to provide counseling and assessments. Pastoral counselors have similar backgrounds, with their education being obtained through faith based higher education. Generally they provide group, marriage, and individual counseling. Certified alcohol and drug counselors have gone through master programs to become degreed. They provide group and individual counseling to those directly and indirectly affected by drug and alcohol abuse.
From my personal knowledge throughout my years in the field, all of the above professions are able to diagnose individuals with mental health disorders. This has always been the case for some professions, but is fairly new for others to include professional counselors. The ability to diagnose of course comes with proper training and the correct licensure.
In addition to, there are life coaches and peer specialists.
Peer specialists are a lesser known mental health profession. They are individuals that have personally gone through and overcome mental health or substance related life experience, and use that experience to help others. They go through extensive training to assist others in similar situations with overcoming them. Peer specialists can be a vital source of support to individuals and their families.
Last but not least, is the life coach. This is a field that has taken off in recent years. Life coaches are there to assist individuals with making gainful strides through current barriers in life. Some examples are goal orientation, boundary setting, organization and building of esteem. While these are all topics that a therapist can cover, life coaches are not therapists. They are not trained to work with mental illnesses, or to diagnose. In addition to, their work is generally outside of the realm of traumas from the past. The goals that are set with coaches will generally focus on moving from your current position to a future goal.
If you have any further questions or would like more information, please feel free to comment below.