Role of the Social Worker
Anne Coscarelli, Ph.D.
In this newsletter dedicated to hope, I want to discuss one of the most hopeful, comforting and valuable resources that our Center has to offer -- our staff of clinical social workers. Many people have a misunderstanding of the services that these individuals can provide and who might benefit from them. A commonly-held belief is that only people who are "crazy" or have severe problems should see a mental health professional. I want to dispel this notion immediately. Talking to a trained professional does not imply that one is crazy or deficient in any way. These are not terms that anyone in our field would use and, yet, this misconception persists. Let me give you a better sense of the critical ways in which a social worker can help you and your family manage the effects of cancer on your well-being.
The title "social worker" by no means does justice to the scope and quality of services carried out by these important mental health professionals. When I was developing our Center's program, I specifically recruited licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) to be our primary care-givers. LCSW's typically have earned a bachelors degree followed by a Masters Degree in Social Work which usually entails two years of full-time study and internship experience. In this training, they learn about psychology, human relationships, social networks, and how individuals function within larger systems. They are trained to do one-on-one and group therapy with clients. The State of California licensure process requires that an LCSW have two year's minimum supervised clinical practice followed by a written and oral exam before they are licensed to practice. Our LCSW's have extensive experience with and knowledge of cancer and belong to a subspeciality known as oncology social work.
You can speak with one of our social workers with the assurance that he or she has had many years' experience working with patients with a wide variety of backgrounds. They have counseled patients at every stage of disease, seeing them through the many difficult situations that are an inevitable part of cancer. Their job is to facilitate your well-being and to help improve the quality of your life as much as possible. They help manage concrete problems like getting a wig or prosthesis, getting home health care or medical supplies, or arranging transportation to and from the hospital. Additionally, they are trained listeners and problem-solvers who understand the dynamics of people and social networks, and they can provide significant help with emotional and family concerns. Sometimes this support is given in an individual setting by telephone or in person; other times, it is carried out in a group situation. Our social workers also are very skilled in navigating the health care system's bureaucracy, providing information, reassurance and practical assistance. Finally, they often serve in an advocacy role helping interpret emotional and physical needs to the physician or other care provider. Such advocacy often leads to improved care and a stronger relationship between patient and provider.
I hope that I have dispelled the myth that working with a social worker implies that there is something "wrong" with you. It does mean that you are a human being who has been forced to manage a set of changes and conditions that can be difficult and frightening. Working with a social worker is an effective way to receive assistance during this time. Please take a few moments to read Gwen Tuck's comments here in A Patient's Perspective. She describes some of the ways in which Veronica Baker, LCSW, has helped ease some of the burdens of her disease. Our staff stands ready to help you with the challenges that you are facing. Know, too, that each person's needs will be considered individually and with confidentiality.
Anne Coscarelli, Ph.D.
Wallis Annenberg Director’s Initiative in Psychosocial Oncology
© Anne Coscarelli, Ph.D. All rights reserved.