The role of a social worker is highly varied. It can involve working with homeless people, children in need, asylum seekers and even people struggling with addiction. Social work is a uniquely rewarding career that involves supporting vulnerable people of all types and helping them adjust to society.
Helping people overcome addiction is a vital function of social work as it helps people struggling with addiction retake control over their lives and become productive members of society. Let’s explore how social workers help to treat people with drug addiction and some of the skills they apply in their work.
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What is a clinical social worker?
A clinical social worker is a professional who has not only gained a master’s degree in social work but has also satisfied Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) requirements in their state. Many people earn the relevant social work qualifications through online programs such as the one offered by Florida State University. This equips them to deliver specialist social support, such as by treating addictions through a variety of intervention, treatment and prevention measures.
This specialty practice also involves assessing, diagnosing, treating and preventing mental illnesses and emotional and behavioral problems. They support people in various environments, including in their homes, hospitals, mental health centers and private practices. They deliver their services on a one-on-one basis or in group or family settings.
Types of clinical support to treat addiction
Clinical social work is a field dedicated to behavioral healthcare that seeks to treat people with a range of bio-psychosocial and behavioral problems and illnesses. The foundations of clinical social work’s knowledge base are theories on psychological, social and biological development, family and group dynamics, interpersonal relationships, social and cultural environments, and addiction and mental disorders, to name a few. When it comes to treating addiction, the path to recovery for those afflicted is rarely straightforward, but here is a look at some of the ways these professionals support people.
Establishing relationships and extending a helping hand to those who are struggling with addiction through counseling is the first stage in the treatment process. This helps social workers understand the various complex factors that may have led to addictive behaviors, which in turn informs potential treatment strategies.
This type of counseling, also known as therapeutic intervention, is by itself a powerful device for helping people with addictions as it allows people to express themselves openly. Clients may have damaged relationships with friends and family or feel like social outcasts in more serious cases, and the resulting loneliness can make addictions worse.
Clinical social workers give their clients a chance to be heard and tell their story, which can help them unravel and process past traumas that may be contributing to a perceived need to abuse substances. Counseling enables social workers to get to know and understand the people they help, which helps them understand why they may have turned to drugs or alcohol in the first place and what could possibly be done to help them abstain. Counseling is ongoing throughout recovery and enables social workers to closely support their clients and measure their progress.
One of the primary goals of counseling is assessing patients and understanding the multifaceted background of their addiction as this helps social workers devise treatment plans. There may be stress, family history, physical or mental abuse, trauma and many other factors contributing to their compulsion to abuse substances, and the social worker must carefully uncover them through talk therapy and other methods. It’s also important to assess practical issues, such as how much of a substance the client uses per day or week, as this helps the social worker define parameters for progress toward recovery.
Once they understand the frequency of abuse and the full extent of the addiction, they work to address the triggers that are contributing to the abuse. In some cases, these may be economic problems, such as a lack of housing, food or water, and social workers can help connect them with the resources they need to recover. Sometimes clients suffer from a range of problems simultaneously, and the road to recovery is a complicated one with the potential for recurring setbacks. It is the social worker’s job to fully assess their clients’ needs and help them receive support, referring them to other experts when necessary.
Successfully treating clients is a clinical social worker’s goal. They use their expertise to develop personalized treatment plans that can last multiple years and are aimed at reducing and eventually eliminating all substance abuse and rehabilitating clients. In many cases, executing treatment plans means working with various care providers, government departments and specialists, such as doctors and the Department of Housing, for example. Treatment plans typically consist of medical treatment, ongoing counseling, goal setting, employment support and referrals to specialists. Because addiction is often caused and exacerbated by complex emotional issues and mental health problems, recovery is rarely easy or simple.
Clients may strongly resist treatment, relapse multiple times, or they may be hesitant to seek help or engage with treatment plans because of feelings of shame, low self-esteem and anxiety, for example. Therefore, clinical social workers must be both patient and proactive to help people effectively, constantly engaging in conversations with clients to monitor and support them. Social workers must determine the reasons clients are resistant or otherwise difficult so they can work with them to remove the barriers standing in the way of their recovery. Treatment plans are dynamic and constantly adapt to the needs of patients.
Provide ongoing support
Recovering addicts can benefit immensely from rigid structures that facilitate their progress and help them stick to treatment plans. This is the objective of ongoing support, as social workers seek to maintain contact and work with clients directly after the intake, assessment and treatment development periods.
Ongoing support typically entails weekly counseling sessions where the social worker helps with approaches such as stress management, conflict resolution and more talk therapy. To supplement counseling, the client may also attend group therapy sessions like those held by the AA for recovering alcoholics. Group therapy can also help to fulfill social needs for clients.
Clients check in with their social workers regularly to provide updates on their progress, discuss difficulties and seek further guidance to promote personal development. Once a significant recovery occurs, social workers may set new goals to keep clients motivated and on the right path. These may be social, financial or physical goals, depending on what the social worker believes is right for the client to facilitate their growth. They always encourage introspection and self-care to ensure clients understand their flaws and why they need to improve them to live a happier and healthier life.
A large part of sticking to treatment and recovery plans is recognizing and celebrating achievements, such as reaching abstinence milestones, as this can give patients the determination they need to see it through to the end. Therefore, social workers must set metrics for measuring success and keep track of them so they understand the client’s recovery progress. Evaluating progress also enables them to adjust treatment plans where necessary and take a new course of action if problems or unexpected events occur. Reviews may take place weekly, bi-weekly or even every few days in the early stages of treatment.
Skills for clinical social workers
If you’re currently studying for a social work degree, you can benefit from learning about and developing some of the skills required to perform well in the field. Here are some of the skills social workers may apply when helping clients overcome addiction.
People with addictions can be difficult to deal with at times, and their road to recovery might include several setbacks. Therefore, it is important to be patient with people and offer ongoing support and guidance as this can help them reach the best outcomes.
Empathy can help social workers understand other people’s perspectives and feelings as it means placing yourself in another person’s shoes. This is a vital skill when treating addiction as understanding the emotions and mindsets of clients can help you think of more effective ways to treat them.
Social workers spend much of their time counseling people and writing reports, and both of these activities require strong communication skills. Being an effective communicator can help you extract the most valuable information from people and transmit your own ideas more effectively, leading to better transfers of knowledge.