Social Work

Social Work

Providing compassionate and practical support to improve your circumstances

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How can Social Work nourish you?

Social work is a compassion-based modality that seeks to maximise people’s capacity to live well, both mentally and emotionally. It helps people from all walks of life address challenges they are facing in order to enhance their wellbeing. There is an accepted global definition which is to ‘promote social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people’.[1]

It is a well-established allied health discipline that has been taught academically worldwide since the 1900s. Social workers receive training in disciplines such as sociology, psychology, and have knowledge of human behaviour and development, social relationships, disability and health.[2] This allows social workers to provide a wide range of supports ranging from relationship building, therapeutic counselling, making psychosocial assessments, to providing practical assistance. Due to versatility of their skills, social workers are found in organisational settings such as hospitals, aged care and disability homes, non-governmental organisations, correctional institutions, schools as well as in private practice.[3]

The peak body for social workers in Australia is the Australian Association of Social Workers.[4] Members of this peak body must have a Bachelor or Master’s degree in Social Work from a recognised Australian tertiary or overseas institution. Some social workers have undergone additional specialist training to become Accredited Mental Health Social Workers,[5] and they are qualified to assist people with diagnosed mental health conditions.  

Benefits of Social Work

Social workers help people in need, whether the person has been affected by a natural disaster or is experiencing mental health or addiction issues.[6] They are trained to work with complex, multilayered issues, and are often relied upon to provide practical and emotional support in a non-judgemental manner.

Due to their person-centred approach, social workers are a key part of many care teams even though they do not have any medical training. A study found that a social-worker led program in a hospital resulted in good outcomes for palliative care patients, as social workers were able to help patients explore and set patient-directed goals. For these patients approaching end of life, social workers were able to support them and their family to process feelings of grief, while promoting the patient’s voice and giving them space to ‘reflect [on] their illness, and in turn prepare for the inevitable while having choice and control in that process’.[7]

Social workers can also be understanding advocates for people in distressing situations. Another study looked specifically at having social workers in emergency departments, and found that they were able to offer and encourage hope, mutuality and choice[8] in moments of crisis.

The support of a social worker was also associated with shorter hospital stays. Patients who remain in hospital after being medically fit for discharge are at a greater risk of experiencing muscle deconditioning, loss of mobility and morbidity. They also often have complex psychosocial needs, which social workers are able to address and assist people in planning for their discharge.[9]

Social Work may assist in relieving symptoms related to:

Alcohol and drug addiction Anxiety Communication and self-expression Confidence and self-esteem Conflict resolution Grief, bereavement and loss Loneliness Love and Relationships Mental health PTSD and trauma Stress and tension Show all

What to expect from a Social Work session

During the first session, your social worker will ask what brought you to see them, and what you hope to achieve. They will ask questions to gain a deeper understanding of your situation, and are likely to take notes during the session. Don’t feel embarrassed to freely share your thoughts, as being candid with your social worker will best allow to best assist you. Depending on your reasons for reaching out to a social worker, your time together may bring up some emotions. 

Following the first session, your social worker may give you some homework or questions to reflect upon. Given the practical nature of the therapy, they may also recommend trialling practical activities that seem unrelated to the main issue you are seeking help with (i.e. they may suggest trying yoga to assist with anxiety). They may conduct some psychosocial assessments[10] to help you gain a deeper understanding of yourself and in order to come up with a case plan for you. If they feel that your concern is beyond their area of expertise, they will make a warm referral to another professional such as a psychologist

It is generally recommended that you work with a social worker over a longer period of time[11] (rather than one-off sessions) in order to properly benefit from the therapy. Social work therapy also requires a genuine rapport between you and your social worker, so feel free to ask them questions to ensure that you feel comfortable working with them.


  1. Global definition of social work | International Federation of Social Workers
  2. Social work | Allied Health Professions Australia
  3. What do social workers do? | Health Direct
  4. Australian Association of Social Workers
  5. Accredited Mental Health Social Workers | Australian Association of Social Workers
  6. Social work education and training in mental health, addictions and suicide | US National Library Of Medicine
  7. A Social Worker-Led Primary Palliative Care Model for Hospitalized Patients Admitted to the Hospital Medicine Service | US National Library Of Medicine
  8. How could Mental Health Peer Support Workers Improve Emergency Departments? | University of Melbourne
  9. Cohort study of a specialist social worker intervention on hospital use for patients at risk of long stay | US National Library Of Medicine
  10. Scope of Social Work Practice | Australian Association of Social Workers
  11. Things to Expect (and Not!) in Your First Therapy Session | PsychCentral

Frequently asked questions

Social workers play a crucial role in promoting the wellbeing of individuals by addressing challenges and maximizing their capacity to live fulfilling lives. They provide support through various means, including relationship building, therapeutic counseling, and psychosocial assessments.

Social work is globally defined as a modality that aims to promote social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. The overarching goal is to enhance the overall quality of life for individuals and communities.

Social workers undergo comprehensive training that includes disciplines such as sociology, psychology, and a deep understanding of human behavior, development, disability, and health. This diverse training equips them with the knowledge to address a wide range of issues.

Social workers are found in diverse settings, including hospitals, aged care and disability homes, non-governmental organizations, correctional institutions, schools, and private practice. Their versatility allows them to provide support in various organizational contexts.

Social workers offer a range of support, including relationship building, therapeutic counseling, psychosocial assessments, and practical assistance. They tailor their approach to address the specific needs and challenges individuals may be facing.

Social work has evolved significantly since its establishment in the 1900s. Initially focused on addressing societal issues, it has expanded to include a broader range of individual and community concerns. The field continues to adapt to the changing needs of society.

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