Why is there a social worker on my couch?


Hospice and palliative care in Los Angeles both rely heavily on the interdisciplinary team, a group that includes:

– Physicians
– Nurses
– Certified Nurses Aids (CNA)
– Spiritual Coordinators
– Social Workers
– and more

These disciplines work together to address all aspects of a person’s life, physical, emotional, psychological, social, interpersonal, and spiritual. The role of each team member seems fairly straightforward. Doctors and nurses address physical wellbeing and manage physical symptoms. CNAs provide bathing and personal care in addition to helping the nurses. Spiritual coordinators attend to the spiritual needs of patients and their families. That leaves one question. What does a social worker do?

The social work role can seem difficult to describe because the role is so varied. There are also many misconceptions about the profession.

First, we are not there to take children away from parents. (Only a small percent of social workers practice in Child Protection Services.) Many of our clients think they don’t need a social worker because they’re “not poor.” While social workers often work with low-income families, we aren’t limited to them. We can and do help people from all income levels. I once had a client say to me, “Why do I need a social worker? I’m not planning a party!” We’re not really that kind of social either.

Here’s how I explain our role:

The social workers at Faith & Hope Hospice and Palliative Care in Pasadena, CA provide emotional, spiritual, and comfort support. We assist with caregiving, financial & legal resources, and advance care planning, aide with assistance programs, help our clients understand their condition, and ensure our client’s voice is heard.

That is still a mouthful. So, let’s try a Top 10 list*:

1. Emotional and social support
2. End-of-Life decisions/Advance Care Planning
3. Anxiety or fears about death
4. Preferences about environment
5. Financial resources/concerns
6. Safety issues
7. Comfort issues
8. Grief
9. Awareness of prognosis
10. Spirituality and existential concerns

A colleague simplifies it even more:

Social workers CARE- Counseling, Advocacy, Resources, Education

Social workers clearly have a diverse role anyway you describe it. Even we don’t know how we will help each client at the beginning. That’s why our first step is to make a comprehensive assessment. This allows us to better understand the unique needs of each patient and family. Then we can figure out our role of how we can best help. As the client’s needs change, so does our work. It’s a continuous process to ensure the highest quality of life for our clients.

Just another way we ensure that Faith & Hope Hospice is the best hospice Los Angeles County has to offer!