Serving the Underserved: Caring for People Who Are Both Old and Mentally Retarded: A Handbook for Caregivers

By Mary C. Howell; Deirdre G. Gavin et al. | Go to book overview

17
THE ROLE OF THE SOCIAL WORKER

Susan L. Sternfeld

In thinking about what role I have played as a social worker on the Kennedy Aging Project Team this year, it has been difficult to separate a single role and look at it analytically. The primary reason for this difficulty lies in what I view as the uniqueness of this Team, a uniqueness that can be attributed to the following two factors: (1) the Team was composed of several permanent members, but each year it also incorporated new student members into its body; and (2) although each permanent and student member had a "primary" professional identity-- physician, psychologist, minister, nurse practitioner, social worker, leisure therapist, lawyer--almost to a person, each member also had a second professional qualification. How did these factors affect the social work role? In order to answer this question, we need to look at what the ideal social work role would be on any team.

In my view, a social worker's major contribution to an Interdisciplinary Team is the holistic and interactive lens through which he views human problem solving. This particular lens is then applied to both the life of the client being served and the life of the Team as it evaluates the client's needs.

The social worker's viewpoint is particularly useful in the early stages of a Team when a variety of professionals are coming together for the first time, each bringing her own professional expertise. As the Team members begin to talk about a particular client, their professional training often leads them to look at the client with "tunnel vision," that is solely from a single professional perspective. This tendency toward tunnel vision is partially produced by professional expertise and training, and partially elicited by the team process itself, which sometimes creates the need to differentiate from other team members.

Building bridges between people and professions, then, is important if the full benefits of the Team approach are to be realized. The

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