Social Work Perspective: How Will This Therapist “Do Better”?

Not only as a sentient adult, but also as the parent of a middle schooler, my emotional life since last Friday morning’s holocaust at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. has been rocked with pain and grief.

Response From Social Work Profession

So I’ve only begun to think about how my profession might participate in the discussion of change to mental health practice. We are certainly more connected than most professions, as we are mental health professionals. Do we need to look at new national policy regarding assessment, evaluation and mandated reporting of mentally ill individuals? It looks like there will be a revived national discussion and policy-making process related to gun regulation?

Public Policy Development

Clinical social workers like myself are of course first and foremost social workers. As such, we define ourselves in our professional canon as participants in policy development and community organization. Educationally, public policy and community organization are a part of all accredited Masters programs in Social Work (see Educational Policy 2.1.8.) Members of my professional association, the Washington State Society For Clinical Social Work, know this well from our legislative activity as an professional association. I was personally involved in legislative activity in Olympia, as President of the Board of Directors from 2008-2010.

Yet I wonder how we as a profession would “do better”, as the President admonished yesterday.  I hear some dialogue about outpatient therapists gaining the authority to identify individuals who may be at risk for violent acts. Politically and policy-wise, I think it will be difficult to move beyond the use of a criminal record database for background checks that qualify individuals for gun purchasing. The question remains whether that will become universal to all gun transactions.

Mental Health Database

The current mental health criteria for inclusion in the background check system is:

  • A person adjudicated mental defective or involuntarily committed to a mental institution or incompetent to handle own affairs, including dispositions to criminal charges of found not guilty by reason of insanity or found incompetent to stand trial.

By that standard, the Newtown shooter and many others have evaded restrictions on their ability to purchase or simply get guns. The database itself has become a leaky sieve. Current Federal law allows various ways to circumvent it, to the point of near uselessness when it comes to effective prevention. It makes little sense for health care professionals and administrators to report to a database that is itself badly compromised in terms of its comprehensiveness and effectiveness.

Social Work Profession

It’s easy for the general public to view the everyday office therapist as disconnected from public policy. I can assure any reader of this post that the social work profession as a whole is quite well connected to the policy process, concerned and capable of acting in the national discussion.

Those are just my thoughts for now. More to come…

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