You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

Stereotypes Everywhere
Clinical Social Workers (CSW’s) are taught that looks can be deceiving. During my internship at the Emergency Department, a woman being discharged from the hospital asked the medical staff to return her personal belongings from the hospital’s safe, including $15K in cash. What complicated the situation were the facts that the woman was homeless, her appearance was disheveled and disorganized, she had a diagnosis of Schizophrenia, and she was being discharged from William’s Ward, the area of the hospital that cares for those with mental illness. After checking the hospital’s safe and not finding any personal items for the woman, the case was appropriately turned over to the clinical social work team with little hope that the woman’s claims were in fact real. Clinical social workers are trained in assessing client and patient situations, advocating for clients and patients’ best interest, and avoiding stereotyping. After making a series of calls to obtain collateral (others who may have insight into a client or patient’s story), the social work team began advocating for the patient. The social work team learned that the hospital had more than one safe for patient’s personal valuables, and since the woman had been admitted to the hospital through a different medical department, her belongings were in the safe closes to where the patient was admitted. Yes, she did indeed have $15K cash, credit cards, and by memory she knew the name and the phone number of who she wanted to pick her up, even in this age of cell phones and speed dial codes. This woman’s state of homelessness and mental illness were not this woman’s complete story.

Clinical social workers endeavor to understand what makes up a person’s comprehensive story in order to provide the most appropriate evidence based solutions for clients and patients. Obviously, there are times when the patient believes something that is not in fact a reality, however, CSW’s take responsibility for ensuring that each client and patient are treated without bias. This is accomplished through several methodologies. Amongst many, one of the goals of assessment is avoiding stereotyping by seeking to understand each individual’s circumstances, even within a unit dynamic. Through time, care, and application of clinical social work skills, one gains a holistic view of a person and their personal life situation in order to best provide evidence based services. CSW’s have an assortment of tools and instruments for accomplishing this outcome, such as using SEEMAPS or performing a biopsychosociospiritual assessment, as well as treating client and patients in a professional manner as outlined in the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics, which states patients are not prejudiced based on age, gender, mental capacity, or sexual orientation. These skills, along with others, aid clinical social workers in being the most successful in our work with clients and patients because CSW’s know you cannot judge a book by its cover.


About Theresa Bayless

Candidate M.Div/MSW, Direct Practice, Final Year
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