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Fox News columnist downplays social work role in mental healthcare after shootings

Dr. Keith Ablow. Photo courtesy of Fox News.

Jeers to Fox News’ Dr. Keith Ablow for a column that downplays the role of social workers in providing mental healthcare in the United States.

Ablow, a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team, said the nation must improve its mental healthcare system in the aftermath of recent mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo. and other places.

However, Ablow said psychiatrists — not social workers, psychologists, and counselors — should be in the center of U.S. mental healthcare.

“Social workers, psychologists, nurses and non-psychiatry physicians can each have an extremely important role to play in rendering care to psychiatric patients, but they should not be the orchestrators of such care,” Ablow said.

He blamed the insurance industry for setting pay scales so low that social workers and other professions are trying to “act like psychiatrists” and psychologists are clamoring to write prescriptions like psychiatrists in order to earn more money.

Social workers are concerned Ablow’s comments unfairly depict the vital role social workers play in mental healthcare.

For instance, Consumer Reports magazine did a study in the last three years on the efficacy of talk therapy services that found social workers scored equally as well as psychiatrists and psychologists when it came to customer satisfaction.

The Department of Health and Human Services and its Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also recognize social work as a  core mental health provider discipline. In fact, social worker Paolo del Vecchio, MSW, is the director of the SAMHSA Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS)

And at a time when tragic shootings have underscored the need for more mental health services in the United States, why should the leadership be limited to one mental health profession — psychiatry?

SocialWorkersSpeak.org urges readers to respond to Ablow’s comments. He can be reached directly at info@keithablow.com or you can leave a general comment about his column on the Fox News website. The National Association of Social Workers also released this statement on the Newtown tragedy. And to learn more about the role of social workers in mental healthcare visit the NASW’s “Help Starts Here” Mind and Spirit website.

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4 Comments

  1. I appreciate that the NASW has formally responded to this commentary. The sad reality is that some venues reliably seek to divide and denigrate populations and professions that they deem to have opinions or competencies contrary to their own. My initial reaction to this dismissive from faux news was to observe that I’d been dismissing the role of “Fox News” in broadcasting the NEWS for years!

    But then more realistically there is this: I’m sure that there are thousands of variations on the story and arrangements DO vary from state to state. But I’m a social worker and I’ve held faculty appointments in two psychiatric residency programs in two states. I’ve had teaching assignments -but without a faculty appointment- in two other programs. (TEACHING psychiatrists.) I also held a full time faculty appointment in Medical School – Family Medicine Department for 18 years. Family physicians like social workers provide considerable psychiatric / mental health care throughout the nation, particularly in rural locations. I was also director of Psychiatric Emergency Services for a large urban city / county. When I left that position I was replaced by a social worker. Part of that positions responsibility was to review all civil commitments initiated by community psychiatrists, other physicians and law enforcement personnel to confirm that the diagnosis was likely accurate and the determination of “dangerous to self or others” was valid. We all have a part in this solution.

    I know of many social workers with similar qualifications and experiences.

    Increasingly, most community base psychiatrists seem to be tightly linked to mostly the prescription of psychotropic medications and the periodic monitoring of patients for complications related to said medications as well as the need to continue or discontinue pharmico-therapy. Often based upon the guidance of social workers. (I’m sad to say that many of the best psychiatrists I encounter are quite interested in and willing to provide more direct care, but reimbursement structures and mal-practice precautions limit their opportunities to do so. Indeed the system IS broken.)

    Gary E. Bachman MSSW, LSCSW

  2. Let’s circle the wagons and shoot inwards? Blame the video games, arm the schools and fracture support for mental health services. A sure recipe for no changes on any front.

  3. I find the comments this physician makes about social workers and psychologists rather distressing. Perhaps medical schools should actually teach future physicians about our training, our roles, and the importance of the services we provide. We are much more than “psychiatrist wannabes”.

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