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Psychiatry Social Work

Clinical social workers are vital members of the treatment teams in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. They are masters-level, licensed mental health professionals trained to help people find solutions to a range of social problems that often accompany illness. Psychiatric illness, in particular, often reverberates through a patient’s life, complicating and straining one’s relationships, job situation, and quality of life. Our social workers strive to help patients cope with these overlapping aspects of their lives while they heal, using a combination of individual therapy, group and family therapy, and connecting to hospital and community resources.

Social workers within the department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences are involved with patients in an inpatient, day hospital and outpatient settings across the spectrum of specialty services within the department. They conduct assessments of patients’ social, emotional, interpersonal and socioeconomic issues. They work to enhance patient and family communications with the medical team members to enable patients to be active partners in their own care. Social workers are involved in illness education, teaching coping skills, and counseling/therapy. In all areas, they are pivotal to the aftercare planning process to facilitate a careful transition back to family and community.

Please read more about our mission, the history of psychiatry social work, the history of social work at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, more about our social workers’ role in psychiatric services (specialty programs), and where to find more information about mental illness, support and advocacy organizations, and community resources (resources).

Department of Psychiatry Social Work
Meyer 3-118
The Johns Hopkins Hospital
600 North Wolfe Street
Baltimore, MD 21287-7364

Phone: 410-955-6694
Fax: 410-955-5208

  • The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty. A historic and defining feature of social work is the profession's focus on individual well-being in a social context and the well-being of society. Fundamental to social work is attention to the environmental forces that create, contribute to, and address problems in living.

    Social workers promote social justice and social change with and on behalf of individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Social workers are sensitive to cultural and ethnic diversity, and strive to end discrimination, oppression, poverty, and other forms of social injustice. Social workers seek to enhance the capacity of people to address their own needs. Social workers also seek to promote the responsiveness of organizations, communities, and other social institutions to individuals' needs and social problems.

    The mission of the social work profession is rooted in a set of core values:

    • Service
    • Social Justice
    • Dignity and worth of the person
    • Importance of human relationships
    • Integrity
    • Competence

    This constellation of core values reflects what is unique to the social work profession.

    The mission of the JHH Psychiatry Social Work Department is to provide the highest standard of care for our patients with the goal of maximizing the gains of their hospitalization. We recognize that the impact of a psychiatric illness affects multiple aspects of a patient's life as well as the lives of family members. We strive to help patients adapt, cope and make changes that will help them to live as fully as possible within their communities.

    To fulfill this mission the Department of Psychiatry Social Work has the following objectives:

    1. Provide psychosocial assessments of all patients
    2. Provide individual, group, and family therapy as deemed appropriate for the patient's specific illness and treatment.
    3. Provide support and information, (education, updates, etc.), to both patients and family members as they begin the process of adapting to a mental illness
    4. Advocate for patients on patients’ behalf during illness and as a support.
    5. Provide interdisciplinary team members the psychosocial information essential to the development of the optimal plan of care after discharge
    6. Make available any known resources that will enable a patient to maintain or improve his/her quality of life
  • ocial work and psychiatry began almost simultaneously at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. The first hospital social worker was hired in 1907 and assigned to the dispensary, known today as the outpatient clinic. Two years later nurse Margaret Brogden took over and worked alone for a number of years. It soon became apparent that her services were invaluable and that the institution would benefit from having more social workers to serve patients. The Department of Social Services became a formal organization in 1912 when the hospital began hiring additional workers. Social work education was in its infancy and many of the early medical social workers had trained as nurses.

    Psychiatry began at Johns Hopkins with the hiring of Adolf Meyer in 1908 as its first director. The construction of the Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic in 1913 revolutionized patient care and integrated psychiatry into a teaching hospital for the first time. When the Phipps Clinic opened, the expansion of the Department of Social Services in the hospital was well underway, and three social workers were assigned to the Clinic’s 60 inpatients and its many outpatients as well.

    These early social workers enjoyed the strong support of Dr. Meyer who understood that social factors could weigh heavily in the genesis of psychiatric problems, and that social forces could be brought to bear to improve the chances of  patients getting and staying well. His wife, Mary Brooks Meyer, worked as a psychiatric social worker before coming to Baltimore. In his previous post at the Pathological Institute of the New York State Hospitals, she had visited the homes of some of his patients and reported back to him on the conditions of family and home.

    Dr. Meyer taught his psychiatry residents to look carefully at each patient’s social history when doing their initial evaluation and making their formulation of the case. He encouraged them to consider what the patient’s personal strengths and social assets were in developing a treatment plan. Meyer wanted the Clinic to serve a defined geographical district so that social workers would be able to make home visits to help with evaluations and discharge planning. These early psychiatric social workers were breaking new ground and had to rely largely on their own judgment. They looked for practical answers to the problems presented by their patients long before the conceptual framework for understanding many psychiatric illnesses was well formed and when there were few effective medications or treatments for psychiatric conditions.

    While the hospital went through expansions and contractions of its social work staff over the ensuing years, the support for the social workers in the Phipps Clinic was remarkably steady. In 1975, when Dr. Paul McHugh became Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry, there were still three psychiatric social workers. Part of Dr. McHugh’s vision for the Clinic was to return to the search for practical social solutions to patient’s problems, the expertise of the original social workers in psychiatry. In 1976 Janice Hedblom joined the social work staff, and soon became Director of Social Work in Psychiatry. Hedblom oversaw the hiring of additional workers to serve in the specialty units that were being created which helped refine the role of social work. By this time training at the graduate level was a prerequisite for all clinical social workers at Johns Hopkins Hospital and was followed shortly afterward by a State of Maryland licensure requirement.

    In 1982 the Department of Psychiatry moved from the Phipps Clinic building into the new Adolf Meyer building. Psychiatric care was allotted more inpatient beds, expanding to 88 beds on four inpatient floors. With the increase in patients and the push for decreased length-of-stays, the need for more social workers became apparent. A year after the move, the day hospital program opened and by 1983 there were eleven social workers serving inpatients and day hospital patients.

    Social workers in psychiatry were now involved in illness education for patients and families, discharge planning, and linking patients and families with resources in the community. They were providing treatment to individual patients, families, and groups. They were helping psychiatry residents and other team members appreciate the social strengths and liabilities of their patients. While the era of home visits was past, social workers were still deeply involved in evaluating the patient’s family situation and reinforcing and strengthening the social supports that were available to the patient at discharge.

    Today James Potash, MD, MPH heads the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Jeffrey Bracken, LCSW-C is Director of Social Work in Psychiatry. They have continued to expand the program. Now 15 social workers are assigned to general psychiatry as well as specialty programs in geriatrics, chronic pain treatment, eating disorders, mood disorders, schizophrenia, intensive treatment unit and motivated behavior unit.

  • While we were not the first hospital-based social work department, it was because of the impressive efforts of Dr. William Osler, the first chief of medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital, that the importance of medical social work as a profession was first acknowledged. He recognized that in order to treat a patient entirely, it was important to not only address their physical conditions but their emotional and social needs as well.

    He accomplished this by having the medical residents become student board members of the nearby Charity Organization Society, starting in 1903. In October 1907, eighteen years after the hospital first opened its doors and began treating patients, it established its own Department of Social Services. For the first few years, the department consisted of one person, Miss Helen B. Pendleton and later followed by Miss Helen S. Wilmer. These dedicated women worked tirelessly to ensure that all patients, regardless of their background, received necessary services and treatment. This included acquisition of eyeglasses, clothing, medications, leg braces, and dental work. Many of the expenses required to meet these goals were paid out of their own earnings.

    Additionally, social worker were instrumental in making connections with local clergy and generated a list of volunteers who could be called upon to meet the spiritual needs of patients while they were hospitalized. With the help of the Enoch Pratt Free Library and the Women’s Auxiliary Board donations, the department also created the hospital’s library which was available to everyone on campus. During the 1920’s the role of social work expanded throughout the hospital and additional funding was subsequently needed. In order to meet these financial demands, the social work department was responsible for running fundraisers and rummage sales. This eventually led to the creation of the Carry On Shop, which is still a booming source of income for the Women’s Auxiliary Board.

    After nearly 100 years, the Social Work Department essentially fulfills many of the same roles and responsibilities as it did when it was first created. Over time, the department has placed an additional focus on providing emotional support to patients and their families as well as linking patients with resources not only in the hospital but in their own communities.

    In 1996, the Social Work Department decentralized into five separate departments, consisting of Medicine and Surgery (including Emergency Medicine), Pediatrics, Oncology, Infectious Diseases, and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. In order to enhance communication and ensure consistency among all of the departments, the Social Work Council was established involving the directors of each department.

  • Thank you for your interest in Psychiatry Social Work. We hope that you have explored these pages and learned about the role of social workers in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. If you are interested in applying for a position and would like to find current openings in the Johns Hopkins Hospital, please click on the following site:

    Choose 'Current Openings', then scroll down and select:

    1. Job Category: Allied Health and Technician
    2. Job Location: Johns Hopkins Hospital
    3. Enter Key Word: Social Work
    4. Click 'Search'

    All currently available social work jobs in the hospital will appear. The listing will indicate if the position is in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

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