Exploring the 'social' of social work practice in palliative care

Watts, Jacqueline H. (2012). Exploring the 'social' of social work practice in palliative care. In: BSA Medical Sociology Group Annual Conference 2012, 5-7 Sep 2012, University of Leicester.


Social work, as one of the ‘psy’ professions (Foucault, 1977), is practised in a variety of sectors including education, the criminal justice system and health care. Palliative care, as a specialist form of health care practice with people who have life-limiting illness, has a multi-professional approach to care drawing on the expertise of clinicians, physiotherapists, complementary health practitioners and social workers. Delivered in hospitals, care homes, hospices and in the community, palliative care has been widely lauded for its holistic person-centred approach. The benefits of effective pain-control and the management of symptoms to enable dying people to have a ‘good death’, has led to an increased emphasis on the medicalised aspects of the palliative care model (Watts, 2010). The role of social work has thus received a lower profile in the palliative care literature, this despite claims for the importance of multi-professional working. This paper uses a case-study approach to explore the role of social work in palliative care. A range of case examples will be used to draw out the complex and challenging nature of social work practice in this often sensitive and highly charged context. Family conflict, unresolved and anticipatory grief and relationship breakdown are some of the issues that social workers must address as they support individuals and families in regaining control of their situations at, what is often, a very stressful time in their lives.

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