Considering the role of social work in palliative care: reflections from the literature

Watts, Jacqueline H. (2013). Considering the role of social work in palliative care: reflections from the literature. European Journal of Palliative Care, 20(4) pp. 199–201.


Social work is integral to the professional practice of the multidisciplinary palliative care team both in hospice and hospital settings. Alongside nursing, medicine and a range of other clinical and complementary therapists, social work provides practical and psychosocial support to those coming to the end of their lives. Death and dying involves loss and transformation and for many can be experienced as overwhelming such that they require help to manage their feelings and come to terms with this significant transition (Mallon, 2008). Loss is always both personal and social and so the focus of social work practice in this area includes family and social network responses to the end of life (Reith and Payne, 2009: 7). Whilst the literature has devoted much space to discussing the nature of the work of clinical and pastoral practitioners within the multidisciplinary palliative care team (see for example, Payne et al, 2004; Nolan, 2012), less has been written about the role played by social work. Drawing on both professional and academic literatures, this article sets out to explore in more detail the complex and diverse nature of palliative care social work. In outlining the psychosocial and practical tasks undertaken by social workers, consideration is also given to the allied work of psychologists and the potential for disciplinary role overlap in the provision of both psychological and psychosocial support.

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