Social Work – Looking inwards, looking outwards


Andrea Dechamps – visiting the EAPC stand at the congress

Andrea Dechamps – visiting the EAPC stand at the congress

Andrea Dechamps, Director of Social Work, Bereavement and Welfare, St Christopher’s Hospice, UK, gives a glimpse of what social workers were discussing at the pre-congress meeting.

There was talk of elephants and sheepdogs.

One thing is certain. When a group of social workers get together things are never dull. And almost invariably, at some stage in the proceedings, they will end up sitting in circles. These are some of the things social workers are good at – conversation and creating meaning through shared narratives.

This year’s pre-conference workshop on social work was jointly chaired by David Oliviere, director of education at St Christopher’s Hospice, and Pam Firth, independent social work consultant and honorary lecturer at Lancaster University.

Introducing the theme of the workshop David reminded us to look at the profession with a critical eye as well as keep in view external developments. Pam explained how the EAPC Social Work Task Force had focused since 2009 on bringing some clarity to the diversity of roles, tasks and education of palliative care social workers across Europe. She reported on taskforce activities, including a consultation paper currently undergoing final revisions and recommending the adoption of competencies based on those pulled together by Canadian Palliative Care Social Workers.

Dame Barbara Monroe, chief executive of St Christopher’s Hospice, followed in her usual inimitable and at times provocative style. Given current changes in demographics and disease, worldwide recession and unprecedented change, current approaches to delivery of care, she stressed, were insufficient. New models of care less demanding of resource were needed. With current models based on past assumptions what was social work’s role in providing evidence? Barbara suggested dying could not be got right within and by palliative care services alone. And again – what role was social work playing in the future of care delivery? Barbara’s final poignant words were about finding our voice and seeking leadership roles. Had any of us expected to be let off lightly?

Next on the platform was Dr Tony O’Brien from Marymount University Hospice and Cork University Hospital offering a thoughtful reflection and outsider’s perspective on the social work role. The first palliative care social worker Tony met was Elisabeth Earnshaw-Smith, first director of social work at St Christopher’s Hospice, London. Tony highlighted her innate capacity to name the unspeakable (or elephant in the room). He remembered learning a great deal about the human condition from Elisabeth.

Tony spoke about narrative whole person care and offered some poignant quotes. “For all the science that underpins clinical practice, practitioners and patients make sense of the world by stories”  (Elwyn & Gwyn, 1999). Palliative care social workers, of course, know about the value of story in bringing ourselves to meet the patient as a person.

Tony offered a diagrammatic representation of key components of the social work role: to humanise, contextualise, normalise, empathise. Is this how we saw our role? And he spoke in no uncertain terms about social work needing to find its voice. He suggested palliative care social work had “singularly failed” to describe what it does and measure its value.

The final speaker was Professor Dr Maria Wasner from the Catholic University for Applied Sciences Munich, and the first social work and palliative care professor in Europe. Her focus was on the social worker within the inter-disciplinary team as the “specialised all-rounder”. She told a tale of five blind people describing an elephant (yes, here we had another elephant), each picking on one particular trait of the elephant. The social worker, she reckoned, would be the sixth blind person exploring the elephant in context, from a systemic perspective. To obtain a rounded assessment of patients and their families all six blind people, Maria suggested, were crucial.

Time to move into circles and for some small group discussion focusing on particular challenges for social work in our individual countries. Each circle was asked to come up with a symbol for social workers. One group chose a sheepdog…

The final take home message then from both David and Pam was: share your knowledge, find your voice, step up and evidence what you do.

To find out more…
You can read a longer version of this post, including a summary of the main themes emerging from the pre-congress workshop, on the web pages of the EAPC  task force to examine the diversity of roles, tasks and education of palliative care social workers in Europe.

Prague Congress reports and presentations now online!
Even if you weren’t able to attend the 13th EAPC World Congress in Prague you can now find a selection of reports and presentations on the EAPC website. Click here to access the conference web page and then follow the instructions to login in the usual way.

This entry was posted in EAPC Taskforces/special projects, Social work and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Social Work – Looking inwards, looking outwards

  1. Pingback: Social Work – Looking inwards, looking outwards | EAPC Blog | All Things Palliative - Article Feed

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