In This Article Psychopharmacology and Social Work Practice

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Overviews for Non-Medically Trained Professionals
  • Curriculum and Educational Tools
  • Safe Usage and Optimizing Care
  • Specific Health and Safety Concerns and Black Box Warnings
  • Children and Older Adults
  • Women
  • Ethnic Groups
  • Selected Herbals, Natural Foods, and Holistic References

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Social Work Psychopharmacology and Social Work Practice
Sophia F. Dziegielewski
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0114


Psychopharmacological treatments are changing the practice landscape for all health and mental health professionals. Awareness and access to pharmacological information for patients and consumers is essential. With the increased dependence on medications often accompanying any treatment modality, ethical, efficient, and effective practice by social workers and other counselors employed in health and mental health settings requires greater knowledge of psychopharmacological treatments, their interactions, and their effects related to psychotherapeutic interventions. If medications are designed to change one feeling, thought, or behavior, the same medication can surely change another unintended emotion or behavior. This requires that social workers and all other non-medically trained counselors have a working knowledge of medications, especially the mental health medications. This overview provides the latest references relevant to the medication issues and concerns mental health practitioners will encounter. Providing multicollaborative treatment requires sharing in the roles and the responsibilities of client care. For social workers an awareness of the mental-health-related medications utilized is required. As members of a collaborative team, social workers watch for potential problems in compliance and side effects, and they strive to ensure effective and achieve multicollaborative treatment. This bibliography addresses changes to the practice of social work, that have introduced further knowledge, including expansion in educational curricula.

Reference Works

Most social workers agree that, in order to provide quality and effective clinical practice, knowledge of medications is a must. Yet, historically, social workers have been slow to write textbooks that take into account their unique perspective. Some of the earlier works include Austrian 2005, Bentley and Walsh 2006, Dziegielewski and Leon 2001, and Dziegielewski 2009. Traditionally social work practice has focused on the socioenvironmental and holistic aspects of care and using information that clearly reflects the social work perspective. Topics covered include the role of social workers and the importance of serving as part of a multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary team where clients are empowered to self-advocate. Supportive and ethical concerns related to the psychopharmacological treatments and remedies are outlined with an emphasis on evidence-based treatments. Bentley and Walsh 2009 provides a short, concise, but comprehensive overview of the social worker’s role in working with clients using medications.

  • Austrian, S. G. 2005. Mental disorders, medications and clinical social work. 3d ed. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Addresses psychopharmacological treatment and knowledge important to ethical and effective social work practice through pharmacological behavioral interventions. First edition published in 1995 (New York: Columbia Univ. Press).

  • Bentley, K. J., and J. Walsh. 2006. The social worker and psychotropic medication: Toward effective collaboration with mental health clients, families and providers. 3d ed. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole Thomson.

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    Continues to provide a comprehensive review of the issues, trends, and practices related to psychopharmacology, focusing strongly on how to enhance social work practice.

  • K. J. Bentley, and J. Walsh. 2009. Psychopharmacology and social work. In Social workers’ desk reference. 2d ed. Edited by A. R. Roberts, 686–691. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Provides an overview of the many roles social workers can occupy when working with clients on medications, including physician’s assistant, consultant, counselor, advocate, monitor, educator, and researcher.

  • Dziegielewski, S. F., and A. L. Leon. 2001. Social work practice and psychopharmacology. New York: Springer.

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    Addresses psychopharmacological treatment and knowledge as essential to ethical and effective social work practice. Issues related to prescription, nonprescription, and naturalistic or herbal medicines are included.

  • Dziegielewski, S. F. 2009. Social work and psychopharmacology: A person in environment approach. 2d ed. New York: Springer.

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    Similar to Dziegielewski and Leon 2001, provides a comprehensive guide to the use of medications in the clinical setting, treatment planning, and a comprehensive reference guide for selected pain and mental health medications and their prescribed uses.

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