As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, people are more in need of help than ever before. The impact on our collective well-being has been made clear, which makes the presence of social workers in society extremely vital.

Social workers like Marioli Sterling have witnessed firsthand how the pandemic has affected the mental health of their existing clients. Sterling is a social worker that works with families in New York City. She provides her insight into the various ways that social workers in the U.S. are continuing to help their clients, through innovations like telehealth and virtual sessions.

Emergency Preparedness

In any time of crisis, the goal of social workers is to solve problems through social intervention. This goal has not changed, even during COVID-19. Many social workers, or larger agencies and institutions that employ social workers, already had emergency preparedness plans in place should a crisis like the pandemic occur.

In addition, social workers are experts at assessing urgent situations and coming up with a plan of action. This skill has allowed them to fare better than most during the lockdown of 2020. Marioli Sterling claims that the goals of social workers such as herself in any emergency situation are as follows: to provide information about the crisis to various social groups and lay out the options that they have available to them, to motivate people to take advantage of opportunities, to help victims of the crisis manage their feelings and emotions, to help people learn new ways of dealing with or facing the problems at hand, to help others process the crisis so that they can move on with their lives, to facilitate communication and connection between individuals and groups, and to help those in need adapt to the new reality before them. While these goals were meant to apply to almost any type of crisis, they certainly resonate with the COVID-19 global pandemic, which has affected the lives of almost everyone in the world. It is these goals that all social workers in the United States and beyond are working towards in 2020.

Virtual Communication

Given the unprecedented time we’re currently living in, it’s never been more clear how important social work is. More people need access to professional support from social workers than before the pandemic, which is why finding a way to continue offering their services has been top of mind for all social workers. Marioli Sterling claims that similar to the medical field, social workers have found telehealth and virtual sessions to be one of the best ways to keep in touch with their clients on a regular basis.

In order to keep their connections strong, social workers have been using every form of technology to communicate with their clients, including email, phone calls, and video chats. A specific list has been developed of the different ways social workers can communicate with their clients virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. These ways include online counselling, telephone counselling, email, text messages, automated tutorials, mobile apps, social networks, videoconferencing, and self-guided, web-based interventions. If you’re wondering how to make a virtual appointment with a social worker, the best place to start is by phoning your local health center or clinic. The staff there will be able to let you know how you can make an appointment in your specific area. If you would prefer a video chat versus a phone call, be sure to note what your preferred technology is. For example, FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, and WhatsApp by Facebook all offer video chat capabilities. They are also the most widely available and feature the best encryption and privacy measures.

Marioli Sterling on Rethinking Social Work

The social work field has navigated itself through many crises of the past, but none on such a grand scale as COVID-19. The way that the profession has adapted to include forms of virtual communication has led many to rethink the field of social work. As a result of the pandemic, social workers, through the use of technology, have created new ways to communicate with clients, perhaps more regularly than in the past. It remains to be seen, but many believe that this shift will represent a fundamental change in the social worker-client relationship. Being able to speak to their clients with the click of a button has led to more frequent support than ever before.

In addition, Marioli Sterling asserts that COVID-19 has not only impacted the client-facing side of social work, but also the internal and administrative aspects of the job. For example, social workers have increasingly begun using technology to gather and manage information about clients. For those that weren’t already, many have started storing records electronically (with encryption for privacy purposes) on their laptops or smartphones through the cloud. Overall, Sterling claims that being forced to use technology has changed the field for the better. Now, social workers are harnessing the power of the internet, using technology to organize communities, address social justice issues, develop social policies, and more. We likely won’t see the full effects of this transformation for years to come, but it is definitely helping to modernize the field to the benefit of the millions of people social workers work with regularly.