Social Work and Health

Special Interest Group: Social Work and Health

Convenor: Wim Nieuwenboom
Affiliation: University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzer-land, School of Social Work, Institute of Social Work and Health

Field of Interest

This Special Interest Group addresses the fields of social work as related to health issues. Social work professionals are active in various fields of health care. In hos-pital settings e. g., they make an independent contribution to the care, treatment and recovery of healthily burdened clients and client systems. The field of mental health is especially important here: Professionals provide psychosocial support and counseling in interdisciplinary teams. Outside the clinic, social work is even more important stabilizing, recovering and integrating people through the mental health services. Also in the field of addiction, social workers are indispensable in direct practice as well as in care planning, helping to implement substitution projects, for example. Special target groups that deserve attention are minority groups that are vulnerable to stigmatization and discrimination.
Although experts point out that Social Work is strongly engaged in the health sys-tem and in health promotion and thus a strong relationship exists between social work and health, Social Work is neither seen as a core discipline in the health sci-ences, nor is it recognized as a health profession (cf. Homfeldt & Sting , p. 13). Un-der the paradigm of a biopsychosocial approach (Engel, 1977) which is supported by the Ottawa Charta (), the social dimension of health is increasingly recognized by medical professionals. This social dimension varies from the immediate social context (family, relatives and neighbourhood) until social influences like health in-equities that exist in society (WHO, 1986), that stress the importance of social workers in putting aside these inequities as a contribution to a better health in the population, especially for vulnerable groups.

The implementation of a "social determinants of health approach" also affects the profession of Social Work. It stresses the need to recognize Social Work as an im-portant actor and cooperation partner that has to be involved in a variety of inter-ventions. Meanwhile, developments in different countries that support an integra-tion of their systems of social care and health care put a pressure on social workers to legitimate their interventions and developing their professional identity.
Until now, Social work research still only partly reflects the developments described above. Although many research has already been done (mainly in health care set-tings), there are still a lot more questions left to be answered. Should social work be recognized as a health profession or not? How do social work and health relate to each other? Are there fields of health in which social work, under the paradigm of a biopsychosocial approach, should be stronger involved? The professionalization and “evidence based” approach that started in the medical area now affects also social institutions, and has already created a need for efficacy and effectiveness studies in the field of social work. Of course, the economic aspect plays an im-portant role here, pointing to the need for more cost-effectiveness studies. Under
the biopsychosocial paradigm, this is also a chance for Social Work to prove its im-portance for society, which reflects itself, among other outcome variables, in a bet-ter health for the population.


The overall aim of this SIG is to bring together social work researchers, practition-ers and policy makers together in a network that is able to put forward the dialogue on the issues mentioned above. To achieve this aim, this SIG will stimulate cooper-ation between in doing research and writing publications. Further, it will foster col-laboration between research and practice. We will be interested in initiating and stimulating online discussions on this topic. This will enable social workers in differ-ent countries to take a firm position as a profession and will strengthen social work as a profession that is also involved in health issues. An international discussion will also shed light on the role of societal and political contexts in different countries in determining the relationship between social work and health.
The initial meeting to set up this group took place at the last ESWRA conference in Aalborg in April 2017. We want to reach the aims above by meetings at annual con-ferences, by organizing symposia to exchange ideas and deepen the discussion and by contributing to and collaborating on research projects and publications in the field of social work and health. Apart from face-to-face contacts, an internet plat-form should facilitate an ongoing exchange and discussion about topics within the field.


Wim Nieuwenboom (Convenor)

Peter Sommerfeld

Susan Levy

Maria Irene Lopes B de Carvalho

Varda Soskolne

Karl Mason

Jeanne C. Marsh

Holger Schmid

Engel, George L. The need for a new medical model: a challenge for biomedicine. . Sci-ence.1977.196(3):129-136
WHO (1986). Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion.