Julianne S. Oktay and Bradley Zebrack
Oncology social work researchers have made (and continue to make) important contributions to the knowledge base that supports the profession. This article discusses the profession of oncology social work, its roots in medical social work in the United States, the development of cancer treatment, and the body of research that informs its art and practice. Oncology social work research is placed in the broader contexts of the social work profession, the field of oncology, and the specific field of oncology social work.
Through the decades, the profession of oncology social work has grown, gained stability and legitimacy. Oncology social work itself, along with oncology social work research, have made rapid strides in the 21st century and accelerating in impact and relevance. Oncology social work research is stronger now than ever. Recent developments, such as the addition of a research institute at the annual AOSW conference and initiatives to establish a “practice-based research network” are expanding capacity in the field.
Oncology social work researchers bring a unique perspective to their research. Social work’s patient-centered perspective is reflected in research that explores the cancer experience of patients and family members and leads to new interventions based on that experience. Social work’s focus on human development over the life course results in research that reflects a developmental framework or focuses on specific age groups, such as children, adolescents, young adults, or the elderly. Social work’s conceptual model of “Person-in-Environment” is reflected in research on cancer patients in the context of their interpersonal relationships. The values of social justice and cultural competence are reflected in research on health disparities, minority populations, and multicultural perspectives. Finally, the field of oncology social work itself has been the focus of recent research on distress screening and its implementation.
In the 21st century, oncology social work research stands in a pivotal position. Although this type of research is now widely recognized as important, it is still a challenge to access the level of support from major funders of cancer research required to establish and reinforce a strong and vibrant knowledge base for the profession.
Valire Carr Copeland and Sandra Wexler
Despite technological advances and changes in healthcare delivery, some groups in the United States continue to have better health-related outcomes than others. This article discusses health disparities—differences in health status and healthcare utilization that are influenced by complex social structural, economic, and cultural factors. Illustrations are offered of health disparities found among diverse populations in this country. The “problem” with health disparities is then explored. From an ethical standpoint, health disparities can be seen as unjust. From a cost perspective, health disparities exact not just a financial toll that is borne by society, but individual, group, and community consequences, as well. From a human rights vantage, health disparities can further disadvantage people who are already vulnerable and marginalized—health disparities can cost people their lives. Factors contributing to health disparities, commonly referred to as social determinants, are reviewed. Finally, future directions, including social workers’ role as advocates, are considered.
Jessica M. Black
Scientific findings from social sciences, neurobiology, endocrinology, and immunology highlight the adaptive benefits of positive emotion and activity to both mental and physical health. Positive activity, such as engagement with music and exercise, can also contribute to favorable health outcomes. This article reviews scientific evidence of the adaptive benefits of positive emotion and activity throughout the life course, with examples drawn from the fetal environment through late adulthood. Specifically, the text weaves together theory and empirical findings from an interdisciplinary literature to describe how positive emotion and activity help to build important cognitive, social, and physical resources throughout the life course.
The risk of HIV infection looms large among male, female, and transgender sex workers in India. Several individual, sociocultural, and structural-environmental factors enhance the risk of HIV infection among sex workers by restricting their ability to engage in safer sexual practices with clients and/or intimate partners. While most HIV prevention programs and research focus on visible groups of women sex workers operating from brothels (Pardasani, 2005) and traditional sex workers, for example, Devadasis (Orchard, 2007); there is a whole subgroup of the sex worker population that remains invisible within HIV prevention programs, such as the male, female, and transgender sex workers operating from non-brothel-based settings. This paper provides an overview of the different types and contexts of sex work prevalent in Indian society, discusses the factors that increase a sex worker’s risk of HIV infection, describes the varied approaches to HIV prevention adopted by the existing HIV prevention programs for sex workers, discusses the limitations of the HIV prevention programs, and concludes with implications for social work practice and education.
The past two decades have witnessed a surge in the growth of initiatives and funding to weave physical and behavioral health care, particularly with identification of the high costs incurred by their comorbidity. In response, a robust body of evidence now demonstrates the effectiveness of what is referred to as collaborative care. A wide range of models transverse the developmental lifespan, diagnostic categories, plus practice settings (e.g., primary care, specialty medical care, community-based health centers, clinics, and schools). This article will discuss the foundational elements of collaborative care, including the broad sweep of associated definitions and related concepts. Contemporary models will be reviewed along with identified contextual topics for practice. Special focus will be placed on the diverse implications collaborative care poses for the health and behavioral health workforce, especially social workers.
Jessica M. Black
Sleep is required for healthy and adaptive neurobehavioral and psychosocial functioning throughout the life course. Sleep is restorative, facilitates memory consolidation, improves immune function, and regulates emotional responses. Sleep deprivation, whether due to sleep disorders or other life conditions and transitions, is a significant risk factor for negative developmental outcomes at all stages in the life course. This article adheres to the biopsychosocial model to review current research describing the benefits of adequate sleep and ways in which insufficient sleep, as determined by developmental needs throughout the life course, can undercut healthy development. Particular attention is paid to social issues of relevance to social workers, with a closing discussion of policy and implications for future work within the field.
Shaun M. Eack
Mental health research is the study of the causes and correlates of mental health and illness, approaches to improve mental well-being, and the delivery of effective mental health services to those in need. Social workers have been leading researchers in each of these areas of inquiry, and this article provides an overview of the broad field of mental health research, with particular emphasis on the contributions of social work. A biopsychosocial review of research on the correlates of mental health and illness is provided, followed by a synthesis of studies examining pharmacological and psychosocial approaches to improving mental health. Research on mental health services is then presented, with a focus on studies seeking to improve access to quality care and reduce service disparities. Key directions for future mental health research include identifying specific causal predictors of mental illness, improving existing treatments, and disseminating advances to the community.
Linda P. Darrell
The perspective of end-of-life care has changed over the years. People are living longer, fuller lives due to advanced medical care and technology along with an increased interest in healthier lifestyles. The focus of end-of-life care has expanded to include accidental and sudden, unexpected death, chronic illness, anticipated death from longevity, and illnesses impacting children. An expanded perspective of end-of-life care must account for the challenges and changes of service delivery within a multi-cultural 21st-century milieu. The significance of advanced medical technology and improved lifestyles is an important component of a primary multidisciplinary assessment to understand the impact of such a life-altering occurrence as end-of-life care. Equally as important is a culturally inclusive perspective to accommodate the significance of longevity due to improved lifestyles, advanced medical technology, ethnicity, spirituality, and racial awareness. This article will explore the multiple concerns surrounding end-of-life care issues from an expansive worldview.
Meredith Stensland, Sara Sanders, and Marla Berg-Weger
Advance care planning (ACP) is the process of determining and documenting desired wishes for the end of one’s life. Referred to by such terms as end-of-life planning, advance (health) directives, and living wills, ACP is a relatively new concept within our society, having emerged as a social, political, and ethical issue in the United States only since the 1960s. Researchers and legislators have been challenged in their efforts to examine healthcare decision-making and design appropriate policy to guide practice. This article will define ACP, provide an overview of the history and evolution of the process and the associated legal and ethical issues, and describe the process with three specific populations. In addition, it examines the role of the social work profession in working with individuals and families on planning for the end of one’s life.
Jessica M. Black
Although it was once widely held that development through toddlerhood was the only significant time of tremendous brain growth, findings from neuroscience have identified adolescence as a second significant period of brain-based changes. Profound modification of brain structure, function, and connectivity, paired with heightened sensitivity to environment, places adolescence both as a heightened period of risk and importantly as a time of tremendous opportunity. These findings are of key relevance for social-work policy and practice, for they speak to the ways in which the adolescent brain both is vulnerable to adverse conditions and remains responsive to positive environmental input such as interventions that support recovery and resilience.