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The Role of the Social Worker in the Management of Rheumatic Disease

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 The role of the social worker is to offer a broad range of psychosocial services ranging from emotional support to referrals for community resources that can assist in enhancing quality of life and adaptation to acute and chronic rheumatic conditions. Social workers may intervene by providing individual, couple, or family counseling, offering group education or support, and by working with the community in the development of resources to assist patients in meeting their own needs. Community involvement can include advocating within the school system and workforce to ensure the needs of the patient are fulfilled in order to maximize function.  


The psychosocial assessment provides the basis for the social worker's intervention. This assessment includes evaluation of the patient's resources, strengths, and support systems, such as:

  • Education level
  • Employment
  • Family support
  • Financial situation
  • Impact of illness
  • Leisure interests
  • Living arrangements
  • Past coping behaviors

The social worker also addresses the patient's emotional response and reaction to the diagnosis of a rheumatic illness, the impact of the disease upon the family emotionally and financially, the effect on the patient's relationships and roles, and other personal or social problems that might have an impact on their illness.

The social worker provides information about psychosocial issues to the rest of the team that can guide health care professionals in their treatment, management, and interaction with the patient. The social worker can also guide the patient to negotiate the health care system more effectively. Counseling interventions are designed to maximize personal and social resources in dealing with the acute and long-term issues of managing a chronic rheumatic disease. Some social workers have specialized training in biofeedback which can be used to support patients with chronic pain and anxiety. Social workers also foster return to functional independence by identifying community resources (e.g., finances, medical insurance programs, and home care, transportation, and community service organizations) that can meet their environmental, personal, or interpersonal needs. Beyond counseling and care coordination assistance, social workers may be involved in program planning, evaluation and research.


The social worker provides care in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, outpatient clinics, community mental health centers, schools, family and community service agencies, home care departments, extended care facilities, and private practice settings.


Social workers may have a bachelor's, masters, or doctoral degree, and most states require licensure for practice. National credentialing programs for advanced practice include the Academy of Certified Social Workers and Board Certified Diplomat in Clinical Social Work.

Rheumatologists and rheumatology health professionals

Learn more about rheumatologists and rheumatology health professionals.
To learn more about social workers and the social work profession, go to National Association of Social Workers:

To find a rheumatologist or health professional

For a list of rheumatologists in your area, click here.

Learn more about rheumatology health care team, click here.

For more information

Contact the Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals at 2200 Lake Boulevard NE, Atlanta, GA 30319 or (404) 633-3777 or


Updated August 2013 - ARHP Practice Committee

This patient fact sheet is provided for general education only. Individuals should consult a qualified health care provider for professional medical advice, diagnoses and treatment of a medical or health condition.

© 2013 American College of Rheumatology