Friday, January 14, 2011

Social Service and the Art of Healing

Richard Clarke Cabot (1868 - 1939) was a physician, philosopher, educator, and social work pioneer. He was a meticulous scientific observer and record keeper, an innovator in teaching methods, a talented speaker, a prolific writer, and an outspoken commentator on medical, moral, and ethical issues, and was a pioneer in social work. He saw his calling as the integration of empirical knowledge with spiritual belief. A close friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson, he served as Emerson's editor, biographer, and literary executor.

While teaching at the Harvard Medical School, 1899-29, Cabot introduced case analysis as a teaching method. It was soon adopted as the standard for medical education. The medical social service program that Cabot introduced at MGH was widely imitated by hospitals across the country.
He changed the way that the outpatient department was run, believing that economic, social, family and psychological conditions underpinned many of the conditions that patients were being presented with.

He envisaged that social workers would work in a complementary relationship with doctors, the former concentrating on physiological health, and the latter on social health. In addition to this, he saw that social work could improve medicine by providing a critical perspective on it while working alongside it in an organizational setting. In 1905 Cabot created the first positions of professional social worker in the world.

In 1909 he published his "Social Service and the Art of Healing" and wrote: "I found myself constantly baffled and discouraged when it came to treatment. Treatment in more than half of the cases...involved an understanding of the patient's economic situation and economic means, but still more of his mentality, his character, his previous mental and industrial history, all that brought him to his present condition in which sickness, fear, worry, and poverty were found inextricably mingled."

He delivered talks on medical social service to hospitals and social service organizations throughout the nation. By 1913 there were 100 hospital social service departments in the United States.

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