Holistic health care addresses the physical, mental, spiritual, and social needs of an individual. A biased and segregated health system can lead to further oppression of marginalized groups. In our society, there are a number of diverse and unconnected health services such as medical care, dental care, mental health care, counseling, and spiritual care. It is largely assumed that these areas of healthcare are separate for a reason that would be beneficial to clients. These issues can and should be addressed together because, holistically, they make up the individual.
When assessing a client, it is important that all aspects of his or her life are given adequate consideration. An individual is complex and each person has many different factors that make up who they are as an individual(1) . If a potential client is considered using a biopsychosocial perspective, it is much more likely that his or her complex needs will be better understood and therefore more likely to be addressed in treatment. Social, biological and psychological characteristics of an individual all interact to form a client’s unique needs. These needs can be particularly difficult to determine when a client is incredibly different from the social worker. Race, ethnicity, age, gender, and a variety of other factors heavily impact an individual’s life. A social worker may not completely understand or be familiar with the unique ways in which a client lives, but this doesn’t mean that the social worker cannot help this client. A social workers need to be culturally competent and able to set aside their own biases and cultural norms to interact with clients of diverse backgrounds.
The concept of Social Darwinism is also important to consider when working with clients. This occurs when the ideas natural selection and survival of the fittest are use to hierarchally rank different populations. Ideas such as the belief that traits such as pauperism and laziness could be inherited to future generations have been responsible for the eugenics movement and the prevalence of Genocide in our world. It is important for social workers to be aware of these issues because they deeply affect families and individuals from many different cultures. Social Darwinism is a direct cause of oppression.
Dehumanization is a reality in our world to such an extent that it can be, at times, difficult to have hope in process of humanization, especially from the point of view of a social worker or oppressed individual. Humanization is a transformative process that relies largely on the power of the oppressed. Humanization occurs as a result of reflection and action on the part of the oppressed. An oppressed individual must be able to reflect upon his circumstances and the limits and preconceptions that have been placed upon him by his oppressors in order to find the knowledge and motivation needed to become more fully humanized.
When an individual is oppressed, he may not believe himself to be capable of undergoing a humanizing transformation. Oppression can be both prolonged and incredibly demeaning to a human being. Those who have been dehumanized are often stripped of their sense of worth, both to themselves and to the world around them. Therefore, humanization is not a simple task or a rapid transformation. A person must first recognize the reality of his oppression before he can combat it. This initial step in the humanization process is extremely painful.
As a social worker, I have seen clients filled with sorrow and hopelessness as a result of the oppression and dehumanization they have faced in their communities. It is easy for these individuals to blame themselves for the oppression they have faced, for they have been conditioned to do so(2) .
Clients becoming self-sufficient is a prime example of the humanization process. They have, in large part, critically accessed their lives and have developed constructive responses to the hardships they have faced. As they become more adept with this praxis, they become more and more capable. It is always incredibly rewarding to see this transformation in a client. A a social worker, should not take responsibility for a client’s progress and success, but instead be incredibly appreciative to have been a part of it. When individuals are able to go out into the community and collect their own prescriptions or purchase their own groceries, it is extremely rewarding and inspiring to me.
A social worker or helper often has to make resources and services more easily attainable and also more relevant for the oppressed individuals he or she works with. This cannot always be done by simply following existing policies and protocols. Social workers must be, at times, creative to ensure that the resources a client receives are in fact the most beneficial for their well being. Just because a practice or service is well established in a community does not mean that it is the best method of aid for all individuals.
A great deal of the oppression found in our society has a biological basis. Individuals are discriminated against for traits they possess such as their gender, race, or level of ability. A social worker must help to keep society running smoothly and in an organized and structured manner, while adapting existing principles and theories to best aid those in need. When a social worker helps a client in a way that is best and most effective for the client, society is helped as well because the client and social worker are both empowered. They both gain competency and confidence in their abilities to rise above oppressive forces in society as agents of change.