What’s the Meaning of This?

Published on : May 1, 2020

About Social Work Responds
The Association of Social Work Boards, the Council on Social Work Education, and the National Association of Social Workers are committed to collaborating on the range of issues affecting the social work profession and the people and communities we serve in this ever-changing and unsettling environment created by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

Follow Up 

Based on previous Social Work Responds e-mails and calls to action, our organizations want to share critical follow-up information.  

  • ASWB: We understand how frustrating it is for our candidates not to be able to test during the COVID-19 pandemic. The reasons for the suspension of testing are directly related to concern for the health and safety of exam candidates and Pearson VUE staff. Pearson VUE is working hard to reopen test centers in the United States and Canada on May 1; however, center operations will depend on the jurisdiction’s COVID-19 guidance/government mandates. Because Pearson VUE is following social distancing protocols, test centers will function at a reduced capacity for the foreseeable future. We are working diligently to keep affected candidates apprised of these changes via e-mail. ASWB recommends that candidates confirm their appointment to test prior to the test date. Pearson VUE’s COVID-19 update page offers more detailed information. 

  • NASW: We are delighted to announce that clinical social workers can now be reimbursed by Medicare for psychotherapy services provided via audio-only devices (e.g., landlines) during the public health emergency, according to guidance issued on April 30 by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). NASW has been advocating vigorously to remove this access barrier. Clinical social workers may also, under prior CMS guidance in March, use smartphones with video chat apps to provide psychotherapy services, in addition to videoconferencing platforms that were permissible prior to the pandemic. See our public statement here. For more details on Medicare telehealth, visit our Telehealth and Medicare During COVID-19 page.

  • CSWE recently revised its coronavirus response page to highlight resources that can be of service to educators, students, and programs, as social work education continues to change during these times. The page also continues to provide information on accreditation and updates on industry events. Visit the new page at www.cswe.org/coronavirus.

What’s the Meaning of This?

There is one thing about a pandemic: Everyone is affected. Although each of us has a unique experience of this public health crisis, we also share collective experiences, such as social distancing. We have been touched personally, and we have been touched professionally. We are becoming aware that life as we knew it will change. It will be different going forward. Many have started to use the phrase “a new normal” to describe what we will face as we move past the pandemic and into the future.

Understandably, the focus has been on coping with the many impacts of the pandemic, especially widespread illness and, tragically, death. Front-line caregivers, whether professionals or family members, are providing support despite worry about their risk of exposure to the virus. There are secondary impacts as well—too many to list, but a few relative to the social work community bear noting. Graduating social work students have had to come to terms with not celebrating their achievement with friends, family, colleagues, and classmates and receiving their diploma in person in a traditional graduation ceremony on the campus where they studied. Applicants for social work licensure have had to postpone plans for taking the licensing exams because of mandated test center closures. Practitioners are dealing with stressful and hazardous working conditions and may be experiencing furloughs or job losses. In the flurry of coping, pivoting, and adjusting, we may have pushed aside another emotion: grief. 

In a very real sense, we are grieving what used to be normal.  

Grief needs to be acknowledged—for all of us are experiencing loss as we move through this pandemic. David Kessler, a nationally recognized expert on grief and loss, has written about the importance of acknowledging our feelings of grief and loss to help us move past them to find meaning. Finding meaning, he says, helps us journey through the dark time of grief and allows us to arrive on the other side of loss with hope.

Social work students returning to campus will likely find a new learning environment where procedures and precautions have changed. When they pursue their field placements, they are likely to encounter social workers and other colleagues who are exhausted and dealing with grief. Although difficult to work through at first, these changes may present opportunities to prevent another crippling pandemic. They may also allow social work practitioners to use their knowledge and education to create spaces for connection, support, wellness, and resiliency to support medical providers, social workers, patients, clients, and others. 

Perhaps another way that meaning is found is through living the social work value “service to others.” Service can take many forms, but one of the most important may be in bearing witness to the grief and loss we all are experiencing collectively and individually. Being open to recognizing grief and loss asks us to be vulnerable, challenges us to be empathetic, and allows us to be uplifted. There is hope: The pandemic will end, and we will be able to be together in communities again. 

Consider this an invitation to find meaning in sharing your losses and witnessing others’ grief. Your presence and compassion will give hope to others.

Next Steps

NASW:  Please join us for our webinar, "Grief and Loss in a Pandemic: Supporting Social Workers and Helpers and Grievers," on May 6 from 1:00 pm–2:30 pm (ET). Register here. NASW will also host COVID-19 virtual convenings for several Specialty Practice Section (SPS) members in May, where participants will have an opportunity to share how the pandemic is affecting their professional lives. Stay tuned for registration information, and if you are not yet an SPS member, visit our Sections page.


Unlocking Us With Brené Brown: David Kessler With Brené on Grief and Finding Meaning [podcast, March 31, 2020].

Kessler, D. (2019). Finding meaning: The sixth stage of grief. Simon & Schuster.

A free on-demand course is available for those interested in training to become contact tracers to identify and track new COVID-19 cases. Making Contact: A Training for COVID-19 Contact Tracers is offered by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and the National Coalition of STD Directors.