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Social Workers in Space

Because, we'll need

them there. By,

Martha Adams

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Social Work is the slightly unwelcome but immensely practical descendant of the 'hard sciences' of social studies. Of social psychology, anthropology, psychology, psychoanalysis; some law and legal process in the mix; of a hundred varieties of thinking about how humans go about being human.

Social workers, like medical surgeons, get to face realities and do things most of us don't want to be anywhere near to. What do they have to do with space settlement?

In fact, just about everything, and all of the above is some of why.

There is no question that space is going to be a difficult environment for the people who first live there. Such difficulty is not necessarily a show-stopper. Recall Shackleton's famous ad: "...safe return doubtful."

I look for off-Terra settlers to face a different and more hard environment than Shackleton's people did. They will be working one or two gravity wells and some months from Terra. Until other people and Settlements arrive, they will be alone. We know from our human history that us humans can usually survive in such environments, especially if they have appropriate resources. These resources in space must include social work training for all people who go into space, and the presence of experienced, mature social workers among the first settlers.

People going into space without including social workers for the preparation and the participation, would be very like going to sea in a rowboat -- and no baling can. That's why social workers get recognition here in Adra.

* * *

A few years ago I listened to a planner talking about who he would want on a team preparing a settlement in space. "I'd want a psychiatrist," he said. "That would take care of the psychological health issues in space." He said more, but I was already thinking about the serious error I heard in those words.

Choosing a psychiatrist to support people dealing with personal and cultural issues of life in space, is like assigning a military general with a strong academic record in military history to manage an active combat front. His education and training make him the wrong kind of worker for the task in hand. For settlements and life in space, the issues are typically human: broad, complex, and difficult. Multi-dimensional. The usual "professional" worker, trained to a deep but narrow focus in his work, isn't appropriate here. Professionals of another kind are needed here.

Needed here are a small team of social workers who are interested in human life issues in space. Recent grads for their freshness and their lively knowledge of the field; older workers, late in their careers, for their wisdom.

Social workers are not very popular in American society. Whoever experiences instant complete certainty they aren't needed in space, probably doesn't know what social workers do, why and how they do it, nor anything of the field's large knowledge base. A few hours of time spent reading in the 'Encyclopedia of Social Work' from the NASW could provide needed background. (The 20th edition appeared this Spring.) And the bimonthly 'Psychotherapy Networker' usefully complements the Encyclopedia.

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