Badass Ladies – Mary Ellen Richmond

Mary Richmond is another badass lady who made a contribution to mental health, and specifically social work, as we see it today.  Primed to be an activist by her family who were all liberal suffragettes, Mary Richmond was interested in social justice from the start.  A job working at a charitable organization led to her involvement in social work.

Mary RichmondRichmond’s badass contribution to social work came in the form of a book called Social Diagnosis, published in 1917.  Until the publication of her book, social work wasn’t considered a “real” profession because social work had no method of its own.  And to be fair, social work up until that point consisted almost entirely of “friendly visitors” – basically a combination of Meals on Wheels and a nosy neighbor – who stopped in to help out the poor.  Mary Richmond knew there was more value to social work than that, and Social Diagnosis was the Bible of everything a caseworker might encounter with a client and how they could formulate an accurate diagnosis of what was going on with the client.  It wasn’t a treatment manual, as it focused more on the diagnosis and it came from a sociological perspective (rather than Freudian psychological, in its early stages of popularity).

Richmond’s methods became even more valuable as America entered WWI and the Red Cross sent social workers to help soldiers and their families.  Richmond developed a training manual specifically for the Red Cross’s training courses.  Also, since these soldiers could be of any class, people started to see social work as a service that wasn’t exclusively for the poor.  This is when social workers also started to develop working alliances with psychiatrists and psychologists – a team approach that is still used in hospitals today.

Richmond’s Social Diagnosis is what moved social work out of a hobby for wealthy white women, into an legitimate mental health profession with specific training, education and techniques.

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