The question is actually why something like psychotherapy has developed in the first place, and whether this approach to alleviating or curing mentally disturbed people is identical to ‘social work’, and, implicitly, whether ‘social work’ would not be sufficient to to help this group of people.
(What follows is a very brief attempt at an answer.)
For a long time, ‘social work’ in Europe was the domain of ecclesial organizations that considered aid for the poor and the sick to be their Christian duty and, in pastoral care, also took care of the mentally ill or distraught people who had been affected by the community could be accepted and integrated.With the increase in urbanisation, integration into the Community has become more difficult. With the secularization of society in the 19th century, other non-religious organizations also took over non-governmental aid for the poor and sick, because state aid was not sufficient, if any.
However, the so-called ‘mentally disturbed’, which could not be integrated, have always been kept in custody rather than ‘treated’.Her medical treatment was in the hands of the neurologists and later in the hands of the psychiatrists. ‘Social work’ in the form of a friendly ear, advice or well-meaning help has never been enough to enable this group of people to return to health.
The theory of the development of mental/mental disorder is based today on the research of Freud and his students since the early 20th century (psychoanalysis), although there are other approaches.Most of the different schools and methods of psychotherapy are based on this approach.
Since the 1970s, the use of psychotherapeutic treatment for the mentally disturbed has become very widespread, has achieved good successes and gains more social tolerance.But psychotherapy is not a panacea and without social work from the client’s environment (support, patience) it is very difficult to change his life.
Psychotherapy, from whatever school, is not without controversy.There are philosophical debates about the concept of the ‘psyche’ itself, and the hitherto unproven ‘biomedical theory’ of the biological foundations of mental/mental disorders calls into question the healing power of the therapeutic relationship in favour of the use of Drugs that do not cure but suppress the symptoms. But no one suggests that social work would be a sufficient substitute.
Social work could be helpful and, in some cases, even sufficient, but only if social opinion changed in such a way that mental/mental disorders are regarded as ‘normal’ consequences of a society that is generally ill and its stigma to lose.