Adopting AI Through the Stages of Grief: A Call to the Social Work Profession

Dr. Marina A. Badillo-Diaz, LCSW
Jul 02, 2024By Dr. Marina A. Badillo-Diaz, LCSW

Adopting AI Through the Stages of Grief: A Call to the Social Work Profession

At the recent National Association of Social Workers Conference, an exceptional panel of distinguished social work professionals addressed the critical topic of Artificial Intelligence for Social Justice. The panel, featuring Dr. Johanna Creswell Báez, Dr. Hsun-Ta Hsu, Dr. Juan Rios, and Dr. Jamie Sundvall, issued a compelling call to action for our profession to lead the charge in harnessing this new technology. One panelist's observation particularly resonated with me: our field is experiencing the stages of grief as we come to terms with AI's integration into social work practice. This insightful comparison highlights the complex emotions and challenges we face as we adapt to this transformative technology.

As social workers, we've dedicated our lives to helping individuals and communities navigate complex emotional landscapes. Now, we find ourselves facing a significant change in our own field: the rise of artificial intelligence. The integration of AI into social work has sparked a range of emotions among our social work field, mirroring the stages of grief. 

Old wooden walkway bridge in to mangroves forest on raining day

Processesing AI and the Stages of Grief

Denial: "AI can't replace human empathy and connection"
Initially, many social workers dismissed AI as irrelevant to our field. We believed that the human touch was irreplaceable and that technology could never match our ability to connect with clients. This stage is characterized by skepticism and a refusal to engage with AI tools.

Anger: "AI is threatening our jobs"
As AI capabilities advanced, fear and frustration set in. We worried about job security and the devaluation of our skills. This anger often manifested as resistance to learning about or implementing AI in our practice.

Bargaining: "Maybe we can limit AI's role"
In this stage, we tried to negotiate the extent of AI's involvement in social work. We sought ways to maintain control, perhaps suggesting that AI should only handle administrative tasks while leaving the "real" social work to humans.

Depression: "Our profession is changing beyond recognition"
Realizing that AI was here to stay, some of us felt overwhelmed and disheartened. We mourned the loss of traditional methods and worried about our ability to adapt to this new landscape.

Acceptance: "Responsible and Ethical AI can enhance our ability to create the impact and change we seek to achieve"
The final stage involves recognizing AI as a powerful tool that can augment our skills rather than replace them. We begin to see how AI can help us work more efficiently, reach more clients, and even enhance our decision-making processes. AI is intergrated responsible and ethically in our social work profession. 

Moving Forward: Embracing AI in Social Work

As we progress through these stages, it's crucial to understand that adapting to AI is not just beneficial—it's necessary for the continued relevance and effectiveness of our field and to be leaders of change. AI is here to stay and our profession has to intergrate and adapt in order to move forward, just as you would through the process of grief. Here is how as a profession we should embrace AI:

Enhanced Efficiency: AI can handle time-consuming administrative tasks, freeing us to focus more on direct client services.

Data-Driven Insights: AI can analyze vast amounts of data to identify patterns and trends, helping us make more informed decisions about interventions and resource allocation.

Improved Accessibility: AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants can provide 24/7 support to clients, extending our reach beyond traditional office hours.

Personalized Interventions: Machine learning algorithms can help tailor treatment plans to individual client needs, potentially improving outcomes.
Predictive Analytics: AI can help identify at-risk individuals early, allowing for more proactive and preventive interventions.

Enhance Learning: AI can providing personalized, adaptive educational experiences tailored to each student's individual needs and pace through virtual reality.  

To successfully integrate and adopt AI in social work, we need to:

Educate Ourselves: Stay informed about AI developments and their potential applications in social work.

Develop New Skills: Learn to work alongside AI tools, focusing on areas where human skills like empathy and complex problem-solving are irreplaceable.

Advocate for Ethical AI: Engage in discussions about the ethical implications of AI in social work and help shape policies that ensure its responsible use.
Collaborate: Work with technologists to develop AI tools that address the unique needs of our profession and clients.

Embrace Innovation: Be open to new ways of working and view AI as a partner in our mission to help others.

Advocate & Social Justice: As a profession let's advocate to identify and address systemic inequalities, biases, and discrimination within these technologies and include marginalized voices. 

Collaborate: Let's work with other fields to develop AI tools that start with ethical design and bring our much needed perspective to the global tech conversation. 

Three autumn leaves green, yellow, red on wooden clothespins and lace. The concept of changing the season.


The integration of AI into social work presents not a threat, but a transformative opportunity to amplify our impact and extend our reach while upholding our core NASW ethical principles. By navigating through the stages of grief and embracing this technological revolution, we position our profession at the vanguard of innovative, compassionate care. This evolution demands that we, as social workers, step forward to lead this change, shaping AI's implementation to align with our values of social justice, human dignity, and empowerment. In doing so, we can harness AI's potential to address systemic inequalities, enhance our decision-making processes, and ultimately provide more effective, accessible support to those we serve. The future of social work lies in our ability to synergize our humanity with technological advancements, creating a more just and equitable society. 

The content in this blog was created with the assistance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and reviewed by Dr. Marina Badillo-Diaz to ensure accuracy, relevance, and integrity. Dr. Badillo-Diaz's expertise and insightful oversight have been incorporated to ensure the content in this blog meets the standards of professional social work practice.