The Power of Language: Empowering Social Work to Influence Word Choice in Patient Centered Care



October 27, 2021, 1 - 4:15 p.m. ET
Instructor: Terry Altilio LCSW, APHSW-C and  Anne Kelemen, LICSW, APHSW-C
Live interactive webinar

Level: Intermediate
CEs: 3 CEs are available for $5 fee
Review CE accreditation and approvals for this course.


At the heart of communication in health care settings and beyond are decisions related to language and word choice. As palliative care has developed and been integrated across settings and diagnoses, phrases and concepts such as “quality of life,” “goals of care” and  “suffering” weave across discussions, often without consciousness of the cultural, social and historical contexts of the patient and family we are serving. No matter the setting, words and phrases significantly impact patient and family experiences, decisional outcomes, bereavement and legacy. Well-intentioned, yet misplaced word choice, can negatively impact patient interpretation of information and create distance when the goal is to enhance connection. Social workers, as experts and leaders in communication, can model and educate as they attend to their own language in speaking and documentation, and invite colleagues to join them in mitigating the unintended consequences of ineffective word choice.

Target Audience: 

Social workers and other social service providers

Course Delivery Method, Format and Instructor Interaction :

Live interactive webinar with discussion. Login information will be emailed immediately after registration to the email address entered during registration. Attendees are visible to one another in Zoom Meeting and are encouraged to be active participants with their camera and/or microphone in order take part in discussion.

System Requirements:

Attendees will need access to a computer with working camera and microphone. All courses are offered using Zoom conferencing software. 

Registration Fees and Deadlines:

Early registration by August 15, 2021: $65
Regular registration by October 26, 2021: $75

CEs: 3 CEs are available for $5 fee 

Learning Objectives:

  1.  Identify common language used in healthcare settings to raise consciousness about the influence of word choice on patients, families and outcomes.
  2. Provide examples of words and phrases commonly used in both inpatient and outpatient settings such as ICU, hospice, and oncology which have unintended consequences.
  3. Demonstrate alternative phrasing and interventions to enhance word choice of self and colleagues to improve patient-centered care and inform documentation.
  4. Define models of communication such as “therapy first” “Nurse” “Remap” as tools to guide clinicians.
  5. Compare these models of communication to "person first language" informed by the disability rights movement.  
  6. Explain how social workers as experts in communication have a consequent responsibility to foster change related to language and word choice.  


  • 1 - 2:45 p.m. Et: ​Overview of selected language to raise consciousness of the impacts of adopting the language of practice settings; the impact on social work identity and on the patients and families.
    • Integrate cognitive therapy constructs as a framework for assessing language
      • All or nothing thinking
      • Overgeneralization
      • Catastrophizing, Personalization
    • Deconstruct words and phrases to explore “attributed meanings”
      • The political and social aspects
      • Impact on decision making
    • Benefits and burdens of metaphor
    • Explore the concept of delegitimization in communication with patient, families and colleagues
    • Unintended consequences of word choice
      • Impact on outcomes, bereavement and legacy
  • 2:45 - 2:55 p.m. ET: Break
  • 2:55 - 3:55 p.m. ET: How social workers can be leaders in advocating for language change
    • Personal and professional barriers that have the potential to get in the way of advocacy.
    • Interventions to support positive change.
  • 3:55 - 4:15 p.m. ET: Discussion and questions

About the Instructors:

Terry Altilio is a palliative social work consultant with over three decades of direct practice experience in palliative care, most recently in the Division of Palliative Care at Mt Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center. She is a recipient of a Mayday Pain and Society Fellowship Award in 2006 and a Social Work Leadership Award from the Open Society Institute’s Project on Death in America, which supported a social work postgraduate fellowship and a social work listserv, both of which are continuing programs. In 2013, Altilio was selected to receive the Project on Death in America, Career Achievement Award from the Social Work Hospice and Palliative Network. She lectures nationally and internationally on topics such as pain management, ethics, palliative care and psychosocial issues in palliative care.  She lectures in post-masters programs at NYU, Smith and is a guest faculty in an internet course through California State University San Marcos. In addition to co-authoring publications, she is co-editor with Shirley Otis-Green of the Oxford Textbook of Palliative Social Work and most recently co-editor with Bridget Sumser and Meaghan Leimena of Palliative Care – A Guide for Health Social Workers. 

Anne Kelemen is the director of Psychosocial/Spiritual Care for the Section of Palliative Care at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, where she provides patient care, teaches and participates in a variety of research activities. She is also the director of the Social Work Fellowship program, that she created in 2019. Prior to joining the Hospital Center staff, Kelemen instituted the first palliative care service at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. An assistant professor of medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center, her research interests include the intersection between language and medicine and intimacy and chronic illness. Kelemen publishes on varied topics related to palliative care and social work and lectures nationally and internationally.

Completion Requirements for Live Interactive Webinars

Live, interactive webinars are synchronous, virtual courses held in Zoom Meeting. To receive a CE certificate, you must attend the entirety of the webinar. Partial credit will not be awarded to those who attend only a portion of the training. Participant attendance is tracked through Zoom. To earn CE credit, participants must also complete an evaluation. A link to the online evaluation will be emailed to participants within 24 hours of the conclusion of the course. It is attendee’s responsibility to contact their state licensing board/certification boards to determine eligibility to meet continuing education requirements. Receiving CEs is contingent on attendance and completion of the evaluation.

How Will a CE Certificate Be Awarded?

Upon completing the webinar evaluation, participants will be emailed their online certificate​ within 30 days of webinar completion​. ​Participants should save and/or print ​the certificate upon receipt for ​their records.

Continuing Education Credits and Approvals

Continuing Education (CE) credits offered vary by course. This course only offers the CE credits listed below.  It is the attendees' responsibility to contact their licensing board to determine eligibility to meet continuing education requirements.

Social Work
  • Smith College School for Social Work, #1755, is approved to offer social work continuing education by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Approved Continuing Education (ACE) program. Organizations, not individual courses, are approved as ACE providers. State and provincial regulatory boards have the final authority to determine whether an individual course may be accepted for continuing education credit. Smith College School for Social Work maintains responsibility for this course. ACE provider approval period: 11/19/2020-11/19-2021. Social workers completing this course receive 3 continuing education credits.
  • Smith College School for Social Work is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education and is therefore authorized to provide CEs as a postsecondary institution accredited by CSWE in many states. Courses offered through the School’s Program of Professional Education are awarded continuing education credits in accordance with Continuing Education Regulation 258, CMR, 31.00 in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 
  • Smith College School for Social Work is recognized by the New York State Education Department's State Board for Social Work as an approved provider of continuing education for licensed social workers #SW-0169.
Not Approved for Counselors (LMHC/LPC)
  • Smith College School for Social Work has been approved by NBCC as an Approved Continuing Education Provider, ACEP No. 7110. This program does NOT qualify for NBCC ACEP approval. 


  • Co-sponsored training events for psychology CE credit with Smith College School for Social Work. Amego Prepare​ is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. Amego Prepare maintains responsibility for this program and its content. Due to changes in continuing education requirements for NY licensed psychologists, APA CE Sponsor credits may not be accepted for re-licensure at this time. Please check the NY Psychology Board regulations for CE requirements currently in effect.

SSW Professional Education Policies

Further information on policies and CE accreditation can be found here.

Contact SSW Professional Education


Lilly Hall
23 West Street,
Northampton, MA 01060 | 413-585-7970

Director of Professional Education

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