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March is NASW’s Social Work Month. SJS is participating by promoting social work month and by interviewing professionals who identify themselves as social workers which is one of the 100 ideas in the Social Work Month Toolkit. Below is a written interview I conducted with social worker Eleanor Silverberg, MSW, RSW from Ontario, Canada.
Over the years, it has become increasingly apparent to me that social work can be practiced in a number of different ways, impacting a broad range of disciplines. In my experience, I entered the profession with the goal of mental health counseling with individuals, groups and families. After years of practice, I used my work experience and research skills to make a mark on how professionals practice by developing a model, writing an article about it and getting it published in an academic journal. The article, Introducing the 3-A Grief Intervention Approach for Dementia Caregivers: Acknowledge, Assess, Assist™ fills a gap in acknowledging the caregivers loss and grief, assessing the impact on caregiver behavior and providing new tools to assist caregivers in strengthening resiliency and well being.
In the last month I have taken my social work practice into the political arena, as part of an advocacy team seeking action towards making Canadian long term care facilities safer for our vulnerable elderly so they can live their final years with peace and dignity. My gerontology professional colleagues and I sent government officials and community agencies a document entitled “Seeking Action for Safety in Long Term Care Facilities” in response to a W5 Canadian documentary showing residents assaulting other residents in facilities, to the point of causing death. As a response, we also set up a blog site www.actionforsafety.blogspot.ca. As a social worker, I continue to discover the different ways I can assist as a “helping professional.”
1. Why did you choose social work or what path led you to the profession?
I chose the path of social work as a professional because I wanted to help people and I thought it was the right thing to do. I started my undergraduate university education in psychology which I thoroughly enjoyed. I then proceeded to receive my Master of Social Work as a quicker means of getting employment in counseling. I am pleased that I took that route as I believe I received excellent counseling training in the social work program.
2. Can you describe your current employment and population you work with? Why did you choose it or did it choose you?
I am current self-employed as a Personal & Professional Development Coach for Care Providers of Adults with Chronic Mental Health or Cognitive Disorders. I just started my second year of self-employment after spending ten years as a community outreach social worker in dementia care. Prior to that, I was working as a social worker in a hospital, counseling in the outpatient mental health department – a job that I got straight out of university.
I feel fortunate to be working in the field of mental health that interests me. I have a particular interest in grief which, in addition to my schooling, I study independently. I practice and develop the grief approach -Acknowledge, Assess, Assist™ – as a means of addressing the loss/adversity that family caregivers face. I have also presented the 3-A Acknowledge, Assess, Assist™ Approach at several prominent conferences and it has been well received among colleagues.
3. How do you promote resiliency and advocacy with your clients and/or within your community?
I promote resiliency by encouraging self-care and applying the 3-A Approach. I am genuine, hard working, knowledgeable and supportive. I believe in following through reliably with clients and within the community.
4. What changes do you think the profession of social work can benefit from?
I do not know if this is a change, but I think it is important to link social workers with the economy. We live in a society that values money. Promoting the benefits of social work as a money saver for society would be helpful in raising the value of social work within the healthcare community.
I question whether new graduates are receiving ample supervision in the workplace. It seems like gone are the days of having meetings with the supervisor to discuss any issues related to clients. Without the proper guidance, it can be extremely difficult, isolating and tiring for a new social worker in the workforce. This may also lead to unnecessary burnout. In order to assure new social workers are supported, it is suggested that the association provide a listing of mentors that are available in different areas of social work either for no fee or for a nominal fee or to provide links online on their website for where social workers can seek supervision if they are not getting it at their workplace.
I also think that it would be beneficial if the Ontario Association of Social Workers helped social workers with accessing legal professionals who specialize in workplace issues and social service. Situations, such as bullying in the workplace, and wrongful dismissal occur which may leave the social worker powerless. Having names of legal counsel who will work for a reduced rate and are specialized in workplace issues is another way that the association could support its members.
Social Work Month is not limited to social workers who are members of NASW. Here in Canada, it is the CASW- Canadian Association of Social Workers which Eleanor is a member of in her province. We can learn from one another and no matter what country or segment of the population we work with it is important to unite as professionals and what better way than to share our professional stories, our journey into the profession, how we advocate for ourselves and our clients and what we think could make the profession better.
Thank you Eleanor for taking part in this interview and stay tuned for more social work interviews that will be posted this month on SJS.
Written by Victoria Brewster, MSW
SJS Staff Writer in Canada