SJS was asked to review a book put out by social worker Melinda McCloud who wrote Fifty Shades of Crazy: Born to be a Social Worker. The story is fiction and about a character named Belinda. In the beginning of the book, she seems to be naïve and comes across as lacking empathy and compassion and wonders why people, other people cannot just ‘get it together.’ Her life is a contrast of desires and realities. Hmmm not very social work like at all. A line towards the beginning of the book that stood out for me was, “Belinda can recall as a child wanting to be a social worker. She felt it would be great to be paid to be a good person doing good things.” Belinda is further described as being a good person, but being equally attracted to those that live on the edge. “A good person must never make a mistake, a good person must always be nice, be polite and there is little option to deviate from being good.” Wow! No one can live up to this image and especially not the character of Belinda! No wonder she is unhappy and describes herself as ‘hating’ everyone. She has no voice! Melinda further describes Belinda as being an individual that given the option sees herself as the character of ‘Sandy’ from the movie Grease after she has the makeover and is dressed sexy and comes across a bit ‘wild.’
Quite the contradiction to be in; act one way, but think another. Belinda is a social worker in the book and describes herself as being yelled at by clients, slapped, cursed at and threatened.
There is a scene in the book where Belinda has a liquid yogurt poured over her head by a client she visits at an in-patient psychiatric facility and something to think about is, ‘Imagine if this were the business world, instead of the social service world and a client dumped a yogurt drink over your head.’ It would not be accepted at all. The client would be made to leave and seek service elsewhere. This is not an option in the social service world as there may be nowhere else for the patient/client to go. There is another scene in the book where a youth throws a coffee table at Belinda and breaks her foot. She says, “I don’t get paid enough for this shit.” Then it is described that she has been a social worker for only 18 months! Belinda repeats this statement again when she has been a social worker for 10 years. At 25 years she wonders if it is time to retire.
In reality, many social workers go through similar scenes where clients yell at them, make threats and some have even been pushed, shoved, and punched. I myself had a client who was going through a manic episode come into my place of employment and begin shouting at me and raised their hand to hit me. Naturally I left the lobby and went into my office to speak to my supervisor. Security dealt with the incident. Did I take it personally, no. Was I scared, yes. But I also knew when this individual was medicated they were very nice, studious and charming. Bi-Polar Disorder can be controlled if the individual takes their medication and is followed by the appropriate professionals, but you cannot force someone to take medication if they do not want to and they are not a danger to themselves or anyone else.
Social Work is a very noble profession and part of the responsibility of being one is to teach, mentor, listen to clients and colleagues, and delve further. Take nothing at face value, and do not rapidly judge. At the same time social workers certainly should not be expected to take verbal or physical abuse from clients. Supportive work environments are needed along with ongoing training, education, workshops and ongoing supervision, especially for those new to the profession.
You, as a social worker have to believe to some degree that people can change and can do better if they really want to or one shouldn’t be in the field of social work. The book explains the role of a social worker; the need for passion to make a difference, to be a multi-tasker, to face challenges head on, to accept apologies, to not personalize, to learn stress management and self-care to avoid burn-out. Issues of transference and counter-transference are discussed along with how one’s upbringing, moral and values will influence your social work career. It is a book that makes you think. It is a book that describes the journey of a social worker.
How did you come up with the idea to write this book?
It seems that a lot of conversations with co-workers or colleagues begin or end with “You could write a book with all things we see.” However none of us could write a book because the things we experience are confidential. Then I read a book by Chris Bohjalian The Double Bind, which is a novel about a social worker who so identifies with a deceased homeless client of hers that she steals photographs from her agency and goes on a hunt to find out secrets about the Great Gatsby. The way that the book makes The Great Gatsby so contemporary and real, I actually found myself googling if The Great Gatsby was real! Then I thought I was losing my mind. HA! And in that moment the idea of Belinda was born.
You are a social worker yourself?
Yes, I am a social worker and have been in the field since 2003 as an intern and a case aid. I have been practicing as a social worker since obtaining my MSW in 2005.
Do you see yourself in the character of Belinda at all?
I am definitely part Belinda, I even picked the name Belinda because sometimes clients forget my name and call me Belinda by accident. In a lot of ways I think that Belinda could be any social worker. I think we can all relate to her and her frustrations. Why do any of us go into this field? I am sure if you asked every social worker why they picked the field they can tell you a crazy story of themselves. I am happy to be a social worker, it makes me very sure of myself, of who I am, I think that you can tell a lot about a person with how they chose to spend 40+ hours a week.
You live and practice where?
I live in Bay Shore, NY, where I was born. And obviously some of the story are true events of my childhood and adolescence. I do not go around trashing bathrooms as a habit though. And I never destroyed an event at the Main Street Band Shell.
Talk a bit about your own career and journey into the field of social work and writing.
I received my BA from St. Bonaventure University, and the interactions with the Friar are a nice homage to my start. I met my husband Stew at St. Bonaventure, and I did fall in love with him when he gave money to a homeless man (Social Workers find different qualities attractive than other people!) I obtained my MSW at Adelphi University. I have completed Post Graduate work at Fordham University in The Treatment of Interpersonal Violence. I have worked with adolescents and their families for my entire career thus far at many different Non-profit agencies on Long Island. I also teach as an adjunct professor at Suffolk Community College (psych and sociology 101). I am a Faculty Liaison at Adelphi University with BSW and MSW students. As far as writing goes I am just getting my feet wet, but it was fun playing around with a fictitious social worker and her fiction clients. I could make them do whatever I wanted to do! I could make Belinda do whatever I wanted her to do. One last point I want to make, I encourage anyone that you can do ANYTHING with an MSW degree. It has more than paid for its self, and the trick to making a career in social service work is to never stop exploring avenues where your degree can take you. Never think you reached the top of your career. Never settle too long any one place, and never ever stop laughing.
By Victoria Brewster, MSW,
Our authors want to hear from you! Click to leave a comment