It’s the most wonderful time of the year. When our hearts should be growing and work should be slowing because our day grows near! It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, it’s not the holidays, but it is Social Work Month, SJS’s anniversary, and as per tradition, we’re posting the next 5 things you should keep in mind while doing this work. Now I can hardly cover everything in a once a year post, but be sure to take a look at past years located conveniently at the bottom of this article, and offer up your own at the end. Who knows, maybe you’ll make the list for next year!
Own that you’re a freaking miracle worker
I’ve discussed that my biggest pet peeve boils down to social workers who devalue social work. A lot of times, it’s not fully intentional, but when you say things like “We don’t do anything, the client does” or if I hear that damned “How many social workers does it take to change a light bulb?” joke one more time….anyway, when you make these statements you are underscoring how much work you do to make it seem that you’re doing nothing at all. It is true, if you present a client with a “well you need to do xyz” you’re gonna have a bad time. But, we need to own our expertise. Just recently I had a doctor’s appointment, and since I go to a teaching hospital, I met first with the fellow. Now, all joking aside, Dr. Ricky-Martin-with-better-features went through the run of the mill questions, one of which I replied with “well, I’ve been pretty stressed.” He immediately turned to me, and demanded to know what could possibly be causing me unrest(note: some interactions may be subject to perceptional issues). When I explained a few of the more recent life stressors, and then added in: “well you know, plus my job keeps me pretty stressed” he asked what I did. And as I named my profession he again turned and went, “No…my beautiful flower(again, there may have been some memory distortion), you are a miracle worker, never forget that.” He explained how throughout his career, he has seen the “miracles” social workers can do, and he made me promise to run away with him….or to not forget that….it’s fuzzy. The point! The point is not that I’m subjected to unfairly beautiful doctors, but that this was a doctor who wanted to make sure that I knew how valued social workers were, and if they can admit it, we can too.
Replace F**k You, with Okay, Great!
The title is catchy, I don’t think I’ve ever said anything even close to resembling this at a place of employment, but it’s a fun way to remind yourself that sometimes grinning and bearing it is the name of the professional game. What’s more, it behooves you to be the person who doesn’t always find fault with something said. This one is hard for me, my mind works in a way that tries to foresee potential problems so they can be addressed before they arise, but if you’re not careful it comes off as being an ass. I often come across as an ass. But(t) I’ve made peace with that. Pick and choose your battles and when something needs to be said, otherwise, be a supportive member of the teams you’re in. Yes, it’s ok if you go back to your office, or take a 5 minute bathroom break to get it off your chest, hell let out a string of curses that would make a sailor blush, but when you are out there, you better be able to look the part. And check your resting face, social workers are fantastic poker players when we’re with clients, but we sometimes forget to turn on the poker face when we’re with the rest of the squad(Stop trying to make squad happen Courtney) which can be just as important.
We happy few, we band of brothers
Social work is one of the largest growing professions in the United States. That’s amazing because the more of us there are, the more likely it is to join together over common issues we face as a profession. So long as we continue to promote excellence in the field, we should rest assured that these incoming colleagues will act as a nature support to our needs. I’m fortunate that I work with almost 100 other social workers. That means, that at any point in time, I have at least 90(let’s say people get sick) individuals to turn to in times of trouble, when I need help, vent, or celebrate. No one will ever get you the way that your social work brethren will. If you’re alone, or you feel alone, get your butt to someplace where you aren’t anymore. Join a social work forum(oh would you look at that….SJS happens to have….), keep in contact with old classmates, go to professional events and network. Put the social back in social work! In the best case, we all rise together. In the very worst case, we have a great time and have a special spot reserved for us in hell(probably due to our humor), but in that case, at least we’ll be together.
I’m forever blowing bubbles…
Social work can’t work in a bubble; whether that bubble is as a lone social worker, or the idea that social work is the only thing they need to know. I’ll tell you the same things I tell my students(oh yeah, I also teach now, see Part I, section 2). Be educated, not just in social work, but in everything else as well. No one will ever come up to you in the supermarket and ask you to rattle off Erikson’s stages of development. At no point will you have to pick a stage of Kohlberg’s morality to write in a client’s note. I have never once heard a colleague say something like “well you know, I really just feel that they haven’t moved past the concrete stage for us to really get to the issues.” Give me a break, we’ve mostly invalidated the large bulk of early theories, so it’s really just giving us a basis of what may be occurring in this person’s life. It’s a way for us to remember to take in the Person in Environment. I love theories, I teach theories and they are important to your professional life, and certainly to you as a student, but stop memorizing as though a social work career is a test and instead learn and grow, and be better than it all.
*As a note to all my students, this is not a freebee to not study, and if I ever see you in a supermarket I will in fact ask you what you think of a random strangers stage of development. You are forewarned.
Know your audience, know your place
Considering that most social workers do a variety of things, it’s not surprising that sometimes we might muddle who we are in a given moment. And this can be really difficult to get under control. I’ll use some hopefully appropriate self-disclosure here. Obviously by now you’ve realized that I am to C.O.O. of SJS, so my role in this is very different from my role as a line social worker, as it is very different from my role as a professor, etc. It would not be a good idea for me to walk into my job as a line social worker, and start lecturing my team or squad(see above) on a given topic. It would also be detrimental to my role in SJS to defer making decisions, when that is what I need to be doing. My students probably do deal with the brunt of the most combined parts of me because it’s where I set the rules and get to bring my own flair(read: eccentric) into teaching. So the next time you walk into a room, make sure you ask yourself; “Who am I to this group.” If you’ve only been at a company for a hot second, it’s probably best to learn the ropes before offering your opinions constantly. If you’re put in charge of something, be in charge, but don’t be a dictator because you have to recognize the strengths, not only of your clients, but of your team.
Stick together, it’s really the only way of making sure we all come through together. Happy social work month my friends, I’m so glad to have you here for another year. For those of you who missed the originals, here they are.
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