Is you. Yup, social workers are the biggest threat to our profession. Are you angry? Dismissive? Surprised? Swear it’s not you personally? Or did you already feel that way? Regardless it’s a good thing, because now we can talk about it.
Some of the biggest problems in the field are: low pay, high caseloads, lack of respect, burnout, and debt. I’m leaving some out of course, but you know there will always be pros and cons of any profession. Then why do I saw that social workers have anything to do with any of this? Think about how we act, how we speak, and what we do to each other. Then ask yourself if you’ve ever participated in any of these behaviors.
- How many social workers does it take to change a light bulb? None, the light bulb has to want to change. Let me finish vomiting and address the problem here(I’ve already covered some in Parts I, II, and III). So many social workers are indoctrinated either in internships, leadership, or other social workers that “all we do is facilitate change.” That’s partly true, we can’t change people, but “all we do?” Is it easy to help facilitate change? Especially to those resistant to that? Does it not take a toolbox of evidence based skills to engage, connect, and assist that client? Do clients leave you the same person as they walked in? What is the message that we send if we teach social workers that “you do nothing, the client does it all?” The client does have to be the one to change, the social worker has to be the one to identify, perform interventions, and support the client’s efforts. None of those things are easy, just as it isn’t easy to change. This profession demeans itself by devaluing how much we do. Doctors don’t cure diseases, but they do treat a person with medicines or regimens that cure the disease. Teachers can’t just make someone good at math. They can teach it and apply it in ways for the student to understand, and through their own work become good at math. We don’t say that the teacher’s role is passive. I’ve heard many reasons why social workers are so devalued. We work with the most vulnerable populations that society doesn’t care about so society won’t care about us. We aren’t equal to other practitioners in skill or education so we become the peripheral member of a team. And there are some truths to this. We are blaming it only on external factors when never considering how we view ourselves. And if we continue to devalue ourselves, why would anyone step in to validate us? We need to raise ourselves up in our own eyes before asking that others do the same. And next time a social worker tries to devalue our profession, perform an intervention. Say, “no, I am a highly qualified, trained expert in my profession. I deal with tough situations and can measure outcomes accordingly.” Don’t fall victim to the passive victim to many wishes us to be. A different sort of modern day martyr who dismisses “being called” to social worker, as some feel (did I feel a call? No, but do I demean people who feel that way? NO!), but martyrs us all by their esteem of what a “social worker” does.
- Et tu Brute? I don’t get the ongoing and vicious attacks members of our profession. We’re never going to agree on everything, but far too many take this stance that if they disagree, or feel they’ve been slighted, that they will place everything aside and set themselves on a mission to destroy them; personally, professionally. No social worker is perfect. No organization is perfect. But the response and reactions from those who see themselves as “better than” lose any high ground they might have ever had to their point when their only response is to band together and react in a blatant libel fashion. I will not name names, because I won’t give the satisfaction of driving engagements to those individuals. I’m sure you’ve come across some, and I’m sure some will read this. Good. Because I will call out this practice. It’s bullying. It’s unethical, and frankly, it’s downright disgusting to see social workers go after their own in that way. I have said outright libel for a reason, you need to hear it. You cannot run libel against someone without consequence. The fact that someone would rather ignore it than pursue it is their right, but I can promise you one thing. There wouldn’t be a moment hesitation to bring up legal charges to something that is false information that could damage me professionally or personally. There’s no playing with reputations, they far outlast the applications. You might be wondering if I mean standing up against someone or an organization that is harming the reputation of the profession, or is acting unethically, or dangerously. But I’m not. I’m talking about disagreements over what they consider to be a part of what social work means to them. A subjective perspective if you would. So they pat themselves on the back for being better than those who use humor or phrases, citing how much language matters not realizing that it doesn’t make you better, it makes you elitist. So social workers aren’t superheroes because that means we have a savior complex? No. Social Workers are superheroes because they can see through everything to find the strengths of their client and show them how to live their life with those strengths. If we just wanted to feel needed, no one would ever get discharged. Social workers know they can’t “save” anyone, but it also doesn’t mean they don’t save someone. And if we can comfortably say that police, firefighters, military, teachers, are heroes to our kids? We can say that to those who walk into situations of mass trauma, vulnerable populations, or those in need to help, asking nothing in return because it’s part of their job. You want to know more on how and why social workers are superheroes? Watch this TEDtalk on what the simplest thing can do to change someone’s life. And how it takes some special skill to see that through what others might just label “dysfunction.” Never forget the privilege it is to be allowed into another person’s life. To be the one that often is the only one who has ever learned their deepest secrets, to model perhaps for the first time what a proper, healthy relationship with someone looks like. It might not be flying or stopping bullets with a single glance, but that’s a damn amazing superpower, and it doesn’t make anyone a victim, it doesn’t give a power dynamic. It’s the most humbling thing in the world to know that my job is to help this person see what everyone else told them wasn’t there, and to do so in a way that they come to that realization themselves and no longer need us. You want to claim that you’re more evolved because social work is just your job, therefore you can’t be a hero, that you decided offense, and that you believe we don’t make change? Then believe that, but stop demonizing those who are so proud of what they do because regardless of belief, social workers want to try to make the world a better place. And if you want to try to diminish that, you deserve to be called out as a hypocrite. You want to whine and cry that you don’t like one person’s take, that your idea of what language to use is better, or even better, they declined your request for something and you take that to mean you can go after them and anyone associated with them under the guise of dissent? Hypocrite three times over. You want to have a conversation or debate on a topic, that’s great. But if you’re confusing the right for social media accounts to block individuals for any reason, from harassment to annoyance, then you’re foretting that social media isn’t real life. And to go after someone in real life because you were blocked? I can’t say it’s criminal, but I know for sure it’s pathetic. You always get to pick and choose who is in your life, and seriously? Get over it.
- You’ve got 99 problems, but money ain’t one? Well, actually it is, and many of the problems social workers face stem from this continued sense that we don’t even value ourselves and our jobs so why the hell would anyone else? You counsel a battered spouse on how to leave an abusive relationship but can you see the abusive one you allow in your profession? You allow organizations to shut you down because you believe them to have more power, when really they’re scrambling, unable to keep up with the changing times, unable to get their message and efforts across, and a blatant refusal to enlist those who do because those individuals have the audacity to either question your methods and what you’ve been doing for nearly a century, can’t afford to be a part of your organization so they are excluded from that participation, or believe that they work enough and volunteering more time away from their social world without compensation just isn’t worth it. And then when there’s an approach that hey, there might be a better way. There might be a new way. Well… that’s a threat. So let’s double down on reminding people: social workers don’t go into this field for the money. That efforts are being made to reach the top people. Screw that. Start realizing that social workers need to be those people. If you don’t have a seat at the table then you’re on the menu. If people don’t know what you do, they aren’t supporting you which in turn means you don’t have bargaining power. If you’re more worried about what your membership looks like than the work that is happening than what kind of benefit can anyone possibly hope from you besides an echo chamber of exclusion to all others, and a congratulatory nature to the inner circle. None of us are getting out of this alive, so suck it up, realize that social work is different, and social workers are different and there’s room to disagree. But there’s no room for the rest of this…well shit.
None of us are perfect. All of us have some blind spot that we’re not aware of that can bring harm even if we try our best. That’s just human nature. As soon as we stop attacking each other, attacking our own profession, then maybe we can work on how to fix all the other problems. But I can tell you with certainty. Until we act in a way to be taken seriously, until we push back against the false narratives, and the petty libel, most of those who hold this title will never get out of the riptide of what makes this job so difficult. It’s not one or nothing. It’s about what fights we actually should be fighting and when. Stop the pettiness, and start the strategy. What is going to raise us up? What will help us? And what just plays into the hands of those who want to keep us down in the dredges of professions they don’t think matter?