March is Social Work Month, and as you could tell from a previous post, NASW released a theme for the month, and has called upon all social workers to advocate for the field. There has certainly been a shift inside NASW to turn it’s attention towards social work advocacy, especially the way in which the public collective consciousness perceives social work. Yet, little is said of the division within the field itself.
Since my initiation into this noble field, I have heard the adage “Diversity is social workers greatest strength, but also it’s greatest weakness”. In my opinion, this is apparent in the mixed message that the NASW has presented in it’s presentation of Social Work Month. On the one hand they implore social workers to promote social work with the 100 idea to promote social work, and do so. Yet, I feel the theme of Social Work Month seems to revolve more around micro practice.
Here we have the classic division that is stealing the strength from our profession: what should we focus on, micro or macro? In which way do we serve our clients better? The NASW is clearly the most identifiable social work organizing force, and they vie for the direction and voice of the field with other organizations such as: Clinical Social Work Association, National Association of Deans and Directors of Schools of Social Work, and The American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work, to just name a few.
The sheer number of these sort of organizations betrays the basic divide inside the field. There is a natural tendency for micro practitioners to see everything through the lens of the practice and macro associations to see everything through the lens of community advocacy. It makes me wonder what we would tell a client who exhibited such a clear exhibition of “All-Or-Nothing Thinking”. So much of a social workers micro practice is helping the client learn how to find a middle course through the extremes of life, yet our own profession is split in a way that echoes a significant mental illness.
Macro and Micro social work are interdependent concepts. One cannot be conceptualized without the other. Macro policies drafted at the highest level of government effect the funding, access, and mandates placed on the micro practitioner in every way from staffing of agencies to what is deemed as billable services. Micro practices grounded in evidence and theory professionalize direct practice, and help improve society by both added to existing practice evidence and the improving the lives of individuals and families. Both are essential to proving that our profession is effective in helping to alleviate the social pressures that arise as a natural consequence of industrialized society. To sacrifice one aspect in service delivery is to ignore the founding principals of social work. People live in societies and there is a bidirectional impact.
Social work is more than psychology, it is more than understanding our fundamental motivation and the human condition, more than city or community planning. Rather, it is the process of empowering individuals and our society to make the changes that helps us become more compassionate and humane. To do so, social work must be concerned with more than the public perception of the field, but the power and unity of the field itself. Advocating for this field IS to advocate for our clients, because social work is one of those unique professions that actually strives to place people ahead of profit and which emphasizes interdependence.
Social Justice Solutions is calling on all social workers to honor Social Work Month by making the following commitment. We ask that all micro social workers make it a point to become informed on macro issues in the coming year. In addition, we ask them to make sure to lend their voice to the advocacy efforts that social workers undertake daily.
SJS is also asking Macro Social Workers to reach out to their Micro Sister and Brothers. Listen to them, and ask them what they need. In other words, dig deep and find your micro roots. Use it to help not just our clients, but the good people of the profession of Social Work. In this way, and only in this way, can we adhere to what has been asked of us by the NASW to celebrate Social Work in March.
Social work is not micro practice and it is not macro advocacy. Social Work is not divided from the fabric of the society it serves. There are no issues, nor any aspect of society that is outside the bounds of social work practice. Social workers are more dynamic than that, they are more talented than that. We do not fit into neat little boxes, and we should not allow ourselves to be divided into roles that limit our ability to practice with power and unity.
A man who had been in the field for a long time once told me, “When someone asks me what I am, I say I am a clinician.” It made me sad to hear him say that, his tone was dripping with disdain. There should be only one answer to that basic question. Whether you have a BSW, an MSW, or a PHD, whether your focuses is Micro or Macro, the answer should be, “I am a social worker and damn proud of it!” Any other answer without clarification disempowers our profession and our work with it our clients.
Written By Matthew Cohen
SJS Staff Writer
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I share the frustration of the seeming contradiction of micro vs. macro orientations in social work practice. In my opinion the two should NEVER be separated, especially in the minds of social work practitioners! In the same way that the Book of James insists “faith without works is dead,” micro-level social work practice without the macro component of advocacy in pursuit of social justice pays lip service to the profession and ignores the passion that gives social work and its practitioners its vision of a better world through service to others. I wish the micro and macro aspects of practice were presented as a continuous loop, with one aspect supporting and nourishing the other. All of us must bring to our practice both the spark that sets off the fire of change as micro-level practitioners, and the fuel that keeps change evolving and relevant to the populations we serve through practice at the macro level.