A Social Worker’s Path and Reflections on Why Social Work “Works”
In the early 90’s, I was a university student who was looking for direction. I had been studying sociology and as graduation loomed, I was unsure as to what I would do with this degree and how I would step onto the quickly moving treadmill of adulting. Enter social work. I had always felt I had an ability to listen, problem solve, advocate and help others, but I really wasn’t sure how I could translate these skills into something real. I decided to do some research, and ultimately, moving the focus of my studies to social work was the best decision I could have made.
My involvement in this field quickly revealed that being a social worker involved far more than working in the social welfare system or child protection services. I learned that being a social worker did not necessarily mean I was a “bleeding heart”, a “do-gooder” or a rebel whose goal was to constantly challenge the status quo. I soon realized that a social work education would place me on the path that would change the way I viewed the world and would eventually become my calling.
Fast forward over 20 years. I am a proud social worker who has been fortunate enough to have a varied career, working in the trenches of the criminal justice system, supporting victims and those who are marginalized, helping people of all ages navigate emotional and mental health challenges, teaching bright, enthusiastic students and finally, landing in private practice. Every day I have the privilege of helping my clients slog through the mud of hurt and pain to support them to identify their strengths and come out the other side feeling strong and empowered. It is truly a rewarding career which continues to bring me joy and satisfaction.
In honour of social work month, I thought I would share my top five reasons why I love being a social worker.
We look at the person in the system
Social Work is different from other helping professions. Although we possess the skills to counsel and provide therapy, we do so through a lens of looking at the person in the context of the systems that surround them. We believe that looking at a person as one who has a problem that needs to be fixed over-simplifies pain, heartache and trauma. We are all humans who are part of families, friend groups, communities, and workplaces. Acknowledging this is critical to avoiding labels and making generalizations. Ultimately, one of the primary benefits of this approach is that it empowers individuals to make better decisions as to where they want to focus their time and energy as a means of safeguarding their mental and emotional health.
We foster clarity
Working with a social worker involves a collaborative approach to understanding functioning, identifying dysfunctions, empowering one to work toward clarifying values and goals, communicating needs, managing stress and conflict and building upon strengths and skills to continually grow and evolve. Knowing what you believe in and when there is a conflict with your values helps identify the source of conflict. It is at that point that clients of social workers can feel empowered to identify what they want to change and how they are going to accomplish that change in a supportive environment.
Once the therapeutic relationship helps you examine conflicts and sources of pain in your world, you can be empowered to take action. Navigating these systems when all the moving parts seem to be working well is challenging. However, when we factor in trauma, abuse, childhood issues, and the demands of day to day life, a full assessment of the person in the system is a necessary part of providing the support needed to move forward. We empower our clients as we help them look at their strengths rather than focussing on their deficiencies. This doesn’t necessarily eliminate the problems, but it results in a shift that empowers.
We collaborate and advocate
Because we look at systems we help identify when connecting with other supports is needed. We will help our clients find the words to self-advocate, or with their permission, we can share our observations with others who are involved in your circle of care in order to provide support collaboratively, keeping our client’s needs as the top priority for all involved.
We provide a safe space
Working with someone who cares about you but who isn’t in a personal relationship with you helps you examine relationships, understand what you value and learn how you can empower you to decide where you want to put your energy to start living the life you want to live. Therapy sessions are where our clients unload emotions and examine perspectives. This safe place to try using new-found skills and look at the roadmap of choices before taking action creates confidence and moves toward action.
We need social work now, more than ever. Consider connecting with an experienced, qualified social worker if you want to feel better, gain perspective, experience empowerment and put yourself on a road to sustaining and maintaining support for your wellness. To find a therapist who can meet your needs, go to www.maratoscounselling.com. Therapist listing sites such as psychologytoday.com list therapists who can help as well. Look for the RSW (Registered Social Worker) credential to find a therapist who is a trained social worker who is registered with the Ontario Association of Social Workers and Social Service Workers.