Thursday, June 26, 2008
I'm a what what worker?
I had a job interview a week ago for a full time nights position as a crisis worker at the shelter where I work. The interviewer asked me how it fit with my overall plan as a professional. I gave him a quick answer about how I'd be there for at least a year, and how I wanted to get my MSW at some point, but it got me thinking about what exactly a social worker is and whether I'm doing "it" or not.
Most people think of social workers as worker in Child Welfare (DCFS, CFS, CAS etc). Other people think of social assistance or housing when they first hear "social worker". In fact, while social workers do those things, they also work in hospitals, clinics, geriatrics, schools, counseling centers, crisis lines, large companies, health care services, insurance agency, shelters, churches, and well, pretty much everywhere. Social workers are often part of multidisciplinary teams working in palliative care, aging, and mental health as well as education. As a student I learned as much from the psych nurses and occupational therapists on our team as the social workers, if not more, about working with serious and persistent mental illness.
I tend to think that social work is more of an attitude then a profession title. When I did a practicum in mental health, the nurses, occupational therapists, and support workers were all "social workers". Some people in the profession would get upset with me saying this, but I believe it to be true.
Social workers are people who look at situations holistically. We consider the whole person, the biological, the psychological, the social and the spiritual. We are people who realize that problems do not exist in isolation. It's very important to consider a persons entire "system" when looking at the health and mental health. Whereas some people see health as simply biological, or depression as a person struggle, social workers work to see the entire picture and all the factors that contribute to personal well being. Social workers go beyond the person and pay attention to the political and systemic issues at work in situations. We advocate for social justice and policy change. Social workers are advocates. We help client's work their way through society's systems, to understand, and to have their rights fulfilled. We interact on a sometimes daily basis with nurses, doctors, lawyers, advocates, parents, children, families. We are people people (well except those who work in policy analysis and stuff, but that will never be me. And even then, they're doing it for people).
So is my job now social work? I would have to argue that it is. Though I work a lot of nights, don't carry a case load, and am called a "crisis worker", I am still a social worker. I care about people. I realize that though they are coming to a shelter they have greater needs then food and shelter. That being said, I also realize that though they have other needs, it can be hard to work on things on an empty stomach with no sleep. I realize that winding up in the drunk tank is more then personal failure and yet client's need to take responsibility for their actions. I understand that our chemical detox unit is both an end and a beginning. I recognize that in order for things to change there must be change in society as a whole, and yet I recognize that change must come from within. I have realize that I have huge power to effect change and yet I realize that I can't do everything.
In my job right now I have the opportunity to make a difference in people's lives. And that, is what I think social work is all about, no matter what area of the field you are working in.