My Profession: The Reality Behind Social Work vs. What People Think I Do.


As I sit here, killing a sinus infection, there is not much to do besides knock off some Netflix, rest, drink water, and sleep again. Needless to say, I’ve been getting some writing done and this post has been sitting around for years. I decided to finish it up.

I can spot it right away. I’m at a social gathering and I’m telling someone I’ve never met what I do for a living. I tell them I’m a social worker. “Oh..” is their response. When you’re as good at reading people as I am, you try not to laugh at how blunt their reaction comes off. “Oh..” translates into, “Right, so you take people’s kids from them. You make almost no money. You’re a male in a female dominated profession. Wait…why are you a social worker?? You could do anything??”

Sometimes it’s only a few of these I pick up on. Sometimes it’s all of them, haha. Still, it concerns me that this is what people think I do, and why I chose to practice Social Work. The public perception isn’t generally a good one. They’re right. When you think of a social sorker, or there is a social worker in a movie, generally the kids parents got shot and they become a ward of the state. CUE THE MOPPY LOOKING SOCIAL WORKER to take the kid into the Evil System. Or, the parents are screwing up at home, so the social worker comes to the house and tells the parent that they have 2 weeks to clean up their act, or they’re going to take their kid away from them. Think of an example, and it’s likely that social workers aren’t portrayed in a very positive light…ever.

There’s rarely a social worker who is shown finding a foster kid a great home to live in, or a social worker helping a troubled teenager with their depression at school and preventing a suicide, or a social worker sitting with a patient in a hospital in their last hours on this earth. I get it. It’s easier to pin the trope of the Evil Social Worker on this profession. Most of what we do is ugly, hard, and right there in the mud with the people going through it. Still, the image needs to change.

Here’s a dose of truth: Social workers often work in dangerous conditions for low pay. In New York, it is a felony to assault a nurse. However, social workers are not afforded the same safeguard under the law. Social workers provide a voice for the marginalized. That type of work and the individuals who are strong enough to do it speak volumes about the humanity of care. Sherry Saturno LCSW, DCSW had this to say about her exposure to this reality in the field of Social Work:

I have seen my colleagues threatened and exposed to violence in the field. I have read with a heavy heart accounts of fellow social workers who were murdered while performing their duties. I bore witness to a shooting on the job. Every one of these acts failed to obliterate the intent of the work that was being accomplished….There are so many things that cannot be explained: the senseless acts that inflict pain upon each other, and the unexpected compassion of strangers. Even in times of darkness, social workers affirm the power of good in the world by not giving up.

To choose a profession that doesn’t pay well, a profession that is dangerous at times, a profession that takes more from you than it gives back at the end of the day, isn’t a choice that one makes on a whim. To become a social worker, you have to care, you have to endure, you have to keep moving. What we do is a thankless job and an under funded career. We created a thing called, “self-care,” because what we do almost liteally sucks the life from you. I’m being dramatic. Sort of.

To give you a final idea of what I jumped into; when I moved back to Illinois, I had hoped that my home state had gotten its act together and paid attention to the cries of the people and government workers. Instead I returned to a state that was in crisis. Their response to their massive financial woes was to cut programs of the “least importance.” A band-aid for an amputation. What were those programs? Social Services. They sent a message loud and clear. “If you’re hurting, if you need help, if you got that help from Social Workers, go somewhere else. Gone Fishing.” I needed a job, and Illinois was surely not going to help me in that arena. So I left.

A long time ago, I wrote a post on why I do what I do, and in it, I explain that people who are struggling with depression and suicide have always been on my heart. Really, it’s been the underdogs that have been my drive. The people that society counts out, ignores, makes fun of, see no value in…these are my people. These people are why I do what I do. I don’t do it for money, I don’t hold my breath to be thanked, and I certainly don’t do it because it’s easy. I do it because I’m good at it, someone has to, and I’m tired of having no answer to the question, “If not me, then who? If not now, then when?”

There’s a song by Matthew West, it’s not a new song, but the lyrics to the song, “Do Something,” pretty much wrap up this final concept. There are problems out there and we’re the ones who are going to fix them. We are. You. Me. We.

So the next time you’re talking to someone and they tell you that they are a Social Worker or Counsellor, thank them and give them a pie. They don’t get that a lot….the praise I meant.

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