MY JOURNEY TO SOCIAL WORK
One of the wisest people I have ever met once told me “if you choose a job you have great passion for you will never work a day in your life.” This is a philosophy that I have carried with me for as long as I can remember and sought to find for myself. However, it was not until recently that I realized my true commitment and motivation for pursuing a graduate degree in social work. I personally experienced a loved one endure a devastating battle with addiction. His condition convinced me that the negative emotional and psychological states associated with addiction will eventually push all its victims to “rock bottom” at some point. Although he looked relatively healthy on the outside, little did everyone know he had a monster controlling his psychological well-being, and that monster was heroin. I voluntarily dedicated all of my time to helping him beat this disease; all while experiencing severe emotional stress of my own. I researched successful treatment options, attended NA meetings with him and sought out Nar-Anon meetings to deal with my own emotional issues through the process.
The topic of addiction had always fascinated me, but after experiencing it in a context so personal, my whole viewpoint on the issue shifted. I could sit here and discuss the overwhelming effect it had on my life, but to make a long story short the hardships I faced after dealing with his disease inspired me to pursue a career in social work and more specifically in counseling those suffering from chemical dependency. My firm decision to obtain a MSW degree has not only been the direct result of my personal experiences but also from my experience and involvement in a professional social work setting. Through observing and being around people with these social problems I have gained first-hand experiences involving the obstacles these people face every single day. To explain, immediately after I received my B.A in Psychology I obtained a voluntary internship position at an outpatient integrated substance abuse and mental health facility. This position involved working in conjunction with experienced professionals in the treatment of chemical dependency and mental health through an outpatient setting. In addition, by speaking in-depth with qualified social workers and mental health professionals, including managers, I gained valuable insight into the aims, values and ethics of social work within the local authority and how these are applied in practice. After applying these values and ethics in my voluntary role I not only gained a great sense of job satisfaction I also came to realize how important these are to gaining respect and trust from clients, a necessity for social services to be effective.
QUALITIES OF A GOOD SOCIAL WORKER
My ability to demonstrate personal qualities of diplomacy, tact and empathy in these situations have further convinced me of my suitability to pursue a career in social work. This position has given me great insight into the role of a social worker after being directly paired and assigned case management clients who were living in our organizations sober living home. Through case management sessions I assessed my client’s present needs and wishes and identified their future goals and desired outcomes. On an ongoing basis, I strive to promote empowerment, individuality, rights, responsibilities, identity and self-esteem in my clients. I put care plans into action by helping individuals with life skills (e.g. developing basic budgeting and money managing skills) providing information or helping service users to access information relevant to their needs and wishes, assisting them to develop a higher level of independence and improve their communication and social skills. I also provide continuous emotional support for my client’s during stressful life changes. I learned how to communicate with clients about sensitive issues in an appropriate manner, understanding and being prepared for their reactions to the information. This job has significantly improved my communication skills, my patience, and my initiative as a social work professional. In result, I have become aware of my own values and beliefs whilst showing respect for all persons and their values, beliefs, cultures, goals, needs and preferences. My overall objective is to pursue a career as a licensed social worker specializing in the treatment of mental health and addiction, and recently it has become clear that my passion lies with the field of social work- and supporting disadvantaged populations who suffer from these conditions.
SOCIETY CONTINUES TO IGNORE WHITE PRIVILEGE
There always has been, and always will be a separation of power, wealth and privilege in our society and no social movement will change that. There will always be groups of people who will benefit from unearned, generally invisible advantages that increase their power relative to those around them. Specifically, issues pertaining to gender, race, sexual orientation and social class have continued to favor specific groups of society for decades. To be considered “white” in the USA means to be part of the dominant culture, because we are the majority. But does that mean we get to define what is normal or important, and what is right? No, but we enjoy being “privileged.” As a group, we often tend to think that we are smarter, better, and more capable than other people- we think that if something is good for us, then it is good for everybody. We don’t always recognize many of the things we enjoy are due to privilege, and many neglect those with values and lifestyles different from their own.
SOCIAL WORKERS ARE CONTINUOUSLY LEARNING
I believe that mental health professionals have a lot to learn about understanding those with different experiences and qualities than our own. More often than not, we fail to honor other cultures or learn from them and in result; we do not question our own ideas or beliefs. While working in the field of social work I believe that professionals should think deeper about societies vastly different populations and incorporate an understanding that their mental health may be the direct result of living in a society filled with privilege and social inequality. In addition to social inequalities experienced outside the field of mental health, I believe many people seeking treatment for mental health and chemical dependency experience a social stigma attached to their conditions. Because of these stigmas, their conditions worsen and their recovery only becomes more difficult. It seems like common knowledge to the average individual that those with mental health or chemical dependency diagnoses are the least likely of any population to be socially included or to find work, but this is only because society has a stereotyped view about people being treated for these conditions.
I remember talking to a family friend about my internship and how passionate I was about working with and counseling chemically dependent individuals. I vividly recall them stating “Oh wow, so you’re dealing with psycho killers and child molesters?” At that moment I was absolutely stunned and had no idea how to begin addressing his complete ignorance regarding this matter. There is a stereotyped belief that all of those who are mentally ill are violent and dangerous, when the truth is that they are actually the ones most at risk for being attacked or harming themselves. Stigmatization in the field of social work and mental health may actually worsen an individual’s health problems, delay their urge to seek help or treatment and will place a undeniable burden on their recovery. It appears as though discrimination and stigmatization only trap these individuals in a cycle of illness and for that reason; mental health professionals need to be aware of this stigmatization and discrimination in a social work setting.
WE CONTINUE TO LEARN FROM EXPERIENCE
Field placement and work in a direct social work environment will allow for valuable exposure to the full range of functions, responsibilities, challenges and opportunities that a lot of today’s social workers experience. Interning within an agency will allow me to observe and participate in providing direct services to clients using different methods and modalities of intervention and assessing, developing and evaluating services that address the needs of a community. I hope to broaden my core practice skills, including psycho-social assessment, clinical interviewing and evaluation with clients of different ages, family arrangements, sexual orientations, and both racial and cultural backgrounds. After completing my field work in the MSW program, I hope to become well versed in assessing risk factors, identifying client needs, and linking people with the resources necessary to help them become empowered members of society. I hope to enhance my ability to establish rapport in order to have effective relationships with future clients. In addition to learning rapport building skills, I hope to walk away from this placement with enhanced empathy and neutrality skills. Because I will be working in many different settings with many different clients whose moral or ethical compass may be much different than my own, it will prove beneficial to remain neutral and open minded without imposing my own political or personal views on clients.
Since the start of my career in social work, I have grown up a lot. Working with mostly mature colleagues, some old enough to be my parents, has taught me a lot about learning from experience. I have learned the importance of sharing experiences and learning from others. I was inexperienced professionally when I started in social work and because of my age and relative lack of life experiences; I still have a long way to go. With practice I believe I will be better able to let go of my need to do everything for people and shift towards a more empowering way of doing social work.