What is Social Work?
By far, social workers are most thought of as taking children away from their homes. Although child welfare is one sector of social work, the profession as a whole encompasses a magnitude of areas. The council on social work education gives a great description of the key components of social work. They state: “Social workers share a commitment to promoting social welfare, helping people of all backgrounds overcome unique challenges, advocate for social and economical justice for all members of the community and embody a professional code of ethics.”
Social workers can be found in a variety of settings wearing innumerable hats. As a social worker in the medical field, I found that anything not clearly falling into the bucket of doctor, nurse, physical therapy or aid ended up in my lap. Social workers show up to work each day not knowing what they will face. From drug rehabilitation, schools, hospitals, hospice to the military, counseling clinics, adoption agencies, and everything in between. One thing reigns loud and true for the social work profession. Social workers meet people when they are vulnerable and in need …. in need of emotional support, connection to resources, or assistance navigating complex situations. I often refer to social work as a gray profession. Just as diverse as individuals, families, and circumstances can be, so is the field of social work. No two cases are the same and the answers are never clearly written in black and white.
For example, I spent the bulk of my working days as a hospice social worker. Although each one of my patients was facing end of life, no two of them were the same. Each day I got into my car and drove to the homes of my patients, providing a listening ear and opening space for patients and family members to let their guard down and express true feelings. I never knew what the day might bring. I visited beautiful homes in lovely neighborhoods, and I also visited homes in less than desirable areas. Death has its way of opening up Pandora’s box within a family system, and often, I was there to help families sort it out.
I Could Never be a Social Worker
If you are a social worker, you have been told by someone, “I could never do your job.” Yes, the job is often hard. Yes, the job can be heartbreaking. Yes, the job can be exhausting, confusing, complex, and frustrating. However, the social work profession lends itself to being incredibly rewarding. Entering someone’s life when they are in desperate need of help can facilitate an abundance of gratitude. Watching someone transform from the depths of depression, sadness, or grief into a vibrant, lively being can be quite rewarding.
Some may think I am too sensitive, kindhearted, or emotional to be a social worker. Being a social worker does not equate to being without feelings. In fact, without compassion, a career in social work is dead before it even begins. The field of social work requires the utmost compassion and ability to put aside one’s own beliefs and ideas about a situation. At the end of the day, we can provide the resources, encouragement, and support a person may need; however, we are met with the individual’s desire, capacity, and willingness to do their part of the plan. Being a social worker means accepting what is, celebrating the successes, and also accepting the cases that end not according to the plan.
The Time is Right for Social Work
The theme for this year’s social work month is The Time is Right for Social Work. I do not think there could be a more fitting theme. We are living in a hurting and divided world. Social workers are standing between the hurting and the healing. They are ready and willing to provide support and compassion. Social workers are stepping into situations most people would run from.