Every social worker makes mistakes. I’ve been told that when we are new social workers it takes a while to figure out where we went wrong and as we gain experience and wisdom the time between making a mistake – and knowing we made a mistake becomes shorter. However, it doesn’t mean we stop making mistakes. I encourage you to embrace your mistakes! Growth as a professional comes from learning from the times we struggle. To help you know what to look for here are some of the common mistakes many of us make.
Traditionally, social work is a female dominated career. Although there are some amazing male social workers, there aren’t nearly enough. For Social Work to thrive, a balanced, diverse mix of people is vital to the field. I was curious why some men brave the waters of social work and others pass it by so I asked 3 male colleagues of mine about their jump into the social services field. Each of them gave me passionate and considerate answers.
See if you see some similarities – if you do maybe social work is for you.
Many people go into social work with an eye to eventually provide therapy in their own private practice. When I went for my MSW, I was working in child welfare and thought I would be a terrible therapist. I thought therapists were people who were academic and made leaps of intuition that were almost magical. It turns out therapists are just trained individuals who listen, provide empathy and assist clients with finding solutions to the struggles they encounter. Social Workers have a unique perspective because we look at the person in the environment – we look at the whole person and the systems within which they interact. We also are strengths-based practitioners, so we help clients find the positives they can build on. When I realized that I didn’t have to fit some preconceived mold to be a private practice therapist and identified and valued my own clinical skills – I embraced having a private practice and currently it is my favorite work as a social worker. If you are thinking of starting your own private practice sometime in the future, here are some things you can work on now during your journey.
For many of us, this is a busy time a year. We have the bustle of life, our families, our job or school and the holidays. This busy schedule prompted me to think about how, in school, I was told that as a social worker there will always be more work than time. I bet some of you are looking at possibly going back to school, or starting a new job, or trying not to be overwhelmed with a current job and wonder how do people do it all?
In my career as a supervisor, one area that new workers often seem to be lacking in, is the practicalities of how to organize their time, their tasks and caseloads in a way that works. In the past, I might suggest to someone I supervise different ways to organize, then I would back off. I told them they would figure out what works for them. It turns out I should have been more directive. I may not have tips that will take all the busy away but I can give you ideas on organizing at work and school.
I worked in child welfare for 17 years after I first earned my BSW. I was an expert in everything child welfare. I finally decided I wanted to try a new path. (Which is one of the awesome aspects of social work–there are always different paths to choose!) I accepted a job as a dialysis social worker and I had no idea what being a medical social worker entailed. At all. I started working for an independent dialysis center and I was the only social worker there so no one to train me. I asked my supervisor –not a social worker – for training for my job, she said – “Do social work things.” Not the most helpful advice andI really had no idea my responsibilities were and the positive impact I could have as a medical social worker. I learned on the job, picked up a few things and now have years of experience in the medical field.
One of the unique aspects of social work is that we are not just counselors or therapists, we are also advocates. We understand that the environments individuals live in have an effect on how their lives may be playing out. We advocate on both the level of individual client and at the larger macro level. We are encouraged and even expected – as is written in the Social Worker Code of Ethics– to fight against exploitation and ensure people have access to their basic human rights. Being involved in social justice issues and policy is all part of being a social worker. I have always thought it was a bit freeing that not only can I question authority and status quo but that it is expected!
Maybe you just graduated and are looking for your first social work job. Maybe you are searching out the perfect practices or internship. Maybe you’d have been doing this social work thing awhile and are looking for greener pastures, we all go through the interview process at some time. I have had many, many, many, many interviews where the outcomes have ranged from ecstatically successful to horrendous. I have also been interviewing and hiring people for years. Hopefully, some of my thoughts will help you land your perfect job.
I worked at a dialysis corporation for a few years in my career. We occasionally had large group social worker meetings that employees from the corporate office sometimes came to present. Often when Corporate came, they would talk about finances and insurance billing and the cost of doing business. Virtually every time, the corporate employee would say something like “as social workers, you all just want to help people and you don’t really understand or care about the money aspect.” It always felt very condescending like there was some deficiency with social workers because we care about helping individuals and that we all weren’t quite sophisticated enough to understand the reality of business.
Social Workers are actually extremely proficient at understanding how systems work and that nothing exists in a vacuum. When we look at the big picture it is easy to see how there is a business aspect to social work. Not only is money involved in how we can provide our services, we will work for businesses – our own or someone else’s. This will necessitate understanding business or management information.
Chances are – if you are good at your job – you will be asked to take on more responsibilities – probably become someone who manages people. The thing, though, just because you are a good social worker does not mean you automatically have the skills to be a good leader or manager. Your social work skills help you but there is a whole new world to learn. Maybe you dream of owning your own private practice. In both of these scenarios, you will have to develop skills that hone your business sense. If you know you want to own your own business or become a manager or director of some type, you may want to look at school programs that also have social service slanted business classes. (Some schools even have MSW/MBA programs.) Many MSW programs do not have classes on social service management. My MSW program only had one class focusing on the business aspect of social work.
Although I absolutely love the clinical aspect of my job, I think I am happiest with managing a staff at my current corporate job and also immensely enjoy running my private practice. The business aspect of social work is my favorite. Below is a mishmash of my thoughts on the business part of social work.
Did you know May is Mental Health Month? May is designated to highlight the discussion of mental health and helping fight stigma. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) indicates that over 43 million adults live with a mental illness every year – that is approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States. This means that you know many people who are struggling with mental health issues. If you are in a helping profession you are likely encountering many individuals whose mental health is affecting their day to day life.
What can you do to promote mental health awareness and your own mental health?
Maybe Social Work as a career has appealed to you, but you have doubts if the field is a good fit because you want to be a therapist. The mental health field is riddled with different fields of study that lead to a career as a therapist. These disciplines often overlap but each one has their own strength to bring to the table when treating clients.
Can a social worker’s training prepare them to be a clinical therapist? The answer is yes! As a social worker, I admit bias, but there are many reasons being a social worker makes for a fantastic therapist.