People are complicated. As a social worker, you are often working with individuals in immense emotional and often physical pain. One of the best aspects of being a social worker is when you help someone heal. Other times, a client can have difficulty moving out of their pain. It can be scary for a social worker (new or experienced) to have a client indicate they are going to irrevocably harm themselves. I know a lot of therapists who say they don’t take clients who are at high risk of suicide but anyone you work with may be at risk. It is essential, to be willing to be aware that suicide might be a risk.
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.
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?
Although social workers often see the very best of people, there is no doubt that the average worker also sees much sadness and struggle. Some social workers practice among poverty and violence. Some work with individuals who are physically ill or dying. It is safe to say that social workers treat an array of people and problems.
This sadness can add up. I supervise a team of care coordinators who work with individuals who have high acuity of physical and/or mental health needs. They are transitioning clients from a long term setting into the community. Although they see lots of success, they encounter loss each day. They listen to people’s stories which are wrought with loss. They watch people relapse into addiction. They watch individuals deteriorate physically and sometimes decompensate mentally. They have clients die under both expected and unexpected circumstances. This can be wearing on workers. When we experience loss we often feel grief. Grief is one of those uncomfortable feelings we often try to avoid.
Most of us understand personal loss. Personal loss includes things like a death of family or a loved one. It may be loss of a pet, a job or of a dream. It may be loss of an idea or transition to another stage of life or a divorce. We deal with personal loss by using our support system and talking about it. We have rituals and memorials. We use self-care. Much of our personal life is seen by people we love so there is support. It can be somewhat different for professional loss.
Professional loss is what we experience in our work lives with clients. It is different from personal loss because the relationships are different and often we don’t stop and take a moment to acknowledge and grieve. Professional losses are often internalized. It is possible we might go home and say we had a rough day or maybe even say a client died but we can’t share much of our experiences with family and friends so we miss out on the support you would get when family and friends are sharing the loss with you.
Happy Social Work Month! March is recognized as the month to celebrate Social Workers.
So if you are one of the almost 600,000 social workers or working toward being one, make sure to celebrate a little!
If you are thinking about becoming a social worker or really if you are thinking about furthering your education in any area – What is stopping you?
Ted talks are on such an array of subjects. There are several that I have assigned to clients in my private practice and there are a few I’ve used in training with the team of care coordinators I supervise. In our time-crunched world, sometimes a 10 minute or more video seems impossibly long. I would encourage you to take some time and watch some talks that interest you. Below are some of my favorite talks that I think are beneficial for social workers and those who are interested in social work. Whatever topic you may be interested in – I bet you find it in TED talks.
As the New Year begins, many of us look to the hopeful possibilities of the future. The New Year can be a catalyst to start over and grasp the future that will serve us best. I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, but I was thinking about what I could focus on in my clinical practice, in order for me to be a better social work practitioner. I was looking not to be a better employee or business owner but a better social worker.
I decided to focus on doing a better job of bringing spirituality into my social work practice. Even though social workers are trained to look at the whole person, for some reason, it seems like a lot of social workers have difficulty including spirituality in their services. Clinicians do a great job with the mind and body part of a person but falter a bit at spirituality.
Social workers are often confident with working with a diverse population so why is religious or spiritual preference any different? Maybe a social worker is worried about offending their client. They may be comfortable asking personal questions about their client’s sex life but spiritual life – not so much. Sometimes social workers are so cognizant of not proselytizing or pushing their own beliefs on their client, that they just avoid asking the questions. One I’ve been guilty of in the past is to avoid the question because I don’t want the client to feel like I’m judging them if they say they don’t have any spiritual practices. Some social workers may just feel like they don’t have the knowledge of the individual’s religion or spirituality to provide guidance.
The field of social work has been getting better, overall, including spirituality. Virtually any assessment tool that you find today will have questions on people’s spirituality. Time and experience have taught social work that a person’s spiritual beliefs not only help them feel whole but can be a strength. A person’s spiritual beliefs may give them hope or confidence for the future. A person’s spiritual beliefs might give them a sense of belonging or connection to the community.
Conversely, sometimes there may be shame involved with religious beliefs or other barriers. A person’s identity and history is wrapped up in their spiritual beliefs. If we fail to ask about someone’s spirituality we are missing a part of them we may be able to help heal.
With Thanksgiving just behind us and continuing in the holiday season, many of us take time to express thanks and feel gratitude about the bounty we have. Most of us are thankful for our families, friends and other loved ones. We feel thankful for the health we may have, the material things we have acquired, laughter, children, moments of joy, and even just being alive
People often say they are thankful to have a job and a way to provide for themselves and those they love. I rarely hear people say they are thankful for the career they have chosen because it ignites their passions. My wish for everyone is not only do they have a job that pays the bills but a career that gratifies and feeds their soul. I am grateful to have found that career in social work. If you are thinking about becoming a social worker, are a social worker or even know a social worker, check below for the list of reasons I am grateful for this calling.
As a social worker, you often work with vulnerable and struggling clients. One such group, you may work with are individuals diagnosed with a mental illness. Mental Illness does not discriminate. Any population you work with, will likely have some people living their life with mental illness. Sometimes because of media portrayals and other misconceptions, working with people diagnosed with mental illness can be scary or daunting.
There are many types of mental illness. The DSM-V (where the criteria for different mental health diagnoses is listed) has about 991 pages.
Below are some basic definitions of common diagnosis you might come across.
One definition of Mental Illness I like is from the Mayo Clinic
Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions —disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors. Many people have mental health concerns from time to time.
I like this definition because it normalizes mental health issues. Mental health conditions run on a continuum. Just like people, mental illness is complicated and some people struggle with more difficult issues than others.
Specific Diagnosis Definitions (Also using the definitions from the Mayo Clinic.)
- Major depressive disorder — prolonged and persistent periods of extreme sadness
- Bipolar disorder —also called manic depression or bipolar affective disorder, depression that includes alternating times of extreme sadness (depression) and extreme happiness (mania) (//www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mood-disorders/basics/definition/con-20035907)
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder – excessive, ongoing anxiety and worry that interfere with day-to-day activities may be a sign of generalized anxiety disorder. (//www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/basics/definition/con-20024562)
- “Schizophrenia is a severe brain disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. Schizophrenia may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior. Contrary to popular belief, schizophrenia isn’t a split personality or multiple personality. The word “schizophrenia” does mean “split mind,” but it refers to a disruption of the usual balance of emotions and thinking. (//www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/schizophrenia/basics/definition/con-20021077)
Those are just some of the diagnoses you may come across in your work. Let me share some tips for a social worker to remember when working with this population.
A weird phenomenon in a society that is so much instant gratification and making sure “I” get my fair is that individuals are notoriously bad at self-care. Individuals take their responsibilities seriously and want to do great jobs at being a Social Worker, Parent, Friend, Caretaker or son or daughter, that all energy is focused on this task. It is admirable to live up to responsibilities and care for others, but there are pitfalls to not also focusing on self.