6 Questions for Social Workers, 6 Answers for Social Work Students
Some time ago I was contacted and given 6 questions regarding my experience with social work, to provide feedback to help prospective students determine if they would like to move forward with studying in this field. If you’re a Social Worker, I hope you think of your own answers, and either share them here or elsewhere.
6 questions, 6 answers:
What do you wish someone had told you about your job before you started?
“Expect the unexpected” was a common phrase in my training, and heeding to that advice has proven to be very helpful. However, in terms of my education, I did always wish that I could have learned more about skills for entrepreneurship, as I have had and continue to have my own interests in starting initiatives and pursuing special projects in an entrepreneurial way outside of my traditional hours of service that contribute to bettering communities in socially just ways.
I also wish there was an easier way to explain the licensing process, as it can sometimes be confusing to know if one is on the right track in terms of fulfilling the requirements.
Just a note, SocialWorkLicensure.org features an interactive map with state by stage guides for licensing requirements.
What’s the best advice you’ve received in regards to social work?
Among many other things, Social Workers are advocates. As we advocate for others, we must also advocate for ourselves. This means teaching people how to treat us, advocating for our needs regarding working conditions, supervision, compensation, etc.
Another piece of advice I’ve appreciated is remembering the importance of self-care, and work and life balance. We’re most helpful to others when we have invested time to restore ourselves, and this extends to our relationships as well.
I can remember being a student and hearing a classmate say “If I’m spending so much time with other people’s kids that my own kids never see me, that’s a problem”. That is just one example, but it’s important to make sure that we are intentional about taking care of ourselves in the process of helping others.
Do social workers usually continue their education after becoming employed?
Absolutely. The field is always changing, and it is essential that Social Workers commit to continuing their personal growth and professional development. Some can continue their training by pursuing higher education, i.e. bachelors, masters, doctoral degrees, etc. Another way of continuing education can be in the form of attending trainings and workshops on a variety of topics to improve their skills and expand their knowledge base.
Does anything about social work still surprise you?
In my experience I have found it surprising that many people still do not always understand who Social Workers are and what we do. For many, the stereotype of a Social Worker taking someone’s child away, or the image of the spiteful Social Worker who smiles at the act of creating a barrier for someone to receive much-needed services continues to persist.
In addition to a lack of clarity in terms of how we are perceived, I also find it surprising and disappointing that Social Workers are often seen in a one-dimensional perspective. We can be found in a variety of areas including child protection and psychotherapy, but most certainly not limited to those areas.
In your opinion, what’s the most difficult part of being a social worker?
Sometimes it can be challenging when you may be among the few, or in actuality the only one in your particular area, or on your particular team who may view things through a social justice lens in a holistic way. Because of that, coalition building will always be important. If you do find yourself being the only one in the room looking through that lens, you will need to find a way to be ok with that, and persevere anyway.
Anything else students should know before they become a social worker?
I’ve written about this before, but it is always important to continue doing your own “personal work”; to continue to ask yourself questions like “Who am I?” “What experiences have I had?” “What experiences have I not had?”, and “how do those things impact my worldview and the way I approach my work with people like me, and with people who aren’t like me?”
If students can begin to do their own work around these questions, they can be more prepared for their experiences as professionals in the field. Social Workers understand that we should always be asking ourselves these questions.