Want to be a social worker – well here are the challenges involved and some tips on how to deal with them.
Make Your Own Opportunities
You need to start training yourself to seek out information that’s relevant to your career. You can find useful material in books and journals, on blogs, in magazines and newspapers, even on Twitter and Facebook. In whatever medium feels most comfortable to you, you can find plenty of useful information devoted to social work. Cultivate your own interests and feed them rather than passively waiting for information to get offered up to you. This is one of the biggest challenges of moving from education to your professional career: Your learning has to continue, but now in a self-directed way.
Try to stay on top of relevant policy developments instead of playing catch-up after the fact. Be the informative person that tells others, not the one who gets told. Don’t shy away from the political aspect of social work; it’s impossible to separate this profession from the prevailing social policies of governments at every level.
To this day, some of my closest friends in the profession are people I trained with in my first social work course. Though our lives and careers have diverged wildly, we’ve supported each other throughout the highs and lows we’ve experienced. Peer support is absolutely vital in every aspect of your career. Your training period is especially challenging because it can be difficult to find individuals outside the profession who really understand what you’re going through.
Be The Social Worker You Would Need
Regardless of the specialization, you aim at, one common pitfall you’ll always have to resist is the temptation to see the user as an “other.” You may as well be treating your friend, your parent, your child, or you yourself. One useful technique is to examine all of your interactions from a reversed perspective: How would you feel if your social worker behaved this way toward you? It’s not always possible to get thanked for what you do; some users are always going to be resentful. Remember that this happens because of the situation they find themselves in. It’s the role that offends, not the person.
Social work is only a sustainable career if you can finish off each day knowing that you’ve done everything you could and treated your users the way you’d want to be treated.
This simple word gets tossed around a lot during your training period, and it will take a while for the meaning to truly sink in. The goal is ultimately to fulfil that sublime directive first handed down by Alexander Pope: “Know then thyself.”
Why do you react to given situations the way you do? What are your instinctive responses to certain stimuli? What life experiences shaped those responses? Only after you’ve examined these cause-and-effect relationships thoroughly to you stand a chance of being able to change them.
No matter how close you are to the start of your professional training, you have powerful skills and knowledge thanks to what you’ve experienced in life. Use the power of self-examination to turn future experiences and your reactions into opportunities to learn and grow. The more you reflect, the more aware of your strengths and weaknesses you’ll be.
Never Forget What Powerless Feels Like
I had a real problem cultivating confidence when I was training, especially when I was working with real users. There was that inevitable voice telling me I was faking it all. I learned to ignore that voice and get the work done, carrying out in-home reviews and bringing back important, actionable information to my team. By seeing the difference I was making, I could have seen the power I was exercising.
At that point in my career, I was struggling with feelings of powerlessness thanks to the way my practice educator was handling me. But over time, I turned the memory of those feelings to my advantage. They inform my reactions to the users I come into contact with, as I know exactly how desperate they can be. Power is something that you can appreciate – but it always needs to be treated with respect.
Having interests outside the profession is essential. Having something else to turn to while I completed my training and launched into my career was sometimes the only thing keeping me moving forward. Outside interests have helped me to grow and made me a better social worker. Work hard at your new career, but no so hard that you neglect the things that make you unique.