It’s September 4, 2014.
This date has no actual significance. However, it is the first time in three months that I’ve had the opportunity to reflect upon my first three months while working as a Social Worker at a non-profit agency. The transition to being a graduate student to a full-time employee working with high-risked youth and their families has been quite a climb that I didn’t quite expect.
Yes, I knew I was entering a new county with its own resources that I was going to have to become accustomed to.
Yes, I was prepared to adjust to new paperwork such as comprehensive assessments, treatment plans, and mental health notes.
Yes, I knew I was jumping into a career, which is known to have high rates of “burn-out” and “compassion fatigue”, immediately following 19 years of schooling.
Yes, I was also a bit naive.
Along side my naivety, I also believe that I was optimistic, daring, and blindly accepting person of what I didn’t know awaited me as I became a full-time Social Worker.
Reflecting upon these first three months on the job, my beliefs about people, in general, and about the world have changed while some have also become more solidified. Here, I will share some of these beliefs with you:
1. People (regardless of age, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender) want to be heard & seen.
Being present with a person while he/she shares their thoughts or feelings, allows me the ability to see a glimpse of how they organize and perceive their world. One’s perception of their world will uncover explanations for behaviors, types of relationships, or past trauma that continues to impact the individual, whether consciously or unconsciously. When I see a person for who they are, not as the unhealthy or dysfunctional behaviors or experiences in their life, I am able to empower him/her by providing a glimpse of hope that may, one day, develop into an intrinsic belief in a brighter tomorrow.
2. Beyond being heard and seen, people want to be simply understood; understood for who they are and where they’ve come from without judgement.
I believe the feeling of being truly understood by another human stems from a strong relationship that embodies trust and respect for one another. This relationship that I am referring to can occur between client and social worker, parent and child, or employee and supervisor.
The two barriers I recognize to a person being understood is time and the fear of being vulnerable. Time is a barrier because both parties in the relationship must provide time to be present with one another and make time to create opportunities to strengthen the relationship. The fear of being vulnerable is a big fear, in my opinion. Some people learn from a young age that being vulnerable or demonstrating any sign of vulnerability will result in being hurt, lead to distrust or abandonment. For others, some may also fear the response of the receiver (other party) when the vulnerability is expressed (How will he/she react when I say X, Y, Z? Can they be trusted? What will they do with this information? Will they think I’m a bad person?).
3. Containing and metaphorically holding someone’s emotional pain is one of the most honorary experiences that I have thus far experienced in my life.
Holding the emotional pain for a child or family during a crisis, while equally remaining present and calm, is difficult. However, the ability to do so, while providing the child and family with an empathic belief in their abilities to overcome all difficulties, is the greatest art form humanly possible. In a family’s darkest moments, a social worker also contains a glimmer of hope and compassion that has the potential to restore the child’s or family’s functioning.
4. The depth of emotional pain, trauma, and grief that people, of all ages, experience is deeper than I thought humanly possible.
The courage that I have witnessed in the children and families I work with is mesmerizing. Although the children and families struggle along the way as they receive services, they sure do accomplish quite amazing feats in a fairly short time span. I have witnessed extended family members become in contact with children they didn’t have contact with. I have witnessed a family become reunited after a loss. I have witnessed teenagers first express their goals for their future after being depressed for months and years. The amount of resiliency in these peoples’ lives is astonishing.
5. There is beauty in crying. There is beauty in laughing.
I believe that in order to know happiness, one must also know sadness. This profession is currently teaching me how to “trust the process” of work, life, and family’s progress towards treatment plans. The profession is also providing me with plenty of opportunities to grow as a clinician that continues to contain the successes and challenges of those around me.