Reflection of My First Three Months as a Professional Social Worker

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. 

 
 

 

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“Craziness” as a individual perception

Craziness

“Crazy” and/or craziness is a term used to describe how something or someone is different, abnormal, psychotic, or unusual. What or who is crazy is interpreted on an individual basis, based upon what one perceives as different, abnormal, psychotic or unusual.

The definition of crazy and craziness is, in a broader sense of the word, a social construction that is perpetuated by societal norms.

When I hear someone being described as crazy, my thoughts rush to support the definition of what society has defined for me as crazy. On the other hand, I also find myself searching for a way to understand one’s defined craziness. However, in doing so, I forget that I am also “crazy”.

Here’s a thought.. maybe the person isn’t crazy at all. Maybe they are simply different, in no particular right or wrong way. Maybe, the person has a unique way of interacting with the world that is actually beneficial in their life. Maybe the rest of us, who are defined as “normal”, and therefore understood to be superior than the “crazy ones”, are severely flawed in how we see and interpret the world as a binary black-and-white reality. This last point is actually true. I believe it is a flaw to perceive the world as black and white, right or wrong; a large percentage of this experience we call life is grey, dependent upon circumstances.

I think we can actually learn a thing or two from those who are defined or described as crazy.

Here’s a thought:

When you find yourself wanting to define someone or something as “crazy”, I challenge you to ask yourself, why. Why do you feel the need to describe someone as “crazy”? Are they different, abnormal, unusual or psychotic in comparison to you? Are you using the word because you want to implicitly state your superiority? Or let it be known that you’re NOT also different or abnormal… when in reality you ARE different?

Evaluate what you say and how you say it… because what you define as “crazy” or “craziness” may be someone else’s reality.

Mental Health Infograph of Children and Teens

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Click on the image above to magnify the information in the graphic.

 

Children & teens susceptible to experiencing anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts that intersect with various areas of their lives. Some areas of a child’s/teen’s life that are impacted by mental illness include their school (academic performance, academic attainment), family dynamics, conflicts in the home, socially (disruptions in interpersonal relationships with peers), and personally in how one relates to themselves (i.e., low self-esteem, poor body image, etc).

It is important to keep in mind that the way in which mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, are exhibited in a child/teen’s behavior may differ from how an adult experiences similar symptoms. For instance, a depressed child of nine years old may demonstrate higher levels of irritability or externalized/aggressive behavior, in comparison to a depressed adult who may miss days of work due to being unable to get out of bed.

Luckily, mental illness symptoms can be identified early (in childhood or adolescents) in order to prevent long-term debilitation and struggle. There is hope.

Thank you National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) for creating this informative graphic. http://www.nami.org.

A world of transitions: a personal recollection

Transitions are moments in time where change occurs, where adaptation is required, and growth necessary.

The word “transition” definitely sums up my life these past five months. Transitions have occurred in at least three realms of my life: personally , academically, and occupationally.

Personally, these five months have been the most difficult and rewarding period of my life. The difficulty stems from witnessing my grandfather’s death in March due to pancreatic cancer. The grieving and loss my family endured, and continue to experience, have not left our hearts. The emptiness we feel will remain to be with us as we recall heartwarming memories of him, and wish for his presence as we move on to experience major life events. On the other hand, the rewarding moments center around moving from Los Angeles back to Northern California and beginning my career as a social worker. In addition to the eight hour move, I have also experienced and revisited joy in the special relationships that remain close to my heart.

I believe in order for someone to know what happiness and joy feels like, one must know sadness and grief.

Academically, I graduated with my masters. Completing my masters degree was not solely reliant upon writing 24 page papers or attend class. The achievement of earning my degree also involved developing lifelong friendships, searching for the person I wanted to become, and learning how to remove myself from negative relationships.

Occupationally, I experienced the ideal outcome of the job searching process: I accepted a job offer at an amazing non-profit agency as a wraparound social worker. The process and preparation that it took for me to receive this job offer began in November 2013. I utilized LinkedIn (professional version of Facebook), spoke with colleagues and mentors to learn how they approached and managed the job searching process, joined seven job search engines (i.e. Monster, Career Builder, and more), and made numerous versions of my resume and cover letter. I also researched organizations and agencies I was interested in working for in Northern California. As I believe, my preparation met opportunity perfectly: I received an invitation for my first, and then my second, interview. In April 2014, I happily accepted my position. Before May 2014, I was an intern who wanted to be challenged clinically in order to provide the best care possible to the adults I interacted with weekly. Now, I have the ability to continue touching lives of families and witnessing their unrelentless resiliency.

Below are my three tips for surviving the transitions in life:

1) Plan for what you can control, let go of what you can’t control.. while remaining flexible and open to change. 

This step has been a challenging one for even myself to understand sometimes.

No matter how much I may plan for or anticipate an event, reality may be something entirely different. I’ve recently realized that creating a plan typically looks like a guideline of what I want to do, in order to allow myself flexibility. The flexibility that I allow in my plan allows life to occur. For instance, we can NOT control the people in our lives, we can (sometimes) NOT control the timeline of events, and we can NOT fast forward our personal growth, regardless of how much we want something to happen immediately. While you ‘wait’, please provide yourself with the allowance to enjoy life, take a break, practice self-care, and have some fun.

I have also found that having a positive perspective about change is helpful in living through a life transition or in making a big decision. I am not saying to ignore the “negative”. What I mean is to reframe an unprefered situation into one that highlights opportunity for growth and learning. For instance, my move back to Northern California was part of my plan. However, I was anxious for the new chapter of my life. After I acknowledged feeling anxious and a bit scared, I remembered that moving back to Northern California would allow me to be closer to my family and live in a new city.

2) Remain aware of your priorities and goals.

In addition, take deep breaths… alot. Remaining mindful of your priorities (whether they be family or graduation) will provide you with motivation to continue pursuing your goals even when the transitions become overwhelming.

3) Draw upon others’ experiences and mistakes. Learn from them.

Connect or reconnect with someone you trust that has survived a similar transition and inquire about how they prepared, made decisions about their action steps. Utilizing the people in your life or even finding new mentors can assist in easing any anxiety you may experience. Also, it is wonderful to learn from others’ mistakes because then you can save yourself time and energy from making the same mistake.

All in all, life can be crazy, overwhelming, but also fun and memorable. As a mentor told me, “allow yourself to walk through the fire because after you walk through [the fire], you will be a stronger person”.

Perpetuation of Violent Masculinity & Misogyny in Today’s Society

A week after the massacre in Isla Vista, a community near UC Santa Barbara, Laci Green’s video post (via Upworthy) hits the nail on the head. In addition to having conversations about how mental health, gun regulations/gun control and race intersect as ways to understand school shootings, Green highlights the need to discuss the perpetuation of violent masculinity. Green also highlights the need to include misogyny in the discussion about violent masculinity in order to understand how misogyny bleeds through today’s society. Misogyny has contributed to many accepting violence as a male characteristic and therefore, approving violence against women.

We, as a country, need to learn from our mistakes.. instead of watching more tragedies, like the one in Isla Vista, continue to take the lives of future leaders.

 

Redefining Strength

Redefining Strength

How do you define strength? Do you define it as “sucking it up” and “pushing through”? I define strength as allowing yourself to be vulnerable with another person, even though you may not know how the person will respond, and sharing your story with him or her.

I believe in moments of vulnerability.
I believe in uniting others by providing space for that vulnerability to linger.
I believe in the deeper level of understanding that is the outcome of that vulnerability.