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Why a social worker is essential

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Editors Note: This post about “What does a Social Worker do” was originally published in November 2019 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

If you’re a social worker, March is a special month for you because you get recognition for National Social Work Month. All the hard work you do day in and day out finally gets a bit of attention.

However, like me, I doubt that you became a social worker for recognition.

A woman sitting next to a young boy helping him

Instead, you likely became a social worker to help people and make an impact on society.

This past year has demonstrated how important social workers are locally and globally.

Social workers are essential to the functioning and well-being of individuals, families, and communities. On a large macro scale, social workers are an integral part of the fabric of society.

My first social worker

I remember the first time I met a social worker.

My family had just immigrated from Iran to Germany. As refugees, we sought asylum in Germany since we were escaping the war between Iran and Iraq.

My parents were both weary and exhausted from our travels and I remember when we finally arrived at customs in Frankfurt airport.

Neither of my parents spoke German, and we had left all of our belongings in Iran. We arrived in a new country with very little and only two suitcases of clothing.

Four pairs of hands

Soon after arriving in Germany, my family was temporarily housed at a refugee camp where we met a kind and empathetic social worker who helped my parents find long term housing and enrolled my brother and me in school.

This social worker assisted my family in meeting their basic needs. I remember that she was kind, helpful, patient, and understanding. Though I don’t recall her name, I remember her presence. She was able to contain our anxiety, fear, and worries.

My first social worker was an essential person in my life at a time that my family needed someone to help navigate uncharted and unfamiliar territory.

Why did I become a social worker?

I look back at my decade of work experience in the field of social work and think back on why I became a social worker.

Initially, when I entered graduate school to get my MSW, I wanted to become a social worker so I could open up a private therapy practice.

I knew that getting an MSW and then licensure as an LCSW would help me achieve the goal of providing psychotherapy for individuals, couples and families.

The front entrance of an emergency room at a hospital

Having suffered from anxiety and depression in my early 20’s, I was fortunate to have a wonderful therapist and psychiatrist who helped me get better. After working in different social service and non-profit agencies, I realized how much I liked helping people. So I decided to pursue a job where I could continue being in the helping profession.

In graduate school, I completed two internships as part of my MSW degree. For my advanced year internship, I was placed at a hospital and learned how to practice as a medical social worker.

Image credit: Paul Wellman
Pantea Rahimian, LCSW, Cottage Children’s Medical Center

I fell in love with medical social work because it is a combination of all of my interests including mental and physical health, working as part of a multidisciplinary team, and engaging with children and families.

As a medical social worker, I am helping people at a time when they are the most vulnerable and need an advocate and a voice.

Being a medical social worker is a remarkable, interesting, difficult, stressful, and fulfilling job. I feel fortunate and honored to help people every single day and know that I am making a small difference in their life.

What does a social worker do?

Oftentimes I get asked what I do. It is hard to explain what social workers do since we wear so many different hats and work in different areas.

A social worker has tremendous responsibility.

Rather than explaining the education and training required to be a social worker, I will use a metaphor to describe the universal role of social workers.

In short, social workers play an instrumental role in the fabric of society.

Like a thread, they are integral in the tapestry of life, and at one point or another, they will be the stitch that is needed to keep everything from falling apart. 

It is highly likely that you will interact with a social worker at least once in your life.

What is so unique about social work?

Social workers believe in the innate strength in people.

The profession is dedicated to helping clients identify strengths they have and find solutions to their challenges.

Social worker’s “use of self” means that they utilize themselves as a vehicle or vessel. They use their compassion, empathy, and devotion to guide people who are struggling. They aid their clients as they traverse the obstacles they are faced with.

A man putting on a mask on a child

Social workers have positive regard for their clients and care about their well-being.

Over time, through a positive therapeutic rapport, clients recognize that they have inner strengths and resources. They understand that they can work through their problems.

Through the therapeutic relationship and process, clients have with their social worker, clients recognize that they are resilient. They gain the tools necessary to make the changes they are seeking. They also realize that they can access these tools in the future. 

Woman in dress talking to a man

Self-care is important for social workers

Like the metaphor I shared earlier, social workers are the thread that connect and support all of us.

The words self-care from Scrabble

With the “use of self,” social workers hold and contain the pain, trauma and suffering of those around them. Social workers know when to listen, engage, intervene and take a step back.

This comes at a cost because we are human and empathetic.

Over time, as a social worker, you are continuously containing the travesty and pain of others. As a result, you are at risk of being impacted by this trauma physically, emotionally, and psychologically.

Street sign stating Impossible and possible

To be able to be a sustainable, ethical, and engaged social worker, you need to make self-care a priority

It’s important to remember that…

Self-care is never selfish; instead, it’s a selfless act of social activism and longevity.

A woman taking a bubble bath to practice self-care

Self-care is the foundation of healthcare.

You can serve other people at a higher level when you have the physical and emotional energy, clarity and motivation. 

Wrap-up

Social workers are instrumental in society by helping people navigate the stressors, changes and uncertainty they are faced with. 

To be able to be a sustainable social worker, it is important to identify self-care tools and techniques. Once you identify these tools, you need to integrate them in your daily life. 

In doing so, you will be able to function in a healthy, engaged and constructive way.

You will fulfill your professional and personal aspirations to be of service to others.

Which is ultimately what social work is all about.

Do you regularly work with social workers? If yes, what has your experience been like? If you are a social worker, what do you do to practice self-care? Please share your stories and comments below.

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