Blog #5 Social workers, the scope of what we do, and change.

When was the last time you initiated a major change in your life: career-wise, family-wise, education / learning-wise? In anything? When did you last change the way you think or your attitude to something?

A group of people of mixed age, professions, skills, and backgrounds were talking about this the other day.

Social workers work across a huge range of fields. We are unlike any other profession in this aspect. I think this is often the reason other professionals (and often social workers themselves) struggle to understand what we do. The work that we do in each of these fields is similar: we assess, and listen, and provide information, and support our clients to make the changes they want to make. There are very few professions which provide the foundations, skills and knowledge required to work across such a variety of organisations and settings, with such a range of clients and activities.

I often suggest to new social workers that they should consider gaining a solid social work foundation before deciding definitely what they want to do. Two years in child protection / statutory services, two years in an NGO, and two years in health social work. Six years of foundation is pretty awesome. And those social workers will have a good understanding of how most of their colleagues work, the pressures they work under and the limitations and opportunities within various roles.

Working across a variety of settings and roles will also open other opportunities and ideas up to you. You will see what others are doing and may find roles that really interest you. I’m sure working in a variety of organisations improved my ability to develop relationships with clients as well as colleagues across a range of services. You will also become more comfortable with change.

No one sees a social worker unless they want change, or someone working with them states that they need to change for some reason. So change is fundamental to what we do. We work towards social change: on a macro level, a mesa level and a micro level. We support individuals to make changes in their lives, we work within our organisations, groups, local society to work out how to get the best outcome for everyone, and we lobby and speak up about national and international issues.

So, why do so many social workers find their own change so difficult? Change is difficult for anyone, but why is it so much easier to support others, to see alternative paths and solutions and other ideas when it is about other people?

So, here’s a challenge. Change something, do something different, push your comfort zone – change what you do or where you work or how you work. And while you’re doing that, reflect on how it feels. What is difficult? What things make it easier? What can others do to make it easier? What makes it harder? Remember the feelings and what goes through your mind as you go through this change.

This is what we are asking our clients to do every day. If we can’t do it for ourselves, how can we ask others to do it?