What Social Workers Make

Hi everyone, Kristy here.  I’m going to veer a little bit off topic today and talk about the field of social work, something that is so very near and dear to my heart.

I knew I wanted to be a social worker before I even knew what social work actually was.  I was in middle school and I distinctly remember that my lofty career aspiration was to grow up and take over the “Dear Abby” advice column in the newspaper.  I loved being there for people.  I loved listening and supporting, hand holding when needed and offering advice when it was asked for (and even sometimes when it wasn’t).  Over time I realized that this was probably not the most attainable goal and as I began to learn more about the field of social work and the many ways that social workers can make a difference in the life of others, I knew I had found my calling.  It may sound corny, but I always knew I would become a social worker…always.  There was never any doubt in my mind while I was growing up and going through college about what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be.

I am fortunate enough to have an uncle who is also a clinical social worker and who has been a mentor to me over the years.  With his guidance, I was able to complete graduate school and go on to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specialized in working with adults with chronic mental illnesses.  It is a career that I find both satisfying and challenging and when I consider other career options, there’s absolutely nothing else I can honestly see myself doing.  I am currently a medical social worker in a dialysis unit working with individuals diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease and multiple other medical and mental health co-morbidities.  While it differs from my initial passion of working with adults with a chronic mental illness, it has been quite a learning experience for me and one that has opened my eyes to a completely different set of issues and client needs.

The one thing that saddens me is that a lot of people still don’t know what clinical social workers actually do.  Whenever I meet someone new and share that I am a clinical social worker after being asked what I do for a living, the response is always something along the lines of, “Ohhhh it must be SO hard to work with all those kids. It’s so sad!”  The assumption is that all social workers are Child Protective Services workers (and have even been referred to as “baby snatchers” by some) whose primary function is to remove children from unsafe environments.  While it’s true that some social workers do in fact function in that particular role, there are also so many of us who do so many different things that have nothing to do with the social workers you are used to seeing in the movies or on tv.  We are employed in healthcare, mental health, law, politics, education, program development, grant writing and union organizing.  We are therapists, case managers, administrators, managers, advocates, politicians and teachers.

I used to get frustrated that the profession of social work was so misunderstood by so many people but then I realized that the best way to educate people about the vast array of roles a clinical social worker can fill is to share experiences, information, and resources.

So in honor of all my fellow social workers, I’d like to share the following which was written by Regina Brett in the commencement speech she delivered at Case Western Reserve University.  I hope it will help people have a better understanding of what social workers do.

Social Workers Get Big Payoff
by Regina Brett

Social workers, like teachers, don’t make much.  Or do they?

I recently read a powerful email about what teachers make by the poet and comic Taylor Mali.  It inspired me to rethink what social workers make.

What do they make?

They make an infertile couple celebrate a lifetime of Mother’s Days and Father’s Days by helping them adopt a crack baby no one else wanted. They make a child fall asleep every night without fear of his father’s fists. They make a homeless veteran feel at home in the world. They make a teenager decide to stop cutting herself. They make a beaten woman find the courage to leave her abuser for good. They make a boy with Down Syndrome feel like the smartest boy on the bus.

What do they make?

They make a 10 year old believe that he is loved and wanted, regardless of how long he lasts in the next foster home. They make a teen father count to 10 and leave the room so he won’t shake his newborn son. They make a man with schizophrenia see past his demons. They make a rape victim talk about it for the first time in years. They make an ex-confict put down the bottle and hold down a job.

What do they make?

They make a couple communicate so well they decide not to get divorced.  They make a dying cancer patient make peace with her past, with her brief future, with her God. They make the old man whose wife has Alzheimer’s cherish the good times, when she still remembered him.  They make forgotten people feel cherished, ugly people feel beautiful, confused people feel understood, broken people feel whole.

What do they make?

They make more than what most people will ever make. They make a difference.

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