Home > Life, School, social work > When You Assume…

When You Assume…

I was talking to an old high school buddy last night about what she’s been up to, and she was telling me that in addition to working two jobs, she’s going back to school part-time for nursing. She asked me a little about my MSW program and said that in the past, she seriously considered getting a degree in social work, but every person she mentioned it to reacted extremely negatively. In a way, she knew she let them talk her out of it. She heard all the usual arguments against social work: “You’ll burn out!”  “You’ll never make any money!” However, no one seemed concerned about her burning out as an overworked, underpaid nurse.

I’ve worked in social services since 2006, but when I was a “program administrator” or a “grant writer”, no one felt the need to lecture or talk down to me about the social services field. But as soon as I enrolled in a Master’s of Social Work program, suddenly everyone seemed to know more about social work than I did, regardless of their profession. A common belief was that I was going to enable crack mothers to have more crack babies by helping them apply for public assistance. Because, you know, anyone who receives public benefits is obviously lazy and manipulative and taking all our tax dollars away. And clearly, all you need to do is work hard in this country and success will be yours. These people, however,  do not consider that if your parents were poor, you grew up in a poor neighborhood, and attended school in a poor school district, that sure, you can grow up and work  hard. But you will only be able to work hard at Taco Bell, which does not pay enough to earn a self or family-sustaining wage. The counter point to my argument is usually something like, “Well, my great grandfather came to this country from (insert Western European country here) and only spoke (insert Western European language here) and he started his own business and lived happily ever.” Ok, so your great grandfather was white. He was lucky.

When people make the assumption that social workers only work with manipulative homeless drug addicts, I get pretty defensive. A part of that is because a lot of people don’t know that the social work field is quite broad, and social workers are in all kinds of places you might not expect. They are in schools, health care facilities, community organizations, and even for-profit corporations. The role of the social worker is a combination of advocate and problem solver. You’re working with your clients to help them identify their problems, figure out their existing resources, what additional resources they may need, and help them to gain the confidence to follow through with all the big and little steps required to make things better for themselves.

I interned in the trauma unit at one of the city hospitals this past year. While I did have patients at the hospital who were homeless drug addicts who lied to me,  I also worked with sweet, little old ladies from the suburbs who didn’t have any family.  I worked with average middle-class white guys who’d been laid off due to the recession and had no health coverage. And going back to the homeless drug addicts, before you dismiss them as scumbags, you have to consider that a lot of terrible stuff has happened in that person’s past to lead them to their current position, including all kinds of abuse and traumas. There is a real human being in there.

More importantly, I think I get upset when I hear these assumptions (even though I know I shouldn’t) because I immediately think of all the truly amazing, resilient human beings I’ve had the honor to work with over the last year. I feel like those assumptions diminish their struggle. They take away from the strength it takes to actually ask for help in the first place and then have the determination to follow through and improve their situation. For me, it has been truly humbling to have so many people trust me enough to reveal their deeply personal problems, even when they feel ashamed, and ask me what they need to do to make it better. That takes some guts.

I can’t say that I won’t experience some kind of burn out during my career, but I know that the social work field is where I am supposed to be. I’m pursuing a profession where the good days make me excited to return to work the next morning, and on the bad days, I leave work determined to figure out how resolve my mistakes. When you are working so closely with people and see how they grow and change, you can’t help but grow and change a little yourself.

So who cares if I never make any money?

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Categories: Life, School, social work
  1. jess
    May 29, 2011 at 20:52

    Woop Woop.

    You are going to be/are perfect for this field.

    You think there’s any way I can get you to write any/all of my papers for next year?

  2. May 30, 2011 at 10:58

    Takes one to know one! And I’ve read your stuff, Libbs. You certainly don’t need help.

  3. May 31, 2011 at 23:36

    YES!!!! Seriously. Just YES. You are the bomb, girl!

  4. June 1, 2011 at 00:19

    Thanks, Brandi! I don’t know if you’ve already read it, but I think considering your field, you would love Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

  5. Anna
    June 2, 2011 at 10:52

    I love this post, Lori. It speaks to me on so many levels right now. The idea that people who are poor or needy because they are lazy or somehow less deserving as human beings drives me crazy. I’m so glad you are doing what you are doing!

  6. Miles
    June 4, 2011 at 10:59

    I heart angrily-sarcastic-Lori. I hope she guest writes more often.

  1. August 8, 2011 at 23:50

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