Rant on social work

You know, it’s funny how time and experience can really skew our opinions. If you had asked me a couple of years ago, I would have told you that most people go into social work because they want to help, because they have empathy, or just because they are good people. Now I am not so sure. Over my years in the system, I have met some truly truly beautiful people who restored my faith in humanity. In fact, I credit one of them for making me decide that I could really make a difference in the world if I were to become a social worker. She had a huge heart, was encouraging and comforting, and the most beautiful thing was that she truly cared. Although I will always treasure her for the gifts she gave me, I feel like I have become somewhat jaded over the past couple of years. I have seen things that have made me wonder if I even really want to become part of this profession. For the first time, I can see why a lot of kids who grow up in the system end up hating social workers.

I heard a health worker speaking to a mentally ill client today with such venom and hatred in her voice, that it made me want to curl up into the fetal position and cry. Don’t get me wrong, this girl is irritating. In fact, she is possibly one of the most annoying people I have ever met, but she was diagnosed with schizophrenia in childhood and she did not choose to become developmentally disabled. If someone is working in a helping profession and feels visceral hatred for her clients, there is something seriously wrong. I am not naïve, I know that there are people who consider those with physical, mental, emotional handicaps to be inferior. In fact, sometimes I am guilty of this myself; I think that to a certain extent we all are. Even that spark of pity we often feel can be taken in the wrong way, and we can often be patronizing or downright condescending. But outright rudeness and disrespect toward those who are disabled is inexcusable.

Last night, I went to see the documentary Expelled with my friend Isabelle. I found a lot of things in this movie to be downright insulting, but that’s another rant for another day. The movie ended up comparing Darwinism to eugenics and war (which in general I think is ridiculous, but it makes sense here): The evil facet of ‘the survival of the fittest.’ That conversation I overheard today invoked images of social Darwinism, of dangerous attitudes that unbridled can lead to destruction. A poisonous hatred that seems to come from nowhere, yet seethes and lurks under the guise of ‘helping.’

At what point does such ‘helping’ become destructive? Involuntary sterilization, unauthorized medical procedures, institutionalization… it’s a slippery slope, and it’s hard to know where to draw the line. Attitudes lead to actions, and it seems to me that it’s easier to draw lines in the sand before the problem gets out of hand. The point is that we are NOT animals, and one can only hope that we have come to a point where we can transcend the basic carnal instincts of the survival of the fittest. Whatever happened to empathy and kindness, hope, and goodness beyond concern for one’s own survival? When I think about it, these are the things that give our life meaning, they are the true treasures and devastating beauty evident in life.

I’m not saying that everyone has to be empathetic all the time, and I am certainly far from a Saint myself. However, I would certainly hope that if I got to the point where I felt hostility toward my clients, I would know it was time to quit. Organizations that allow their employees to operate as such negate their own existence to a certain extent. The clients may have a roof over their head, but to live under such a roof without basic dignity and respect for their being, what is the point? Part of my problem is that I need to learn to choose my battles. I always feel like I’m on a soapbox and it is my job to reform society. But I do feel strongly about this issue, especially as I am sitting on both sides of the fence right now, as a mentally ill consumer, and as a social work student.

I am not saying I am perfect by any means. I just hope that if I ever end up feeling those feelings of anger and hatred (God forbid!), that I would have the decency and the honor to quit. We are all equal and valuable, and those with disabilities deserve to be respected as such.

*All the lonely people, where do they all come from?*


9 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Monica said,

    This is the first entry I’ve read of your blog and it was awesome!! It was well written, thought provoking, and a good read 🙂

    I think that a social worker feeling those feelings might just need a temporary leave of absense because it IS a stressful profession too. So if that ever does happen to you when you’re a social worker, try a short leave first before throwing in the towel.

  2. 2

    Stephanie said,

    Its called Burnout! It happens in the helping profession very easily, especially if one is not using any self care. I to hope I never end up there and if I do it is time to take time off or find something else. The great thing about Social Work is there is so many different areas one can work in. If you find one area is not right for you there are plenty more jobs in the field doing something completely different.

    And Darwin was a quack 😉

    Fun read 🙂

  3. 3

    kiwiofknowledge said,

    Monica – Thanks for stopping by! I think part of the problem is just that this person is not a ‘people person.’ She seems angry all the time. Love you xoxo.

  4. 4

    kiwiofknowledge said,

    Steph –

    She’s only been doing this job for 2 years! And it’s not like she has to do case management or anything. Pretty much all she does is sit in the office with the door closed and watch YouTube videos. Love you hon. xoxo

  5. 5

    cb said,

    Really thoughtful post and some very pertinent points. I think there are always some people who go into ‘helping’ professions for the wrong reasons – possibly because there is an element of power in the mix and I think as a social worker myself, it is very important to be aware of this and the possibility of this.
    It might be she’s burnt out (I know people who burn out very quickly) or it might be that she’s not suited to the work – to be rude and disrespectful isn’t forgiveable in my eyes.
    But I believe these people are in the minority in the field..

  6. 6

    Karla said,

    My husband and I want to develop something faith based in our community to help the children who get put into the social services system have another place to go. A place that’s not a government program of necessity, but a place that is designed to bring hope and restoration to shattered lives. We have such compassion for such children and for those that the world would consider outcast. Maybe this would become a church foster care system apart from the government or maybe a group home of a kind. But whatever it would be there would be people to be fathers and mothers to these children to show them the Father’s love.

    It is easy to get cynical and heartless toward people in great need. We have to guard against that by filling up with Christ and pouring out His compassion. We must not depend on human compassion, but on the Lord’s compassion to see people through His eyes and bring His life to them. I feel for those who have become blinded by cynicism. We must love them to and show them the love that can restore their heart to kindness.

    It was sobering to watch Expelled and think of how vital it is to ward off such philosophies that would produce such atrocities towards the weaker ones of our society. Life must always be precious and the only way it gains value is by knowing we are created by God and not the product of some evolutionary chance process.

  7. 7

    antiSWer said,

    Was that health worker a registered social worker? If so, she might need to be reminded of her code of ethics…

    Anyways, she might be burnt out, she might be a horrible person or she might be hurting horribly herself. Any of those ways, she has no right to disparage another human being, especially one in her care.

    I always caution people from trying to save the world and saving others. You will be one little piece in each person’s life who you come into contact with. Don’t try to change their life, just be that person that listened and treated them like a human being and you’ll do more for them than most people who work their asses off trying to save them…IMO.

  8. 8

    redemptionbound said,

    great entry! I think in social work, it is easy to forget that we are in a position of power with the clients, but in this case I think it got to her head. Hopefully work is less stressful for you when she leave:)

  9. 9

    MPD said,

    thanks for shareing, i agree with what your saying alil empathy goes along way.
    i think you will make a big difference in this industry, you should get into policy making it seems like you have what it takes to make big changes in the system.

    In reference to the health worker: i think if you are not able to respect your client and cannot give them the service that they deserve then you should refer them onto someone els who can make a difference.

    All the best with your studies and if your already working, self care is very important to avoid burnout.

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