Emotions happen. And at times, they can be uncomfortable and difficult to manage. When emotions about personal matters surface while we are wearing our so-called professional social work hats, we must decide if and when this “countertransference” can be used to help support our clients.
By becoming a direct practice social worker, I made a choice to frequently discuss difficult and/or distressing experiences with clients. Privately, I can cry or become otherwise overwhelmed by emotion when I witness or hear about something particularly sad or terrible. Containing my reaction in public (except in movies where I am that girl) is usually only a challenge when something poignantly reminds me of difficult experiences of my own. In my personal life I know that I can simply choose to leave or “step outside” when necessary, but in the room with a client, their needs come first.
I remember two generalizations my grad school professors frequently made about social work students:
1. We all spend more time caring for our friends/family than ourselves (more on that another day).
2. There was a major event, an experience, or a something in our lives that we identify as directly linked to and possibly as the impetus for our choice to enter this field.
Whether or not either of these things are true for all social workers, I have found that many at least identify with the second. Myself included.