Category Archives: professionalism

Missing: social work on/off switch

I assume that on/off switches were issued upon graduation from social work school and somehow I missed out on receiving mine. Perhaps I walked past that station while trying to find the cap and gown drop-off area. It’s possible. It was a hectic day.

To my credit, I paid a lot of attention in social work school when they talked about “self-care” and I have worked really hard to improve my ability to leave my social work self at work as much as possible. Easier said than done. If I were a Barbie, this would be a matter of changing outfits (well, except if I were a Barbie from a McDonald’s happy meal). UnFortunately, I am not a Barbie. Continue reading

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Joking about social work

Remember July’s controversy over an audience member’s report of Daniel Tosh “joking” that she should be gang-raped during his Laugh Factory comedy show? After reading way too much about it, Jessica Valenti’s response article “The Anatomy of a Successful Rape Joke” stuck out in my mind and made me think about humor in and about social work.

I hope we can all agree that rape itself is not funny. No one (as far as I’ve read) responded to the Tosh situation by flat-out saying: Rape is funny. Period. In the same way, I don’t go around saying: Social work is funny. Period. Nor would I say I joined the field for the laughs. But I do think that making jokes and seeing/finding the humor in social work is useful and at times somewhat necessary for both my clients and for me. Continue reading

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When I am someone’s supervisor…

As a teenager, I once told my mom that I was going to make a list of all the things she was doing wrong so I would remember not to do those things when I became a mother. I have since lost the list and forgotten what it said. Given the positive view I have of my mother, I would guess the list was an exaggerated reaction to a particular moment of frustration, but what do you expect from a teenage girl yelling at talking to her mom?

Sensationalism or not, I remember the list as a great coping mechanism, so I’ve decided to make a similar list now based on positive and negative experiences I’ve had (and my colleagues and social work school peers have had) with supervisors. Given that I am somewhat older and wiser and relatively less melodramatic than I was as a teenager, perhaps this list will even prove helpful to me one day. Please note that I will also be taking this opportunity to lightly mock terrible supervisors, including one at my current job (thankfully not my own).

Okay future self, put down that More magazine Dos and Don’ts list and read this…

DOs and DON’Ts for when I am someone’s (social work) supervisor:

  • DO be consistent about expectations and support.
  • DO stay open-minded to learning from your supervisee.
  • DON’T throw a stack of papers at your supervisee and say “These are useless to me.” Continue reading
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An in-between post: thoughts from my aunt

After I published my last post, I received an email response from my (obviously awesome) aunt. I found her thoughts interesting, so I figured I would share them with all of you (I asked her permission first, of course!):

“I enjoyed this post — it brought me right back to the early 70s, when I first went into sales and was a ‘pioneer’ during the early days of the women’s liberation movement. [My encounters actually began in 1967, when I started working full time. They escalated when I went into sales in 1973.] Many of the guys that I worked with alternated between resenting me (thinking I would betray their behavior with other women to their wives) and hitting on me…. Sometimes it is easiest to ignore it, but if it is repeated it must be dealt with (such as your ‘I have a boyfriend’; or ‘I’m in a relationship’).

Regarding inappropriate physical advances, take a lesson from an ol’ ‘women’s libber’: I would go with a handshake every time you greet/ungreet — even in an elevator. Just square your shoulders and put your hand out there quickly and that should cut down on the unwanted physical advances. The other stuff (confessions of a difficult marriage, etc.) has to be managed on a case-by-case basis, and I get that it’s trickier if the ‘sharing’ is coming from someone you may ‘need’ in the future to help one of your clients. Perhaps you could say that you need to stay focused on your clients (and their issues)? As long as you’re smiling when you say it, you can get away with a lot.”

Should I smile? Am I on Candid Camera?

Sometimes I feel like there must be a secret film crew following me around making a video about inappropriate workplace boundaries.

Surely somewhere in the future there are new employees sitting in a conference room giggling uncontrollably at this outdated video. “Oh my gosh, she’s so awkward; she doesn’t know how to react!” one new hire exclaims. “I know right? And what was this filmed with—an HD camera? It’s so old looking!” the other chimes in…

I am decidedly clumsy when it comes to handling unsolicited advances from other professionals while on the clock. Not that it’s a skill I am actively working to improve.

In addition to daily interaction with clients and coworkers, my job includes working directly with volunteers, school personnel and representatives of funding sources (auditors). Sometimes (for reasons only they could illuminate) these individuals cross invisible lines that I would rather they did not cross. Perhaps I am too nice, perhaps all social workers are too nice, or perhaps these people are just a little creepy.

In this entry you will have the pleasure of meeting MrCreepyDean, NoBoundariesAuditor and my VolunteerDad: three humans I would have gladly avoided my whole professional career if possible.

Continue reading

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Perfectionism, Shmershmectionism…

You know that moment… and that other moment…and every day when you are barely on top of your urgent To-Do list and you look to over and see that the person in the cubicle across from you is shopping online… again?

Then maybe you are also familiar with the moment afterwards where you wonder why the H–E–DoubleHockeySticks you even bother working so hard. Perhaps that person is praised (for whatever that’s worth) just as often as you are and it is becoming all too clear that no one at this Non-Profit Organization cares/notices who is working hard and who is getting by doing the minimum. And maybe you, too, have been called a perfectionist. Continue reading

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Countertransference the Friendly Ghost

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.

Continue reading

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