One of my favourite websites, The New Social Worker Online recently put up an article of Tips for New Social Workers, where Lisa Baron, a licensed clinical social worker with more than 26 years of experience tips to social workers entering the profession. This being May, its probably the time where social work students are graduating and eager to enter the profession.
With my meagre 4 years of experience and non expert stance, I too have my own tips, or principles I learnt in my work with my clients.
Tip #1: Primum non Nocere
"First, Do No Harm" is one principle I live by. In our desire to help, at times we are equipped with a variety of tools and theoretical formulations that govern how we organise our case sessions, and programmes for our clients. By the way, as you can see I have changed the name of my blog for the umpteenth time..
Hence the need for us to consider and reflect on the possible harm any intervention might do. Human acts with good intentions may have undesirable long standing consequences. Especially pertinent is the need for me to reflect on this principle when I work on challenging cases such as those with child abuse issues. As Social Workers, does making the judgement call to remove a child from the family, necessarily the best intervention for all stakeholders? Or could things have been managed better collaboratively? Which brings me to the next tip:
Tip #2: Clients are not the only Clients
Sometimes we need to be aware our role within the social scheme of things. Social Workers need to balance the commitment to our clients and their self determination, with the element of social control. At times we need to be aware of the need to ensure that clients are living within socially acceptable norms of society.
Tip #3: As best as possible, we align ourselves with the client.
Too many times, we place ourselves as the role of gatekeeper of assistance schemes and policies, when we should be working with the client collaboratively to work towards his goals. Being on the client’s side means that a collaborative working relationship with the client.
Tip #4: We can like our clients
A good friend and colleague once quipped: you work better with the clients you like. I agree with that. But I would like to take it one step further to say that we can find things we like about our client. As our good friend Saleebey (the guy who wrote about the Strengths Perspective) mentioned, our clients, through their experiences have their own innate strengths that they can tap on to move out from their problematic situations. There are times where we may feel really upset about our clients and their actions. But I realized the need to take a breather and ponder on the reasons of their actions. Almost everyone does things with the best of intentions, and we need to find out what those intentions are.
Tip # 5: Be willing to get down and dirty
During one of my youth Sessions, my client said to me, “I want to study hard so that I can get a job like you and sit inside an air-con office.” Oh how wrong….
One thing I learnt is that social work is never a deskbound job. In case management, you must be willing to get up on your feet to do whatever it takes to identify clients in need, and also the resources they need. This includes walking into a room full of bedbugs, rodents and whatnots, organizing and participating in an outreach programme to identify vulnerable elderly on a weekend, helping to bring clients to HDB (Housing development board) to advocate for their housing needs, and to Mount Doom to throw the one ring of Sauron. For me, being out in the field is actually the fun part of work, where you get to sweat and rough it out… woohoo!
Tip #6: Practice what we preach
Too often we encourage positive communication skills, promote negotiation between couples, and talk about spending time with the family. These practices and skills have to be tried and tested by ourselves first (something that I truly struggle with). When you don’t believe in what you talk about, it shows in your practice. Hence our social work skills such as adopting a person centred approach, using the strengths perspective etc, have to start from our own selves, at home with our families (My wife can probably attest to this), and even between our colleagues at work.
Tip #7: Try your best to evaluate your work
I constantly struggle with the need to prove to others that the work that we do is meaningful, but ultimately when I speak to other professionals (during the occasional gathering of old friends): what is the outcome of our work? How do we justify the increase in pay, etc. My pet peeve is when I hear friends saying about how their tax payers money goes into this and that (grr). Hence the need to constantly evaluate our work and define our outcomes even in casework. It’s time to stop complaining about churning out stats, cos its these stats that actually account for our work. How can we show that the programmes we do have lasting effect on our clients and their well being? Evaluation can come in the form of documentation of qualitative discussions, to the using of single system evaluative tools to measure changes in attitudes, perceptions, and bio psychosocial well being. Good evaluation will reflect all the hard work that you are doing to your stakeholders, and more importantly your critics.
Tip #8: Find a mentor
I am grateful to say that for most of my work life, I have had the pleasure of working with great supervisors, and also mentors in the profession. Face it, working with people is tough work, and sometimes during those days where mood is low, anxiety is high, you just need to consult someone you trust and respect. This person can come from within the organization, or even outside. SASW (The Singapore Association of Social Workers) is currently looking into peer mentorship, and also will assist social service professionals who may be working alone to be linked to professional supervisors in the field.
Tip #9: Don’t sweat the small things
The small things include corners that you can cut, things that bother you when they shouldn’t, and of course anything that prevents you from doing the real direct intervention for your clients. Don’t harp on menial tasks that detract you from the course of work, especially when time is short. Recordings and reports can be comprehensive yet concise. Some aesthetics of programme planning can be done away, some things said about you can just be given a blind eye, and so on. Don’t sweat the small things
Wow… managed to reach 10. My last tip, is from the Movie 9, the animation produced by Tim Burton, of which I saw the DVD earlier……….
Tip #10: Go back to the source
Let’s face it. You didn’t choose this profession because you wanted to get a 5 figure salary, achieve the 5 Cs (Cash, Condo, Car, Credit Cards, and err… Country club is it?). I think that all social workers and social service professionals have a reason why they chose this profession, and within all of them lies the innate desire and passion to help people.
Sometimes amidst all the work, administrative hoo ha, and occasional stress, we tend to forget this reason. It is then take time off to sit back and reflect on this, recharge our batteries, and get the battle going.