The first thing people say when they find out I’m a social worker is usually something along the lines of “You’re really making a difference,” “That must be so rewarding,” or my personal favorite “That’s God’s work.” If it’s so great, why isn’t everybody doing it?
Well, that’s the second thing people say. “Why?” Why do people go into this field? Social workers tend to be underpaid, overworked, and unappreciated. I answer that “Why?” with a resounding “Because we get to complain!”
A lot of people enjoy being martyrs. Social workers tend to be the best at it. (Or the worst, depending on how we’re looking at it.) Teachers can complain about those rotten kids, but whenever they do, we all just think about those sweet, sweet summer vacations. Finance workers and lawyers bitch about their long hours, but I think that spacious apartment in a doorman building kind of speaks for itself.
It starts in the mental hospital social work school. People complain about lack of money and respect in social work school. We haven’t started working for pay yet, but we know we will soon, and we want to be ready with our quips. “Oh, we get treated like crap, but the terrible pay makes up for it.” Oh, ha ha. Ha.
For all the nice things people say when they find out about the work I do, as a field, social work does not get a lot of respect. This wouldn’t matter quite so much if social workers weren’t so damn insecure. That too starts in $20,000 group therapy social work school.
A little history lesson–when the field first started, back with my personal hero Jane Addams, social work was all about the community. Like most female dominated fields, it was seen as a nice pasttime, not a serious profession. In the 1950s, social workers were driven so mad by the thought of their own inadequacy and their peers saying mean things about them that they abandoned their roots and tried to practice Freudian psychotherapy. Reading any social work literature from that time gives you a peek into a sad world of fully grown, well educated professionals clinging to their degrees and shouting “We swear, we know what we’re doing! Why don’t you like us?!”
Social workers are neurotic. They’re almost always well-intentioned, generally well trained, and completely nuts. It starts early (we will get into the insanity I witnessed in the monkey house social work school in future posts) and from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t stop. On behalf of my people, I apologize. But I’m telling you, I’m very good at what I do.