It had to happen sooner or later. The higher-ups at Anonymous Agency have noticed that I’ve been working here for a while, and have deemed that it’s time for me to have an intern.
As an incoming student and intern, I was rather enamoured with the grand social work tradition of giving back and training replacements for when we die the next generation of helping professionals. I recognized that I would be in the position of supervising and teaching at some point.
Now that the point is fast approaching, it sounds a little less noble and a little more terrifying. Being someone’s supervisor, especially when they’re a student, is a big responsibility and a delicate operation. Social workers are needy and insecure (I can say that, I am one) in a tough, emotionally draining field. This is not simply being someone’s boss, assigning them tasks and staying on them to get in on time. It’s nurturing their innate talent, guiding them into a profession that most don’t want, and helping them not to go crazy in the process.
My first supervisor was a dream. I was her first student, and she was adorably excited and enthusiastic. Her door was always open and she brought me cookies on more than one occasion. She believed in my abilities and trusted my judgment. As a result, I was obsessed with not letting her down and pushed myself to do my best work. This was when I was assigned to work with homebound senior citizens, which was far from my chosen field. I was pretty bummed when I first got the assignment. But my supervisor was so encouraging and so clearly loved this population that I was able to see what she saw.
Clearly, I was spoiled.
My next supervisor didn’t return my calls for days, when I was trying to confirm that I would, in fact, be working for her. When I finally started, she continued to pretty much avoid speaking to me.
Remember when I said social workers are needy and insecure? This kind of supervisor turns us into sixteen year old girls going through their first break up. I mean, I just don’t understand what I did! Just talk to me, I think we can work this out! Oh my god, I’m eating this roll of cookie dough, salmonella and my fat thighs be damned!
I was trapped in that classic useless intern role-reading old case files at an empty desk- for the first couple of weeks. I texted my friends and family furiously. I mean, I was paying them to work there. And I was supposed to be preparing for a career that was just around the corner. If there was an opening for a professional highlighter I’d be set, but I hadn’t seen any listings for that on Idealist.
Finally, MIA supervisor revealed that she just didn’t have time for an intern (It wasn’t me, it was her!) and arranged for me to be passed on to her old supervisor. I was assured that my new supervisor was tough, but I would learn a lot from her.
The dating analogy would be too disturbing to continue at this point.
It turns out when some people say “tough,” they actually mean “sociopathic bitch.” Not a term I throw around lightly (or at all) but hear me out.
The first thing this woman ever said to me was “dont wear jeans.” Before “hello, my name is Your Worst Nightmare,” even. This was a Friday, everyone wore jeans, and I never saw a client. But fine.
When I finally started seeing clients, this woman continue to be an asshole tough. I routinely cried after supervision.
For anyone wondering, no, that is not normal. This woman seemed to be kind of like the witch who kidnapped Rapunzel. Instead of my hair, she needed my tears to stay young and vibrant.
I wrote a process recording of one of my more difficult sessions with a young girl I was very stuck with. Strange, as I had almost four weeks of experience as a counselor at that point.
My supervisor laughed while reading it.
“This was a terrible session.”
She could hardly contain her mirth.
“Um…I know. I need help, I’m not sure what to do.”
Am I on a hidden camera version on Horrible Bosses?
Later that year, I hurt my knee while running, and was limping up the stairs to my office. Again, she thought this was a source of great amusement.
“SJ, you have a limp?” She asked as she giggled.
“For the moment. I hurt myself in a race over the weekend.”
“Oh, I was wondering!” She was guffawing at this point.
I would think she had a high tolerance for pain, except I consistently spent half of my time in supervision with her hearing about how I couldn’t imagine how much she suffered due to TMJ, IBS, restless leg syndrome, chronic fatigue, and every other syndrome that can’t be tested for.
Sound really fucking weird? It was.
When she called me at home to tell me I ought to apply for a full time position, because she thought I did excellent work, my response was a genuinely mystified, “You do?” And, even in the horrendous job market, I almost didn’t apply, for fear of working under her again.
Why are some terrible people in social work? I’m not entirely sure. I guess there are bad people in every profession, some people have been in it too long and are too far removed from the people we work with, and some are in it for the wrong reasons. But we can learn from every experience.
That supervisor who gave me nothing and then sent me into this supervisory hell was right. I learned a lot from that supervisor. I learned the kind of supervisor, and human, I never want to be. I learned to appreciate the wonderful supervisor I had before and have now. I learned the importance of providing a supportive environment to an insecure student, and how much an overly critical or dismissive boss can impact a person’s development in the field. I learned that good guidance can not only make or break an experience, but also a new worker’s growth. I learned that it is of the utmost importance for every supervisor to remember that it’s not all about them.
And I learned to never, ever, under any circumstances, discuss digestive issues with an employee.