I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Man, I love being a turtle. Social workers are crazy.
A client even pointed it out to me recently, saying, “You have to be a little…not right…to do this kind of work.”
Granted, I was visiting her in a psychiatric hospital at the time, but she had a point.
I first noticed it at the Big Apple Circus in social work school. I was surrounded by decent, hard-working lunatics. I’ve talked about it plenty before. People who genuinely cared, but wanted to spend time arguing about who was the most oppressed and how you could appropriately introduce a client to the idea of getting his or her aura cleansed.
It became particularly clear when I had my first job interview, shortly before I graduated.
I met the man who would become my new boss. Let’s call him Yakko. I took a half day off from my internship in Brooklyn, and trekked up to the Bronx. It was disorienting. I think it was the first time I had gone there without intention to attend a Mets game, or go to the zoo.
In retrospect, all that time at the Bronx Zoo probably prepared me for the interview.
Yakko appeared normal enough at first. An older man in a tie, he seemed like seasoned social worker. Like he could be anybody’s dad. I sat down in his office, waiting for him to ask me about where I see myself in five years. Then he took out the construction paper and safety scissors.
I’ll give you a minute to process that. It might warrant a re-read.
I guess he noticed the look of horror confusion on my face, because he asked, “Oh, should this be a normal interview?”
Yes, Yakko, I was kind of thinking it should be.
I didn’t get to say much after that. Yakko told me about what they do and how they practice. The populations they typically see and about his love of Minuchin. He told me about the summer carnival the agency recently hosted, and then introduced vertical mapping.
Pay close attention, because this is where the construction paper comes in.
Most social workers use genograms, or culturegrams, or some variation of grams. (My favorite has always been the teddygram…I apologize for that.) You know, where you have squares and circles to represent all of the male and female members of the family, and different lines to represent their relationships. Is this line solid or squiggly? Is it love or hate? Dammit, use colored pencils next time!
Yakko had found a flaw. Family dynamics are constantly shifting. So let’s cut out construction paper shapes so that we can move them around in order to more accurately reflect this.
OK. Why is this vertical, do you ask?
Because we put the paper up on the wall, and stick the shapes to the paper. This way everyone can see it.
Let that sink in. I’ll give you another minute.
Thus continues the great social work tradition of making mundane variations of the same thing sound intellectual, by giving them a fancy name.
All in all, Yakko was a good guy and a good supervisor. He was nutty, but the clients knew that he cared about them. He was more than willing to make a fool of himself to make other people feel comfortable. If this sounds like an obituary, it’s only because the higher ups saw fit to let him go shortly after I signed on. Apparently his way with the clients did not translate to a way with paperwork.
Now, the big bosses. THOSE people are crazy. But that’s a story for another day, with more time and more job security.