I am what I am

5 05 2011

It’s a common debate: the validity of Zefron and Vanessa Hudgens’ relationship what’s the best way to stay sane in this job? Everyone has their own take on how to best unwind, decompress, let loose, whatever you want to call it. What we all seem to be able to agree on is that we need to figure out a way to leave the job at the office.

Let’s all hop in the Wayback Machine (take it away, Mr. Peabody!) and head back to Shoot The Freak social work school.

In some class, I can’t remember which one (for those of you currently there, I assure you, they all run together as soon as you’re out the door) we had a discussion about this very topic. How do we prevent burnout? How do you see what you see, day after day, and come home and just be you?

Lots of suggestions were thrown out. “Exercise.” “Don’t work too much overtime.” “Don’t type notes at home.” None of them struck me as something anyone would really take issue with.

Apparently I forgot where I was.

“Don’t social work your friends.”

This was offered by one of the few people I considered an actual friend and hoped to remain in touch with after boot camp social work school. “Social working” one’s friends or family is a commonly used term. It’s when you can’t shut off that bleed between work and home. When your friend is crying to you about her failed relationship, you might want to lead her in an exercise to identify her strengths as a person, and what characteristics define a good relationship. When your cousin is complaining about his mother (author’s note: this has never happened in my family) your first instinct may be to explore family subsets and boundaries.

Resist at all costs. At least that’s what I say.

Another girl, decidedly, disagreed. Of course.

This girl was a nice person. We hung out occasionally. We had worked on group projects and had tons of classes together. But, to be DSM-IV technical, I thought she was a bit of a wackadoodle.

“People always say that, ‘don’t social work your friends,’ but isn’t ‘social worker’ a part of our identities now? We can’t shut off our education, or the things we’ve learned about human relationships. Isn’t that a good thing to bring into our own interactions?”

Sure. It can be. Everything you learn, and all of your experiences, impact who you are as a person and how you relate to others. But it’s a question of being ‘on’ all the time. When my one of my younger cousins is dating an idiot or going through a tough break up, my social work education and experience tells me that bashing the guy is not the most productive course of action to take.

But the guy in question is a little shit, and that’s my baby cousin. So bash I will. I wouldn’t tell a client that, based on her boyfriend’s Facebook page, he seems to be an immature jackass who doesn’t deserve her. (Again, this is hypothetical.) Because I have professional boundaries, and am trying to help people find the answers for themselves.

This wasn’t enough of an explanation for my classmate, though.

“I think social worker is an integral part of my identity. I think that will really help me in dealing with people, whether it’s at work, or at home, you know, with family, or a lover, or friend.”

Who says lover? Is it 80s flashback day? Honestly.

We all went back and forth for a while, wasting most of our class time away on a non issue.

“I get what you’re saying, but I think you can stay yourself, and maintain your social work knowledge while relating to your friends and family in the same way.”
“Yeah, my previous education and work influence how I deal with people, but I still leave work at work.
“I don’t think social work school fundamentally changes who you are, as a friend or family member.”
“But I think social work school makes me a better sister, friend, lover, whatever.”
“Oh my God, stop saying lover! Aren’t we supposed to be learning about psychopathology?!”

Guess who that last one was?

I went into High School Musical social work because I cared about people, loved kids, and believed that marginalized people need a voice. I learned a lot, certainly. And that’s probably affected how I understand and relate to some people in my life. But overall? I’m still me. The things about me that now scream ‘social worker’ were, in many instances, there before I ever went to Rocky Horror social worker school.

I was a sarcastic little shit before getting into this profession. And now? Well, I think you know where I’m going with this.

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10 responses

5 05 2011
Carolyn

“But, to be DSM-IV technical, I thought she was a bit of a wackadoodle.”

You slay me. and just as long as you’re going to get all serious on us…. what about when your family members want you to social work them. Another hypothetical example is when your sister phones and asks you to tell her where to get counselling for her (fill in the relationship blank here).

10 05 2011
socialjerk

This happens to me as well. I’m never sure of the best way to handle these situations. When it’s someone who lives near me, I feel comfortable giving them a recommendation of where they can go for counseling services if they’re interested. But I find that when family asks for social work input, it’s the same as any other time they ask for advice–they don’t usually want your opinion, they want you to affirm what they already think.

5 05 2011
Esther

Here in Utah we call “social working someone” “Therapatizing” them.
I too had a girl like that in my class. Of course most of her (multiple) comments started with “My therapist told me. . . “

10 05 2011
socialjerk

Ooh, I love fun with verbs! Therapatizing is a good one.

5 05 2011
Carlos

Ah, as always, great read. Currently reading your older posts for good measure.

10 05 2011
socialjerk

Thanks! I always recommend that people read everything I have to say 😉

5 05 2011
Fi

is showing my age obviously, and off to change the word ‘lover’ on my blog.

shoulder pads have NEVER gone out of fashion in my book.

10 05 2011
socialjerk

Ha! Sorry, it just creeps me out. My brother says it all the time, for this reason.

And hey, leggings are back, shoulder pads are probably on their way!

8 05 2011
cb

Weirdly, or perhaps not, a lot of my friends work in similar type fields – or have done at some point in their lives before burning out and moving into more lucrative trades!
I agree about the pre-morbid.. I mean pre-social worker identities reflecting that ‘helping’ attitude! There’s a reason we choose this profession usually but I’m getting much better at detaching although to be honest, because of the work I do, I have friends calling me up for advice about their older family members (particularly if they have dementia etc) just because I’ve got experience in that field. I guess it’s the same as me asking my friend, the nurse about the lump on my foot.. um..

10 05 2011
socialjerk

I live with three friends. One is a special needs kindergarten teacher and one is a nurse in a cancer hospital. (One works in finance, but he does enough volunteer work to put us all to shame.) People joke about what a helpful crew we are.

I try to avoid asking the nurse for medical advice, but it usually ends up happening. Well, I don’t so much ask as she hears me screaming in pain after stepping on a hair dryer, and she rushes to help. (Just a hypothetical example.)

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