I get asked pretty frequently why I went into social work. It’s not terribly difficult to come up with an answer, one that varies in sincerity based on my mood and the attitude of the person who is asking.
The problems arise when I find myself asking why some of my coworkers got into this field.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from TV and movies, it’s that the people who are really good at their jobs are mean, and you don’t want to be around them. You know, the only doctor who can diagnose and cure your smallpox is an egotistical dick, and the teacher who gets the best results from those inner-city kids is the one who breaks all the rules and swears a lot.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from social work, it’s that this doesn’t necessarily carry over to the real world.
Some of my coworkers, and people I’ve met in this field that I haven’t had the misfortune of working with, simply mystify me. Of all the professions to enter, you chose one in which you work with people who have been rejected and beaten down by society, and where you won’t get paid enough to make up for it.
If you’re a miserable person, and don’t like others, couldn’t you at least try find work at the DMV?
Some people I work with, I don’t like. I feel entirely justified in this, because they’re obnoxious. I suspect they were raised by pandas, because they have no sense of appropriate human interactions or social graces.
Some are incredibly nosy and think that this is fine, because I’m younger than they are.
Crazy Coworker: “I like that outfit! Did you just go shopping? Did you meet someone?”
SocialJerk: “Thanks? What? I’m just waiting to use the microwave.”
CCW: “Oh, you haven’t had kids yet.”
CCW: “Yeah, you shouldn’t stand in front of the microwave, it might affect your ovaries. And you know that people who don’t have children regret it later in life.”
SJ: “Who are you?”
This is bad, because it negatively affects my day. Me having a nice day is a pretty high priority for me.
My highest priority, though, is that our clients’ needs are served and that they are treated with dignity and respect.
For the most part, I think my agency does good work. But then there are those people who just make me wonder. I know you didn’t go to social work school, but you have interacted with humans before, right? You took some class in what to expect when working here, didn’t you? Or is this some kind of work release program?
When I first came here, I inherited a number of cases from our Worst Offender, as she was moving to another part of the agency (unfortunately, to do the same job.) We had a joint meeting with a woman with whom I would be working. This new client asked Worst Offender if I was aware that she had a history of depression.
Worst Offender ( and this is true) rolled her eyes behind this woman’s back and said, “Well, yes, we all get sad sometimes.”
When I say WO went to another part of the agency, I, sadly, mean that she went down the hall, and never fully left my professional life. One of her girls has been a more or less permanent fixture in my teen groups. This girl, who has a long history of trauma and therefore no sense of appropriate boundaries, talked rather graphically in group about her experiences of being molested. She then licked her hand and stuck it into the group bowl of pretzels.
I had a number of concerns. Number one, of course, was this girl’s safety. Number two was this girl not being ostracized in group due to her boundary issues. Number three was that I remember that, even though I love pretzels, they were now off limits.
I spoke with WO about this. I needed to ensure that she was aware of the molestation, so that it was properly reported and addressed.
Again, she rolled her eyes. “That girl has, let’s say, a tendency to get molested. I’m not saying she asks for it, but…”
No no. Just stop. I have a tendency to punch assholes in the kidneys, and we can’t have that now.
That girl, the pretzel licker, came to me after our next group, saying that her worker had told her that the other girls were complaining that she was greedy with the food and ate too much.
Yes. This was what WO decided to do with me telling her, “I’m concerned about this girl and want to make sure she’s getting a sufficient amount of help.” Tell a fifteen year old that her peers are talking shit about her. Maybe throw in that they called her fat? Certainly that will help.
They’re not all this horrendous. Worst Offender is the only one I have felt the need to report (on more than one occasion) to a supervisor, for fear that she was doing much more harm than good to the people whose well being she was entrusted with. (Don’t worry, my concerns were sufficiently ignored.) But there are people who make you wonder, ” what did you think you were getting into?”
The recent graduate who became nearly hysterical when participants routinely did not show up for their sessions, requiring her to go out on visits. “It’s just like any other appointment! Why can’t you call to cancel?” The people who have no problem watching three workers (hint: one of them is always me) frantically set up for a holiday party, while popping their headphones in and explaining, “Oh, I have a lot of notes to write.” The worker who describes a client as, “so fucking clueless” until it is painstakingly explained that this person’s “cluelessness” is a manifestation of their mental illness.
This isn’t a job that people are necessarily banging down doors to get. And we all have our days when we lose patience, and think or say things (in private, or anonymously on the internet, one would hope) that aren’t productive or helpful. But if you’re debating whether or not you can do this job, or if you have the right mindset, please take a little extra time to consider. We’re desperate for workers, but we’re not that desperate. This isn’t a field you go into because your modeling career didn’t work out.
You don’t want to be “that” worker.