14 02 2013

Last week I was all about what our field needs to do to keep us from burning out, and taking some of the load off of us. Unfortunately, we do still bear some responsibility. So I’m taking a break this week and letting someone else talk. Please enjoy this guest post from Addison Cooper, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Springfield, Missouri. He writes Adoption Movie Guides at

Four Things Social Workers Can Do to Avoid Burning Out

1. Get a Boss who “Gets It!”

We’re often drawn to working with specific populations. That’s understandable. Our own histories or inclinations lead us to naturally want to serve specific groups of people: kids in foster care, underprivileged youth, homeless persons or victims of crime. Doing work that means a lot to us personally is a great thing, but it also sets us up for burnout, if work that we care about with our whole heart is thwarted.

A long time ago, I worked with kids at a group home. One of them was sentenced there as a condition of his probation. He had been doing well in the program, and requested a day pass to take his citizenship test. The probation officer’s response, “He should have thought of that before he broke the law in my country.” I was frustrated for quite a while.

One way to avoid that is to work for an agency that “gets it” in the same way that you do. Maybe that means finding an agency that views their work as ministry, or an agency that’s unapologetically non-profit. Maybe just finding an agency that still has an obvious corporate culture dedicated to serving clients. One of the great things about social work is that our employment has the potential to be more than “just a job.” The next step is to find a place to work that’s “more than just an employer.”

2. Be Like an MMA Fighter!

Don’t hit people. That’s not what I mean.

Most people visit doctors when they know they’re sick, because they want to get better. But I’d bet that all MMA fighters visit doctors very regularly, even when they’re in excellent health. After all, they make their living with their body, and need it to be in top condition – even better than “no problems” – in order for them to do their job well.

Some people visit therapists when they know they’re having problems, because they want to get better. As social workers, we use our minds and emotions to make our living, and we need them to be better than “just not having problems” in order to do our best work. Preventative therapy lets social workers vent, process case-, office-, and life-related stress, and develop deep insight and awareness which can inform their own practice.

3. Get a Life and Keep It!

I used to train foster and adoptive parents on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. You probably took a quiz on it. Fundamental needs have to get mostly met before higher needs can be attended to. It took a few years of giving that training before I caught on that it doesn’t just apply to foster kids and their needs, it applies to social workers and their roles. Our more foundational roles (person, spouse/partner, friend) need to be in order before our more advanced roles (social worker, therapist, supervisor) can be at their best.

Social workers often put in extra hours in order to try to meet the needs of their clients. I left my first social work job about an hour late, more days than not. Sometimes, we forgo our own health and quality of life in order to try to secure health and quality of life for others. But it doesn’t need to be either-or. Schedule time for yourself. Quiet time at Starbucks, a run, a movie, game night with your friends, whatever. Put it in your calendar. Keep the commitment. Your clients, your friends, your significant other and you personally will all enjoy the refreshed, relaxed, more well-rounded version of you.

4. Mind Your Own Business!

Aristotle said (wow, do I feel strange starting a sentence with those two words…) that virtue was in between two vices. I think it’s pretty natural for good-intentioned folks, like social workers, to so fear the vice that’s furthest from them that they cling to another. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably not the kind of social worker who’s totally self-serving, not really invested in your clients, and just collecting a pay check. Heck, the article is about avoiding that. That’s probably not the vice that you’re going to struggle with anytime soon. But if virtue – or health – is between two extremes, maybe you’re clinging to the other vice – over-identification.

We want our clients to do well and to make good choices. We will continuously give our full, best, honest efforts to help them make decisions that will benefit them. But at some point, the point where the decisions are actually made, the choices are theirs. Social workers can and should still hold unconditional positive regard to the client, regardless of which choices are made. But the person making the choice is the client. You’re not responsible for it! At the end of your work day, breathe, reflect, maybe pray, and then let it go. This isn’t adopting a “who cares” attitude towards your job. It’s acknowledging that you do care very much, and that you’re taking intentional steps to keep good boundaries.

Goldilocks’ School of Social Work (Caring Just Right.)

6 08 2012

There’s a phenomenon in the helping professions. You know when a philandering celebrity, or greedy financial…dude (I don’t have finances) says that the only thing they’re guilty of is “caring too much?” Social workers, teachers, mental health professionals, child protection workers, and the like, are at serious risk if that ever becomes a criminal charge. Though so often, caring too much isn’t sufficient. We have to care the most.

Everyone likes to be the best, right? We all want to win the gold. (Side note: might I pat Gabby Douglas on the head and put her in my pocket, even though she could kick my ass?)

I have run into this a few million times in my work.

At times, it’s with school social workers. Some make a particular effort to reach out to and involve the families, but some don’t. And with the ones that do, the parents often start ignoring their calls. As a result, they work primarily with the children. Twelve year old girls fighting with their mothers tend to err on the side of drama, and complaints about being unloved and unwanted. If you aren’t in the home regularly and don’t know the family, it might sound like emotional abuse.

Most social workers, and adults in general, are smart enough to discern abuse from teen angst. But some seem to have a vested interest in being the hero. You know, the only person in the Lifetime movie who believes the totally rational victim, while everyone else has seemingly gone insane?

Which leads to voicemails like this:

SSW: “I am extremely concerned about this child! She said her mother isn’t speaking to her. Why aren’t you answering your phone? We are having an emergency meeting in twenty minutes, I need you to be here!”

It’s one thing explaining to overwhelmed nineteen year olds that I have fourteen other families who also need my attention. When it’s a fellow professional in a similar situation…I don’t care for it.

Some want to feel like they’re the only one who can really forge a connection with this particular child. Like when your friend in high school was dating that total asshole, because she insisted that he wasn’t that way to her, she was the only one who could understand him? Yeah, like that.

After months of running away, drug use, missing persons reports, and pregnancy scares, a sixteen year old I worked with wound up in a diagnostic reception center. This is a short term, non-secure residential facility. Often a stopover on the way to residential treatment.

This girl needed help, but was an accomplished manipulator. She knew what everyone wanted to hear, and how to get what she wanted. (Trust me, I’d fallen for it for months!) After a week or so, I got a call from a social work intern. She asked if she could escort this girl to her previous placement, to pick up some belongings.

Provide her with a Metrocard, and someone who can’t do anything to stop her from running off, to get the things she wants on the other side of the city. I was, I think, understandably skeptical.

“I understand, but I think this is important for her. We’ve developed a good connection.”

Sigh. All right, intern. Not my call, not my funeral.

Her supervisor approved it (really) and the kid AWOLed. She would have done it sooner or later anyway, it wasn’t the intern’s fault. But I do think it’s something that happens when we don’t listen to each other.

“SocialJerk, how do you stay so perfect and avoid all of these pitfalls?” asks no one. Of course I’ve been guilty of this myself. I remember when a fourteen year old told her ACS worker, “I don’t deal with you anymore. I only talk to Miss SJ,  ’cause she’s my girl.”

Now, everyone likes to be the favorite, and this was tapping directly into my love of working with teens, confirming for me that I’m actually good at it. Also, I was not popular in junior high. Of course I knew that this child was being disrespectful, that her mother was allowing it, and that I needed to put an end to it. But I smiled a little on the inside. Even though, ultimately, being “her girl” didn’t prevent this kid from running away for days at a time, cutting school for months, and fighting in the streets.

A lot of the time, we’re not better with fellow social workers we don’t even work with. We say we want self care, but then we compete in the miserylympics. Try mentioning a mental health day, vacation, chance to read a book or watch a movie, or a momentarily small caseload, to a fellow social worker. We always feel the need to qualify it with, “I’m taking a day because I worked twelve hours unpaid overtime in the past three days, I have the flu, and I’m emotionally exhausted from facilitating two removals and running from three shootouts.”

Still, we get responses like, “Must be nice!” “Ugh, jealous. I’m working seventy hour weeks lately.” Or the backhanded, “You totally deserve it! I can’t wait til it’s my turn :/”

Sometimes it’s ok to just say “have fun” Or nothing. That’s ok too.

You don’t have to be the one who cares the most, or the only one who’s doing any work. There is no prize, believe me. I Googled it. We need to support each other in taking care of ourselves. There’s never been a statue erected in the honor of a social worker who died with the most saved up sick and vacation days.

And we’re all trying to do the same work, even if we’re doing it in different ways. Of course we might be working with a burned out, or just not terribly good worker at times. But I think we owe one another the benefit of the doubt, rather than assuming that we’re on our own, and have all the answers.

Now I have to get back to work. I haven’t had a vacation in months.

Nobody worry, I’m back! Please hold the confetti.

27 03 2012

I’m sure this past week you all sat at your computers, despondent and tearing your hair out due to lack of SocialJerk updates.

No? Maybe a little? I’m being told you were actually all fine. Well, all right then.

Point is, I was gone. For a week. Vacation is important for people in stressful jobs. Unfortunately, “social worker” didn’t make it onto Tina Fey’s work related stress level chart, but I think we’re somewhere between “business guys who do stuff with money” and “managing a Chili’s on a Friday night.” We need to vacate every so often, in order to maintain our sanity.

So the boyfriend and I packed it up for a few days in Orlando. That’s right, Disney, Universal Studios, Pirate’s Cove mini golf, and lots of churros. It’s not what you would necessarily call a relaxing vacation, of course. First of all, the girl who wrote this went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I saw Hagrid’s hut, drank pumpkin juice, toured Hogwart’s, and pretty much turned into Kristen Bell meeting a sloth.

Plus there are crowds, heat, lines, and children. Some moments make you think, “aw, doing this with kids would be so fun!” But more make you think, “thank Jesus we’re the weird adults waiting way too long for the Peter Pan ride.”

You see a lot of sweet family moments, and a lot of nominees for the Terrible Parenting Hall of Fame. (It’s located in Cleveland.) Your two year old is having a tantrum after spending a fourteen hour day in direct sunlight with no nap? Why, that’s practically unheard of! You’re encouraging your seven year old to stomp on adult’s feet to cut to the front of the line at the Haunted Mansion? I can’t identify a single bad lesson there, good work!

But through all the exhaustion, all of the instances of wishing people wouldn’t try to sneak their kids onto rides they’re too little for, there’s one think you have to love–kids are enthusiastic. Whether it was the nine year old next to me on the Test Track at Epcot, yelling, “Now that’s what I call a roller coaster!” or the six year old next to me on the Tower of Terror gleefully informing me that she didn’t scream at all (I could not say the same) kids enjoy things to the fullest and let you know what they’ve achieved. They’re not worried about looking dumb.

It stops at some point. They become cool. Or at least, they want to be. And there’s nothing worse than a child trying to be cool. At one point, in Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, I looked to my left and saw a four year old dressed in a full Buzz Lightyear costume. He was in heaven and thought he looked amazing. Directly in front of me were three overindulged pre-teens, saying to their father, “Oh my God, this is just birds talking? Can we go? Whose idea was this?”

Yeah, it’s birds talking. It’s awesome, kid, and you’ll do better to enjoy it.

Because taking a vacation from thinking about work would actually make my brain explode, of course I had to relate it back. This probably most accurately sums up what I love about working with children, before they get prematurely interested in dating and therefore way too concerned about looking cool. They just think they’re good at everything. We always talk about what a person’s strengths are in social work. Ask an eight year old what they’re good at. I hope you have a while. All five year olds are good at drawing. Maybe two of my friends will say they are. Singing, dancing, acting, playing the kazoo, training dogs, doing imitations of cartoon voices? All viable career options for the under ten year olds I work with, based on their stunning talents.

Then I ask my teenagers. As much as I love them, the answers of what they’re good at are decidedly different. (Unless they’re trying to be brash and obnoxious, but you can tell they don’t really mean it.) “Um, I don’t know. What do you mean, what am I good at?” “Nothing, not really.” “I guess I do well in school?”

So, some of my favorites, in no particular order.

1.) Back at Anonymous Youth Center, I had the five to nine year olds out on the playground. A seven year old boy came up to me, unprovoked, to let me know, “I’m really good at running backwards. See, like this.”

He then proceeded to run. Backwards. I’ll be honest, it was mediocre. Because no one is good at running backwards. But he was thrilled to pieces and way proud of himself.

2.) More recently, at Anonymous Agency, one of my eight year old girls started talking about her dreams from the future after a counseling session. “Do you want to hear me sing? I want to be professional. Like, on The Voice.”

As we walked through the office, back to the waiting room where her mom was, past all of my coworkers whom she had never met, she sang something I now unfortunately know to be “Baby” by Justin Bieber. (I’m not linking to it. You’re welcome.) This kid sang with one finger on her ear, because that’s how Christina Aguilera does it.

3.) A six year old girl, when I was an intern, told me, “I think I want to be an archaeologist and a chef and a ballet dancer. But also, I should be an artist, because I’m the best at drawing.”

She owed it to the world.

4.) A nine year old boy insisted on reciting his times tables to me, because he was the only one who had memorized all the way up to twelve. It took a long time, but I was pretty damn impressed.

5.) “Breakdancing? I’m really good at breakdancing!” A ten year old boy, who of course got down on the ground to dance in the waiting room. He was undeterred by the fact that no one had mentioned breakdancing.

My social work advice for the week? If you’re feeling down and bored, try for a minute to look at the world and yourself through the eyes of a latency age child. There’s probably something to get excited about.

If not, find a child to laugh at. That should work too.

Vegetarian Soup for the Social Work Soul

19 08 2011

I hate inspirational quotes.  Thanks to social media and Google, it’s oh-so-easy to find them and spread them around. Some people I know have started sounding like page-a-day calendars.

I’m aware that the job occasionally makes me sound like I could do with a bit of inspiration. (Or need to be talked off a ledge, something like that.) But some of these quotes…they just kill me.

“Failure teaches success.”
Sweet! I’m well on my way, then. And this will not sound condescending in the least to someone required to repeat a grade for the third time.

“Everything happens for a reason.”
Well thanks. Please say that to a sexually exploited child. I’ll wait.

“Everything works out fine in the end. If it’s not fine, it’s not the end!”
What the fuck does that even mean?

Don’t even get me started on people who think my clients need to be their “authentic selves.” I liked Oprah as much as anyone, the way she yelled people’s names was awesome, but her views do not belong in social work.

Then we have the posters on the walls in the office, that the teens and I laugh heartily at before attempting to tear down. Did you all know that team work makes the dream work? Or that you should aim for the moon, because even if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars? It really helps to pay your rent.

Now quotes are being passed around by my director. Apparently, we all need to, “autograph our work with excellence.” I’ll get right on that. Just autograph my service plans when I submit them, and save the paper we’re wasting by printing out this drivel.

Cynical though I may sound, and as much as I hate those cheesy soundbites, there are times when I need a pick-me-up. We all do. Or we burn out, and probably bring some of our loved ones down for the ride. So I do look for inspiration. For something uplifting, to keep me going with what I have to do. But I have some different sources, and criteria.

For one, the quote has to be from someone I have actually heard of. “Unknown” or “proverb” tends to feel a bit irrelevant to me.

“You have no right to fail.”

A group of friends and I spent two weeks working with kids in an extremely poor village in Ecuador one semester in college. This quote was said by a nun who had dedicated her life to running an incredibly successful school for children in the community. Her point was that we were all college-educated, middle class Americans. Who did we think we were to even entertain the possibility of not helping others?

“Our job is not to make young women grateful. It is to make them ungrateful so they keep going. Gratitude never radicalized anybody” — Susan B. Anthony

This one is a reminder to myself, and what I’m working for, and what I need to instill in all of my clients, but especially my teen girls. Complacency is our enemy.

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” -Rahm Emanuel

He took some shit for it, but I don’t think he should have. Crises occur. That’s life. But using them as a jumping off point to change circumstances, to get people moving, to make people think and see different possibilities, is what social work is all about.

After a difficult home visit, my iPod is often my best friend. Two songs in particular are my go-to, only to be broken out in case of emergency.

But I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again

-Mumford and Sons, The Cave

This is why we fight
Why we lie awake
And this is why
This is why we fight

When we die
We will die
With our arms unbound

-The Decemberists, This is Why We Fight

When things get really dire, it’s time for the ultimate comfort food for my soul–Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s honestly one of the most heartbreakingly brilliant shows I’ve ever seen. It also helps that no matter what kind of day I’ve had, odds are Buffy had a worse one. (Friends dying, lying to your mom about late night slaying patrol, your boyfriend trying to kill you after you turn him back into an evil demon by sleeping with him…it’s not easy being the Chosen One.) That’s where the following bittersweet exchange came from, something that I’ve often wanted to hear in my own life:

Buffy: Does it get easy?
Giles: What do you want me to say?
Buffy: Lie to me.
Giles: Yes, it’s terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after.
Buffy: Liar.

One final one, that strikes me in its simplicity, beauty, and truthfulness. On the importance and power of words, which I relate to as both a writer, and a social worker.

“Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.” -Albus Dumbledore

You didn’t honestly think I was going to leave you without some Harry Potter, did you?

What are your favorites?

Social workers who need a social worker*

31 01 2011

 I recently came to a conclusion–I shouldn’t really talk about my job with the non social work public.

Yes, I realize that I am writing this on the internet. Decidedly public. But bear with me.

People enjoy the funny stories about wacky kids and sassy teenagers. They also like to hear the horror stories. About how rough the job is, how awful some people can be.

I don’t know, it’s like misery porn. Think of how many Oscars “Precious” was nominated for.

Quite often, I need to talk about it. I can’t take it all with me. There are times that I see things that make me angry, but more often they make me want to cry.

The other day, I stopped by to do a home visit with a family that I was having trouble seeing all month. When I rang the bell, I heard the dog yipping and the girls shrieking. I was so happy to have finally caught them at home.

Then things got a little strange.

I realized that it was the four year old asking me who was at the door. She knows me well enough at this point, and tried to open the door, yelling, “I can’t do the lock!”

I asked who was home with her. “My sister!”

Ah, the two year old. And to think, I had been worried.

She managed to get the door open. I confirmed that they were, in fact, home alone. The three of us stood together in the doorway, played dolls and sang ABCs (OK, that part was fun) and waited for the police.

Mom, the cops, and the babysitter with whom mom had left the kids all arrived at the same time.

So yes, mom made a mistake. She, clearly, did not choose the best person to leave her kids with. The babysitter, clearly, was an idiot.

But is this woman a bad mother? Does she deserve to lose her kids?

No. There’s no ambiguity, even. She’s a good mom. She was horrified that the girls were home alone, and her first priority was making sure that they were all right. She wasn’t upset that they police had been called. In fact, she was relieved that I had found her daughters.

I don’t even want to know what went down between her and that baby sitter after I left.

This was the end of my Friday. I dragged myself home, wanting to collapse into hot chocolate Glee marathon bed.

I also kind of wanted to talk about it. But I realized something pretty quickly.

Other people weren’t sad about it. They were pissed.

In a superficial, righteous kind of way.

“I wouldn’t leave my kids home alone until they were 12! What kind of an idiot does that?”
“What was so important that she was running out to do, huh? I can imagine…”
“I hope those kids get taken away.”

Yes, foster care will truly do them a world of good.

It made me think of all of the other comments I’ve gotten. I can categorize them at this point.

The person who doesn’t do anything, thanks to their heart of gold.
“Oh, I could never do what you do. It would just devastate me, I would care too much.”

The hard ass who makes the tough decisions you soft social workers can’t.
“I wouldn’t have let them leave until those kids were removed!”

The asshole willing to write off entire segments of society.
“Just admit, most of those people you work with shouldn’t even have kids.”

These people all have one thing in common: they’re not social workers. They don’t work with families. They don’t understand the nuances and complexities of family systems, of those relationships, of parenting. Even if they have families, and are parents. They don’t understand that, in most cases, removal wouldn’t fix things. That foster care is not a solution. It saves lives, it’s necessary, absolutely, but it also creates a whole new set of problems to be addressed.

I’ve never been a fan of, “You’re not (fill in the blank), you wouldn’t understand.” But I guess there are times that it applies. The fact of the matter is, the only people who knew what I was talking about were my fellow social workers.

The funny stories, the tragedies, and the inspiring victories have a universal appeal. But like I am always telling my clients–there are times that you just need a social worker.

*Dedicated with much love and gratitude to my tweeting social workers who got me through a mild breakdown 🙂

“Think positive!” OK, but it’s really not in my nature.

18 01 2011

Well. It certainly is a lovely day. The forecast called for a “wintry mix,” and it was fulfilled. That sounds like a charming mix of hot cocoa, marshmallows, and being in the warm bosom of one’s family. It’s actually a potentially deadly mix of sleet, ice, and the wrath of God.

I also came in to three phone calls about one woman–her mental health services were being terminated due to an insurance issue, her baby’s father was bringing her to court to pursue full custody, and an ACS case had been called in for neglect.

While returning calls to four different sources, consoling a hysterical and terrified young mother, and trying to coordinate a home visit accommodating five different schedules, my latest intake showed up. Unannounced. With her hyperactive, nonverbal three year old. I was interrupted from that meeting to sign a declaration, stating that I understand that our agency prohibits falsifying records.

So…does that mean that up until now, I was permitted to falsify records? I could have written up a note, detailing a counseling session conducted on the back of a flying dragon?

This is what we refer to as, “one of those days.”

On days like this, it might help to hear about a true rarity: a social work success story.

I’ve been working with one young mother for about a year now. I’ve written about her, and her girls (a two and a four year old) extensively in the past.

This is because they’re awesome.

The case came to us because the mother had a history of domestic violence with the girls’ fathers. She left, went into a shelter, and needed some support.

We worked together over the course of the year, and she exemplified everything I love about young mothers.

Whenever her kids start displaying new, troublesome behaviors, her first instinct is to ask me–is this normal? Do kids their age do this?

A mother who checks child development first, and formulates a plan to address the problem second, is a rare and wonderful breed.

She, and her children, have grown so much over the past year. Mom has never hit the kids. She has mastered the timeout technique. “The girls crack me up, but I know I can’t laugh in front of them, or they’ll think it’s funny.”

What’s that you say? You enjoy your children, but recognize that there must be a boundary between them and you?

Not to mention that the kids are hilarious. The two year old attempts, on a daily basis, to ride the family’s Pomeranian around the living room. The four year old, recently annoyed at the lack of attention she was getting by sulking under a blanket, attempted to sidle down the hallway, all the while “hiding” under said blanket.

In the past year, I’ve seen the oldest go from a shy toddler who refused to say my name (hey, SocialJerk can be hard to pronounce) to an exuberant  little kid, who is excited to show me her books when I visit.

The two year old has developed an amazing sense of humor, and a serious love of food. I get to see her pretend to munch on a hamburger, and hear her mother say, “This is what you use your imagination for? Eating?” And then mouth to me, “What a fatty.” (Come on, it’s all said in love.)

I’m going to have to close this family’s case soon, but for a brief period of time, I get to visit a wonderful, loving mom, a constantly hungry (though well fed) hilarious two year old, and a bright, energetic four year old.

The girls are in pre-school and day care, and their mother is returning to college. She has no more contact with her abusive former partners. And in this case, I actually believe it! Mom has put distance between herself and her own abusive mother. She’s looking forward to getting her degree, and putting it to use.

Once in a while there’s a good story. And it’s enough to get us through fifteen bad ones.

Here’s hoping.

This is what you get for lack of IT.

17 12 2010

All right, loyal readers, friends, Mom. We’re due for an update, but computers are down office-wide. So this is my first ever post coming at you from my phone (hint-it was the Droid I was looking for.) I apologize in advance for any autocorrect errors that might turn participants into presents, or groups into gropes.

But it got me thinking-this is a pretty regular occurrence. What else happens so often in this field that you can pretty much count on it? Add to that the fact that we’ve got our agency Christmas party this afternoon, and I saw only one option-SocialJerk drinking game. (Completely different from ghetto bingo.)

Let’s get crunked up.

  1. Computers go down- take one shot.
  2. Computers go down during the only free time you blocked off for writing notes- take two shots.
  3. Client is late-one shot.
  4. Client shows up at a completely made up time-one shot.
  5. Client is right on time-call me and I’ll take you out for a drink, so you can teach me.
  6. Distressed coworker calls the office for directions, after getting lost on the way to an initial home visit-one shot. If you manage not to laugh at them, treat yourself to a beer.
  7. A public assistance or child protective specialist is rude to you- a shot, plus a beer to share with the cranky worker. Maybe that will help?
  8. A parent or referral source seems to be under the impression that you have magic powers and will “fix” difficult children- a six pack should do the trick
  9. You get a nervous call from your mother, because you forgot she follows you on Twitter and posted about being harassed in a sketchy neighborhood- a bottle of wine, to be split with Mom.
  10. A little kid cracks you up, by saying something hilarious like “I’m the best!” or “I love marine life.”-the joy of a child’s laughter should be enough. If not, take a shot.
  11. You find out you can still be surprised- have a Flaming Dr. Pepper. (This was a SocialJerk college specialty, email me if you need details.)

All right. Computers are back up and running, so it’s time for this Jerk to be on her way. Happy drinking, and try not to slur in your progress notes!

“Take Time for Yourself!” WHEN?!?!

29 09 2010

For as long as I’ve been preparing to be a social worker, people have been preparing me for burnout. Back when I was an undergrad, I would mention that I wanted to work in child welfare. “How long do you think you can do that for?” people would ask.

The implication was always that this is not work that one can do for long. I’ve listed the reasons once or twice: bureaucracy, long hours, low pay, large caseloads, depressing situations, excessive amounts of giraffes…

Sorry, just wanted to be sure you were paying attention.

They talk about it throughout Psycho Beach Party social work school. If you’re at a halfway decent agency, they’ll also talk about it once you begin work. The phrase of the day is “self-care,” which is not nearly as dirty as it sounds.

Though I suppose it could be.

The idea is to take time for yourself. Do things to ensure that you aren’t taking your work home with you. Relax. Take a vacation.

Except you have to work those long hours, and you don’t get paid enough to take much of a vacation. (Though that Barbie kiddie pool on my roof served me rather well during the dog days of summer, thank you very much.) A day at the spa is kind of a tall order when you’re budgeting to pay off student loans so much that Wheat Thins seem like an outlandish luxury.

But still we try.

When I was an intern, I attended what was possibly the most hilarious training on sexual abuse that has ever occurred. That’s right, I said it. And I stand by that statement.

This training was run by a well-meaning lunatic who had established herself as somewhat of an expert in treating girls who had been sexually abused. It was actually a series of trainings, and this particular session was dedicated to, you guessed it, self care.

Working with someone who has gone through or is going through something like that can be very draining. It affects everyone, and if you don’t address it, you’re going to break down and quit sometime soon.

This woman thought it would be helpful if we all shouted out ways we have of “de-stressing.” Soon, the designated note-taker’s hand was flying.

“Go shopping.”
“Call my mom.”
“Listen to music.”
“Dip bread in oil.”
“Get a mani-pedi.”

Ah yes, because nothing takes the edge off incest like a mani-pedi. Seriously? Yes, these stupid things can help us to relax. But I don’t think I need to sit around and share these earth-shattering notions with my coworkers. Hell, during that hour (yes, sixty full minutes) that we spent creating this list, we could have gone out for a shot of Jack walk.

It was even more helpful when we each got a copy of that list, typed up and placed in our mailboxes. Trees died for this.

Our supervisors tell us that they’re concerned about our welfare, and don’t want us to burn out. I believe them. I know that they don’t want to replace staff, and I believe that, for the most part, they care about their workers as people. But I’ll believe it even more when they do something about it.

Rather than email out a list of fifteen new requirements, including extra assessment tools to be completed, more required home visits, and larger caseloads, ending with the sentence, “And remember, our jobs are difficult. Take time to take care of yourself.”