Social work is a uniquely demanding job among the hundreds of other industries. Much of this is due to factors being often in non-for-profit sectors dealing with humanitarian or environmental movements. While this is noble work it is often a frustrating reality that meaningful work just doesn’t bring in the necessary funding at levels which are truly competitive with for-profit sectors.
When combining this with the nuanced specialties required to work with people that suffer from any range of personal challenges, social work tends to lay a heavy emotional strain on employees. Not unlike the medical industry, child welfare, or any public service sector, the overlap in the needs necessitated and the work accomplished means that there is a consistency of behavior which most benefits this type of work.
With that in mind, here are a collection of tips and skills which will help to ensure a long and fruitful career in social work.
Perhaps more than any other human skill, empathy is a uniquely charged skill which enables an individual to be able to relate to others in such a deep way that a foreign experience can become familiar. Empathy is the ability to be able to identify so closely with anothers experience and emotional reactions to a situation that they can share intellectual and emotional reactions.
This ability is not so much something that can be learned so much as it needs to be experienced. What that means is, while there are precursory steps and techniques which can be learned and practiced over time that help someone to become more empathetic, there is no immediate action that can be taken to establish such a skill. Some of those skills are quite obvious, stemming primarily from basic communication techniques such as active listening, patience, clear communication, and critical thinking. While these base skills will certainly be touched on over the course of a bachelors or masters of social work program, that is only preparatory.
Each of those combined and implemented over the course of years in various social circles and professional environments will hone a notable ability to care for others deeply. Being that so much of social work often requires the interaction with individuals who have been through very challenging physical and emotional situations, the ability to connect, understand, and then formulate that knowledge into action will set anyone apart from those who lack an ability.
The world is no longer a small place. While distance and continents will always be a reality, the interconnectedness afforded by the internet and cellular communications satellites have drastically diminished much of what once stood in the way of cross-cultural and continental connection.
With the availability of connectedness arising in a variety of digital formats such as video, emails, photography, and even the radio, the ability to access, send, or receive messages and information means that there is little excuse for cultural ignorance, at least on a base level. When considering that almost every country or city on the planet nowadays is at least partially racially and economically diverse— and the fact that social work typically seeks to serve groups of people who are in challenging situations— taking the time to educate oneself on the people being served is just wise practice.
In doing so, not only will levels of sympathy and empathy rise, but the overlap in interests, hobbies and lifestyles will create more connection points. Using these interests and similarities in communication is what enables a great social worker to connect in more meaningful ways with the population they are serving.
Though this is a word that is often more thrown around than practiced well personally, anyone can benefit from even a basic set of standards which help to protect oneself and others. The principle of setting boundaries is not just emotional, but physical, beginning subjectively and extending objectively, and while this typically demonstrates itself in interpersonal relationships, it also encompasses professional and personal habits or lifestyles.
Anyone who has ever worked in or talked with those involved in social work have likely heard that there is always something to be done, and few problems are ever completely resolved. The clean drinking water crisis, refugee displacement from war, health crisis’, these are just a few of the major issues which will be humanitarian issues for years to come.
When acknowledging this fact to consider how an individual role or project interacts with a personal life is important. Without learning how to set boundaries that maintain health in mind, body, and spirit, anyone who fails to protect themselves and recharge from time to time will soon burn out.
Codes of Ethics
Most professional industries have a long-standing tradition which, over the generations, has had to ask questions which coalesce into ethical standards. This is not just an important exercise, it is vital practice to maintain when evaluating proper, compassionate, and acceptable behavior. Ethics are written into law, policy, and procedural guidelines for many businesses, but it requires individual accountability to maintain and implement those behaviors.
What is important to remember and allow for is the fluctuations that will eventually occur in life and the sometimes grey nature of making the right decision. At best, a well-educated and experienced individual will be able to make a responsible ethical decision while still being able to fall back on established guidelines.
Social workers are a rare breed among the world today. While most people are quite caring and sensitive enough to the myriad of humanitarian issues which trouble the world at large, the percentage of people who dedicate themselves to actively participating in social world fields (either professionally or voluntarily) is a minority of the populous.
This means that the nuances of factors which contribute to the continuation of cultural illnesses are known only to those that are subject to that suffering, intentionally educate themselves, or work directly with those causes. While singular dedication of an individual’s efforts should be celebrated, the momentum needed to widen and strengthen the movements which can eventually overcome humanitarian concerns requires support. Support comes through advocacy.
Few people are equipped well enough to communicate the depth of understanding intellectually and emotionally to create public sympathy than social workers. Taking the time to do so also invites others to join in the causes that every human is connected to.