You are embarking on a career in social work, but you are not sure what to expect. You are in the right place. Typically, individuals who gravitate to this field are empathetic, socially aware, and want to help others. However, they don’t always stay that way. Read on to learn valuable tips that go beyond surviving as a social worker, but will help you develop and sustain the skill and ability that will lead you to a long and successful social work career.
1) Be client-centered and realistic
- Meet clients where they are at and acknowledge that they are experts of their lives.
- Be transparent. Be clear with clients about expectations, and do not pretend to have all the answers (unless you do). Admitting that you need to check on the answer not only provides a teachable moment, but also builds trust.
- Don’t assume, ask. Be comfortable asking your client to educate you on their family culture.
- Be strengths-based and think outside of the box.
- Be flexible! Be ready to adjust your priorities and schedule around crisis situations; identify true emergency situations–understand that you cannot meet everyone’s needs immediately; and realize that you will have a continuous work flow, so know where your stopping point is each day.
2) Don’t take it personally
- Don’t personalize or hold onto negative comments and hostility that are directed at you.
- Remember that you are the professional. Maintain a respectful and professional demeanor.
- Don’t expect to “fix” anyone–each person is responsible for their own actions and decisions.
3) Know your issues thru self-awareness
- Be aware of biases and triggers.
- Uphold the NASW Code of Ethics.
- Maintain empathy and respect with professional boundaries.
4) Seek out and utilize support
- Process case/client situations thru regular supervision (peer, group, and individual).
- Surround yourself with positive people.
- Be open to therapy to help you cope and grow in your personal and professional life.
- Be involved in something outside of work like a hobby, sports, exercise routine, book club, etc. Socialize and have fun!
- Protect yourself from work-related stress thru good nutrition and habits.
- Recognize the impact from this career, and be aware of vicarious trauma, or what I like to call “splash back” that results from working in the helping profession. To believe that repeated exposure to other people’s crises won’t affect you is a set up, and often leads to burn out.
Your social work career can be a rewarding experience. You have the potential and opportunity to touch countless lives. By being prepared at the onset, taking care of yourself, and addressing symptoms of vicarious trauma before it claims your career, will better equip you to remain focused on the key reason that led you into this social work profession–helping people!