I heard that phrase while watching a documentary. I can’t remember the name of it, but it had to do with some union members (industry? can’t recall) who developed an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) with people who struggled with alcoholism. This EAP was unique in that it was staffed by employees of the company who were recovering from alcohol addiction. It was a great piece; the kind of thing that a social worker loves. It showed community, self-determination, mission, assistance to the vulnerable. One gentleman on the piece said something like, “the guys in here know they can come to us because we work with them and we’re they’re for them. They know we’ve been through the same thing. Not like some social worker…’
I believe that statement is what got me to forget the name of this beautiful documentary. My mind trailed and ruminated on Some Social Worker. The words circled in my head like someone had just told me devastating news. Like someone called me a dirty name. I could not get myself together. Why would a quick statement like that jolt me as if I was learning more details on war around the world?
In reflection, I suppose I did take it as heart-breaking. The profession that I feel is right for me in its compassion, fortitude, commitment, and advocacy was whittled down to, Some Social Worker.
Secretly, I admit that I understand why this guy covertly dismissed my profession. He probably assumes that social workers are heartless people who take children from their homes, who give out social services, or who recklessly handle people and sit in judgment of them.
That’s the way we are portrayed in the media. But this piece is not about lamenting on the media’s irresponsibility.
This is about social workers standing up for social workers. I was taught that in order to be treated a certain way; you must command a certain presence. I am guilty of not commanding the presence that would demand professional respect. I’ve called myself many things professionally to make a conversation go quicker or to give a more easily identifiable name to what I “do” and to avert the glaring eyes of people who pity me or fear me when I say, “I’m a social worker.”
My journey into social work is, in my mind, unusual. I had not been introduced to social work until I arrived to my undergraduate campus. I created the vision of my career in my senior year in high school; I was going to be a prominent psychologist who was going to figure out ails of the world, write a book about it, guest on Oprah and retire to my summer home in the Hamptons.
I was interested in the human mind and thought that psychology was my ticket to its discovery.
It was not until that day on campus that the psychology department chair and social work department chair had an information table. I was wandering around the psychology department hoping to rub elbows with the professors. They called me over to introduce me to the school’s dual major program. The psych chair asked me of my future interest and I told him about Oprah and saving the world. He suggested that if I wanted to save the world that I consider the dual undergraduate program and consider a social work graduate school. I slightly glanced over to the social work chair and thought, “the people who snatch kids? I don’t think so.” However, I took the information and seemed eager because I wanted to be able impress the psych chair. No need in upsetting the man when I could really use his reference one day.
Slowly returning to my dorm, the information sat in my bag. Mentally, I prepared my list of all the reasons I would offer to the psych chair on why social work is not for me. I figured within those reasons should be some key words, so I dug out the social work literature.
I was impressed. While I read this literature, the pages of my life up until that point slowly turned. The social work and psychology courses were so similar. The more I read, the more I knew that I was not just interested in the mind; I was interested in the human condition.
I was always the child who questioned injustice listening to my parents talking about discrimination at the workplace. I was compassionate to others as I would listen to my friend’s problems from suffering with abusive parents or broken homes. I think I was the only kid who missed curfew because she was trying to help her friend solve a life problem. I was that child who did not fear my grandmother’s friend who would have elaborate manic episodes yelling and threatening in church. I just knew she was the nice lady who gave me a dollar for ice cream, she was a little loud, but nice to me.
I was that kid who listened to my grandmother and her friends talking about raising chickens “in the country.” I never got bored hanging out with them. I didn’t look at giving my clothes to others as charity; I just figured that someone could use this cute outfit now that I’ve outgrown it. I didn’t stare at the blind man my grandmother would pick up from the rehabilitation center on the way to church and I didn’t question why he was the only white worshipper in our African-American congregation.
I’ve never really been in fights, although with my often debilitating allergies, I was a great target to childhood bullying. Never really bullied and had great friends. During one verbal rouse with a peer, I actually remember quoting Martin Luther King Jr. and demanded that we have peace in our friendship! My mother would refer to our home as the Kool-Aid house as she recalls that my brother and I being very generous with our treats. I was the kid in high school who counseled a friend’s parents with their marital problems. I was my family’s mediator and spokesperson; a charge I think I was groomed in. My parents allowed me to express my opinion always with respect in the forefront. They raised me to have “a voice” and humored me through all of my soliloquies on why I should have certain freedoms. I was intrigued by their childhood stories of family bonding, segregation, poverty, and their grown up challenges of workplace racisms, parenting and the drive to do better than the last generation. I was the product of parents who were young. I benefited from all of their foresights and missteps and appreciated their journey and the journeys before them.
With all those thoughts circling my head, I thought to myself, “I’m becoming a social worker” I realized I was becoming something that I didn’t know existed.
The next day I headed to the registrar’s office and declared my new dual major. The academic knowledge poured into my skin and I was a willing and happy recipient. My social work classes gave me room to question the world, with its issues and its hypocrisies. My professors welcomed the challenge and my mind would swirl with excitement. I would spend moments sharing my new found knowledge with my girlfriends and since I am a long-winded storyteller, I prayed for their patience with me while I spoke of my events as a social work intern a state psychiatric hospital.
The most difficult challenge was trying to explain what social work is and how it would benefit me. This persisted through graduate school and even still today, some in my family call me a psychologist, shrink or more than a social worker or a nurse. Admittedly, I would hid my field and refer to myself as a psychotherapist; it was more recognizable and easier to explain.
As I mature and as I appreciate my history and myself, I proudly admit that I am a social worker. It took a lot of education and experience to reach this place. No longer will I discount my efforts, my success and my ambition by trying to please others view of what I do. I am social worker. As a matter of fact, I am Some Social Worker!