Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Why Social Work?

March is Social Work Month, and World Social Work Day 2016 is on March 15th.  So yes, that means that today is basically the most social work-y day of the year.  To celebrate that, let’s continue the discussion from yesterday and reflect: why did we choose social work?

While in college, I discovered an Intro to Psychological Services class, read the course description about different services in the mental health field, and knew that this class (and the accompanying major) was the right one for me. 

Encouraged by my major advisor, I began volunteering at the local domestic violence shelter.  What started as one volunteer shift per week operating the shelter’s hotline evolved into a part-time job my last year of college in which I worked 12-hour overnight shifts at the shelter. 

I also had a practicum internship at an adoption agency where I was able to observe counselors working with pregnant mothers as well as potential adoptive families, and I myself got some direct experience answering the expectant parent hotline.

Those experiences enabled me to confirm my desire to be a part of the social services field.  At that point, however, I was undecided between a graduate program for counseling or social work so after college I sought work experience that would help me decide.   

Image Credit Kate McHugh Akbar

I spent two years working as a sexual assault prevention/intervention counselor at a rape crisis center.  I really enjoyed the work, which included providing individual peer counseling to survivors as well as being an advocate for survivors going through the forensic medical, criminal justice, and legal process.  It felt extremely rewarding to be present for someone undergoing a lot of trauma and pain, and to be able to make an impact during one of the most challenging parts of their lives.

We also provided very comprehensive prevention services to youth in schools as well as the general community.  Prevention was about education: talking about gender role socialization as well as the societal issues that correlate with abuse and assault, with the ultimate goal being to change attitudes. We taught that sexual assault is a crime motivated by power and control, where sex is used as the weapon. 

During this time, I compared counseling and social work grad programs.  I went to several academic open houses and spoke to dozens of current students and graduates of different programs.  I also re-read Reviving Ophelia, 11 years after I read it the first time.

Through this process, I realized that in addition to being fascinated by the counseling case studies, now I also had a desire to study the issues affecting young women from the prevention and policy viewpoint.  I wanted to be engaged holistically in the lives of the people that I worked with: seeing them as individuals, as a part of the whole community, and by looking at the community’s practices and issues as well.

Professionally, I felt the best when I was not only assisting survivors after the assault, through counseling, medical advocacy, and legal advocacy, but also engaging in the social environment to try to change attitudes and possibly decrease future instances of sexual assault.  

That is how I knew social work was the best career choice for me—it would set me up to be able to continue to do a variety of different types of fulfilling, empowering work.  I’m now five years post-masters and continue to feel satisfied being in the social work field.

Image Credit Kate McHugh Akbar

Happy Social Work Month – and Happy World Social Work Day!

No comments:

Post a Comment