Even though I often have to beg off when someone–hairdressers, or my kids’ teachers, or even another mom at the park–thinks that I can help with a psychological problem when I mention that I’m a social worker (I’m completely unqualified to provide counseling, and so I have to add the disclaimer, “not that kind of social worker,” and make a referral), I still think in clinical terms sometimes.
And, you know, working in public policy, and with elected officials, that’s sometimes really helpful.
Like this year, in my state legislative advocacy, I’ve been thinking a lot about psychopathology, or at least what I know of it, and about addictions and recovery.
And I’ve been thinking about the truism that, sometimes, our clients have to “hit bottom” before there’s enough incentive to change, and that crises can be powerful motivators for healing.
To me, that sounds a lot like where we are in our movement-building this year.
It’s hard to imagine things being much worse (although, just like in clinical social work, I’m hesitant to claim that they couldn’t be!): class sizes in public schools are too big, community mental health centers are turning people away, and public assistance offices are closing around the state.
We face the possibility of several lawsuits related to the actions of last year’s legislature–in the areas of reproductive rights and voting rights, most likely–and defending those will take even more money from the state’s coffers. It’s getting harder to be a student, or a woman, or an immigrant in our state, and there’s a collective sense of looking over one’s shoulder to see who will be the next target.
Just like when faced with a client whose life is crumbling around herself, I see promising signs of renewal.
I’m getting more emails from social service organizations with questions about how they can advocate. A workshop for agencies trying to transform themselves into agents for social change attracted more interest than they could accommodate. More letters to the editor decrying the program cuts are popping up in the papers. A community meeting about the closing of a local welfare office was standing-room only. Our local coalition against anti-immigrant legislation is growing statewide, with organizing cells taking off in communities large and small.
Just like someone dealing with his/her own personal demons, these first steps are only that–tentative, sometimes conflicted, often inadequate.
There will be more dark days.
But if the first step is recognizing that there’s a problem, we’re on the path to healing.
Our struggles have names, and we have a shared hope that comes from having companions on a difficult journey.
We may be at the bottom, or at least near it, but we’re not down here alone.
And if those with whom social workers have the honor to work, every day, can build from their strengths to best their own battles, then we can, too.