Say you’re a social worker

The National Association of Social Workers had a campaign a few years ago called “Say you’re a social worker.”

The premise is an important one; we can’t hope to reclaim our professional identity if we’re not claiming it in the first place, and far too many social workers call ourselves “therapists” or “administrators” or even “advocates”, without specifying that we approach those disciplines from an identity within the social work profession (and accompanying professional values and ethics).

But the fact that we’re social workers first, however we choose to approach the particulars of that work, does matter. We believe it does, and I think that our clients should think so too (because if we’re NOT doing our work any differently, we may need to check how we’re putting our professional values to work).

I’ll admit that I’ve been guilty of this.

It’s tempting, sometimes, to say that I do policy work, or that I teach, or do consulting, especially because saying that I’m a social worker often leads to people asking for help that I don’t feel qualified to give. Like about their neighbor whose boyfriend is abusive or their sister-in-law who hears voices.

And while I’m always careful to point out that I’m not a clinician, the truth is that social workers do carry an obligation to be generalists and able to help folks navigate resources even if we don’t believe that we’re that kind of social worker.

Just the same way that I try to help all social workers discover their advocacy potential. And their advocacy commitment, too.

So I rejoice at this article describing one of the last Nobel Peace Prize winners, who, in addition to being an amazing advocate for women’s rights and peaceful opposition to violence, is a…

social worker.

We believe that social workers are changing the world every day, albeit admittedly not always in ways this dramatic and profound.

We just have to claim it.

7 responses to “Say you’re a social worker

  1. I love this, Melinda. As a generalist practice social worker (WSU trained) I use to feel the need to differentiate myself from the “social worker” stigma when explaining what I do. I write and manage grants, I advocate for children, I train community partners, etc. What of that is NOT social work?

    I join you in declaring – I AM A SOCIAL WORKER!

  2. I’m not sure if it is better to post on here or on facebook. I’ve been reading your blogs and just not sure where to comment! Where do you prefer! Thanks for your wonderful thoughts. I appreciate them!

    • Audra, I’ll welcome your comments anywhere, anytime! Honestly, probably here is better, because there are social work students from around the country who read the blog (sometimes for class), and they won’t see those on my Facebook feed. But I appreciate them anywhere. Thank you!

  3. I usually say I’m a social worker but then I’m always qualifiying and defining it for folks. I think the view of social workers is still seen as just child protection and public assistance programs. So I try to educate that its my social work skills that I’m using when I’m working on policy or elections or community advocacy.

    Although March was social work month, maybe we should make a promise to present ourselves to at least one person a week this month as a social worker (that is a person that we normally would present ourself as a policy worker or community organizer).

  4. I like it, Lesa!
    I agree that many folks in our community see the social worker as the person who comes and “takes kids out of the home” and nothing else.

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