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How to stay professional? - February 15th 2018, 01:16 PM

I'm currently studying to become a social worker and I'd never really thought about it before but in our last class, we were told that it's important to stay professional when on the job. We were told that, in some cases, we may have to talk with perpetrators of abuse and that other social workers had said it was the hardest thing they'd ever had to do. I knew that being a social worker wouldn't be easy but I don't know, it's still...hard? I don't know how to phrase it It's harder than I thought, I guess. I've only just started classes and I just get so mad. We had to read these example cases and say whether or not the child/children should be removed from the home. I think they would've been hypothetical but I was still pissed. Firstly, because someone would do those sort of things to a child and secondly, because when we read the answers it said that some of the kids weren't removed from the home. I feel like if the parents couldn't treat their kids properly, they shouldn't have them at all. And even the cases that weren't as severe, I still feel like the parents should've been punished worse than they were.

I think in every case, I really wanted to give the parents a piece of my mind like I was just thinking of what I'd say if I met them in person. But I'm not allowed to say anything. I've come to realize that I think a lot more with my heart than my brain. And I really wanted to argue when the answers said the kids weren't going to be taken from the home. But I'm not allowed to do that.

I will say that I work in an animal shelter now. I'm guessing that we're not allowed to cuss out the people who abuse the animals, I've never personally come face-to-face with any of them. But I work with the animals and I've seen some shocking things, obviously. They actually often counseling for workers but I've never needed it because I don't believe I've seen anything too out of the ordinary for a shelter. I do tell my mom some of the things I've seen after shifts but I can't do that when it comes to social work, I have to keep it to myself. One thing I do know is, we (the workers) do bad mouth the abusers amongst each other. I mean, just stuff like "What's wrong with the world?" and "How could anyone do something like that?" That makes me feel...calmer? Like it's easier if I know I'm not the only one who feels that way. Is it okay to say something...as long as you don't say it in the company of the family involved? I know we're not allowed to reveal confidential details but is it okay to vent like what I said above?

Some of my peers said that they already knew that they were going to have trouble dealing with abusers. And my lecturer said that if you knew you were going to have trouble, you need to work extra hard to at least keep up a "poker face" because hostility comes across in your speech and appearance. She said to "leave your shit at the door" but that's easier said than done. I definitely want to do this, there's no other career that I feel passionate about. I'm guessing some of you probably work in mental health although I'm not sure. I was wondering, does anyone have any tips on how to stay professional and not lose your cool in jobs like this?
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Re: How to stay professional? - February 16th 2018, 01:03 PM

Hey there! it is cool to meet someone interested in social work. I am not in any program but I am familiar with it and have some experience in the field.

The short answer to this is mindfulness, support system and self care.
The long answer is that mindfulness takes time to master but it can help with being in the moment and interacting with a difficult client. There will be specific skills that you may learn as you go such as how body language can do a lot of communication. If someone is slouched over and doesn't give eye contact, that can show to the other person that they lack confidence or are in an overwhelmed state if mind. So with being professional, this includes checking in with yourself to make sure you're open to handling the situation. I can give a few examples here.

OKay so suppose you're reading a case study about a child being abused in their home. So you're reading it and you're noticing you feel triggered.
The first thing you can do is put on hand on your heart and the other on your belly and close your eyes. This will help you turn inward. Take deep breathes and ask yourself "how am I feeling?" Try to name an emotion as specific as possible. If you notice anger turn ask frustrated?Devastated? Injustice? Do you feel like you could have been that child?
Now ask where in my body do I feel it?
emotional pain manifests in physical parts of the body. Is it in my stomach? My chest? My head?
Now what do you NEED
Do you need compassion? Do you need a moment to cry? Do you need to call a friend up? Do you need to write it down to bring it up to a trusted professor to help you process it? (I will get to support system in a few)
Do you need hope? Do you need connection with others? Do you need alone time?
And anything else that comes up, I'm just giving examples off the top of my head

Now do this 3 times a day even when you're feeling ojsy. Check in with yourself and make it a habit. Doing this will help you with self care. But it will also help you strengthen your capacity to support others

So this is how mindfulness, support system and self care all work together.

But what I wanted to add is that there's different sources of support. Professors can also be emotionally supportive. But one thing that's really recommended is for those in human service professions to get their own therapy. It can be vital especially someone starting out.
You can make yourself aware of things like secondhand trauma and use self care (there are many ways to do self care, we can discuss this more if you'd like)
There's also the idea of boundaries and keeping a distance. Well this has to do with the code of ethics and not having dual relationships but more than that, in everyday practice, this means learning to not over-identify because that leads to burnout

Empathy is amazing cut there's a dark side. If for example someone reads the case study and breaksdown, they are not in a place to help anymore. If someone isn't regularly doing self care, they're giving from an empty cup. So personal development and growth is important here. That's what if means to leave your stuff at the door. Have a place for yourself to process your own issues, trsumas, challenges and try not to mix it in with the client you're helping because then it isn't as effective help. This means that you work in therapy, support groups or any other means of support to get to a place that you yourself are strong to "hold the space" for someone else. We use that phrase -holding space- or -creating a safe space- and it won't be just you. There will be your supervisor who will guide you.

Okay so reading a child abuse case study doesn't involve interacting with people face to face. So how do you keep distance with a client? There will be techniques you learn but one thing is being aware of your body language as well as their's. Remember that everyone has biases but to be aware of these biases. My social work professor knew she haa biases when it comes to foster care so she worked in prevention because that's where she would do a better job for herself and others. Social work is so vast and includes so many populations. Working with the elderly is actually a growing need. With children, it is hard because as social workers, we can't always get the results we want and it isn't about what we want. It is about being as objective as possible.
Strengthening communication and assertiveness can help here. Projecting voice, using I statements, regulating tone. These things are skills we practice on so in the momemt of interacting we are not scrambling as much. Improving coping skills can help here too.
I think when it comes to child abuse situations, cps and foster care, that's kind of when social workers wear a lawyer hat too. Talking in a calm voice but sticking to the facts. YoI'll probably have time before you meet with the abusive parent so you can practice speaking calmly through roleplaying or playing it out in your head or writing it down a few times.

In terms of confidentiality, this is something the professor can answer about exactly what can and can't be said.

I hope this helps a little. Best of luck in your studies and feel free to reply here or make a new post.
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Re: How to stay professional? - February 18th 2018, 07:44 AM

I work in the mental health field and it's fucking hard sometimes. I've had times that kids have told me their family abused them. I've had people attack me or yell at me. I've watched families treat each other like shit right in front of my eyes. It never, ever gets any easier.
Practice thinking before you act before you even begin in the field, I wish I would have. Take a deep breath. In many scenarios you can find ways to take some space before reacting. You have to remember if you don't respond in a chill way you're harming them. Remember to focus on the person you're talking to, don't tell them how you feel about how others treated them. Tell them they can move forward, that they have control of their life and they need to make their own choices. It's also hard because you can't just tell them what to do. Talk them through their choices, especially with kids because if they've grown up in a bad situation they may not know how to make healthy decisions and their idea of what they have control of is messed up because of their circumstances. A lot of people in the field become cold, and I know if I ever get that way, I'll quit my job. I let myself feel those emotions, but I handle them later. I become close with my coworkers so I can talk with them later. And you will totally mess up and say the wrong thing, have the wrong time of voice, make people cry or make them angry. At the end of the day, we're only human. Sometimes those mistakes help them realize even the people they look up to make errors, so it's okay for them to make errors too.

I would suggest really, REALLY practicing self care. Everyone in the field sucks at it but without it you will burn out and get super depressed.

I'd love to talk to you more about it if you'd like! You can PM me if you'd like. It sounds like you're getting into an awesome field that we need more people who have the passion you have!

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Re: How to stay professional? - February 18th 2018, 03:55 PM


I agree with what was said above, I don't have a ton of experience working in the mental health field, yet. However, I do have a lot of experiences being treated by professionals in the mental health field. You will see a lot. I know, for example, CPS departments have a high turnover rate. I know people who worked for my CPS department and ended up leaving because of the unfairness of the rules. It was tough to handle for a long period of time and so they knew it was better to leave because it was tearing them down. I also know people who have worked in other departments with my County mental health and they have loved it and they know, as a whole, they are making a difference.

When I was in the mental health hospital, there were a ton of kids who had parents that didn't care. There was girl who I befriended and her mom was really unkind but not abusive so nothing could be done. I know that when she was released...her mom was 6 hours late picking her up and it tore her apart. What helped her was the kindness of the mental health worker. The worker sat with her and talked to her and let her know she was cared about. Since this girl and I got close the worker also let me hang out with her.

While dealing with parents will be really hard you have to think how it will impact the patient/client/person if you react with anger. If you react with anger it could be possible that you would be removed from the case and the client would lose someone that they might have formed a strong bond with etc.

Sometimes the best thing a therapist/social worker/mental health professional can do is provide the client/child with support and let them see that they are not alone. There are going to be things that parents will do that will anger you (I have experienced it within my volunteer work) but there won't be a ton of stuff you can do except support your client. It is hard but I can say that having mental health professionals who were supportive helped me and I know it helped some of my peers.

There are other ways to practice/learn to be objective as well. For example, you can try and volunteer with in a human service field. I know I have done a lot of this (I started with Teenhelp and than worked up to offline stuff) and this has helped me learn. While I do not experience the things that professionals do I have seen a lot and I have been angered by some of it. However, I have been able to learn the best way to help the person I am working with to provide them with support and, hopefully, get them to a better place.

Lastly, I agree that having co-workers who you can talk to is helpful. I know there are people who have good relationships with their co-workers and it has helped them because the co-worker can relate, provide them with a safe person to talk to and provide them with insight and ideas etc.

I think it's great that you are already thinking about how to handle things like this. I know a few people who went into human service fields and didn't think about their objectivity and ended up not really enjoying it/being objective so they had to leave the field.

Best regards.

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Re: How to stay professional? - February 20th 2018, 11:00 AM

While it is certainly aweful and depressing to know about all the violence going on behind someone's walls, your vision of the problem is worsened by one-sideness of it. You don't know the back story, can't feel what the guilty person felt at the moment. Pehaps you are going a bit too dramatic.
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Re: How to stay professional? - February 28th 2018, 09:58 PM

You do kind of learn to detach. It sounds horrible but you do eventually become more numb. Make sure you take your vacations, get time off, relax, and don’t take it home with you. Hobbies are important. It sucks. It really does.
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