So you’re thinking of getting into the field of Social Services? Why? I’ll bet it’s because you want to help people; make a difference. Noble of you really, and we can never have enough good people with good intentions who care and are willing to serve others.
Social Services however is pretty broad though isn’t it? I mean helping people is a pretty all-encompassing statement that you’re going to have to narrow down somewhat in order to determine the population demographics you want to work with. So for example is it children, teens, young adults, middle-aged adults or seniors? And there’s more. The unemployed? Those in the corrections system? The field of addictions, (alcohol and drug, prescription medication abuse)?
Maybe you’re thinking of the homeless or those who have been physically, mentally or sexually abused? We haven’t even scratched the surface here. Are those you want to help dealing with bereavement, anxiety, social phobias, poor self-esteem, isolation, abandonment, mental health and the list goes on and on.
So here’s a tough question: what is it exactly you’re going to do for the population of people you identify? And while you may have identified a segment of the population to work with, if you haven’t been told or figured it out on your own yet, no matter which population demographic you’ve settled on, you’d better be prepared to work with multiple issues from those I’ve described above. No one ever presents with just a single issue.
Take my job as an Employment Counsellor. I’ve been dealing lately with some pretty serious issues; drug addiction, mental health challenges, over and cross-medication, alcoholism, homelessness, poor self-esteem, family estrangement, reliance on social services and food banks, separation and divorce, unemployment, incarceration, cancer and other serious physical health issues.
All the above have walked into the resource centre where I work with a variety of such combinations. And while I personally don’t have any of those issues, the people who I interact with do, and because they do, so do I. Thankfully I don’t have to live with those issues beyond quitting time at work and I’m grateful for that.
People such as myself and my colleagues must deal with whatever walks in our door on a daily basis. Imagine how convenient it would be for the helpers like you and I if upon entering they would fill out a label and disclose all their issues and then wear it prominently. One might read, “Evicted, low-self worth, alcohol addiction, criminal record (assaulting a police officer), unemployed, bi-polar, arthritis.” And then after filling out his label, he says, “Hey buddy can you help me?” Okay, you’re up; go for it.
This isn’t some once-in-a-blue-moon kind of client who I’m exaggerating about. This is a regular run-of-the-mill kind of person you’re going to meet face-to-face who is going to present one day as pretty together and wanting to change and the next as rude, looking for a fight and resentful of that smug attitude you seem to have from the other side of the desk.
Even if you wanted to work with seniors in a retirement home, those kindly old folks are still dealing with multiple issues: declining physical health, mental health challenges sneaking in and robbing them of their memories, concerns with dying, the hereafter, family abandonment, loss of independence. You don’t just get one issue with one population no matter which you choose.
And that’s the beautiful thing about us as a human species; we are so multi-dimensional. So what does this mean for those of us who choose a career in the field of social services, health care, corrections etc.? We have to be prepared to deal with multiple issues, balancing between knowing when we are in over our capabilities and need to bring in qualified help, yet also listening enough to get a bigger picture of the people we are listening to in order to determine what help we can provide.
Even when we determine what issues a person presents with, what complicates things even further is that there is no one tried-and-true method of dealing with all people who present with the same issues. People are unique. The strategy for dealing with Thomas won’t work for some reason with Harry. While you may have really got through with Samantha and feel pretty good, Tanya thinks you are totally inept and yet seems to have the exact same situation.
This is precisely why no two days are the same in the field. The issues might be similar, the stories sound familiar, but the dynamics of the people involved, their own histories if you will, are different. Therefore in many situations, it is important – no it’s critical – to listen with an open mind as if you were hearing things for the first time. First of all you might find just really listening is something they appreciate. That alone is a great start.
You can make a difference but don’t think you can save them all. ‘Saving them’ in the first place isn’t necessarily even the goal. Being present, being available, providing that one safe haven where the marginalized and often-judged can relax a little and not feel pestered, abused, used and devalued might be enough. Maybe.
There’s a lot of work to do, and we can always use good people. Not a few good people mind you; a lot of good people. Be one.