A Man Walks Into A Social Worker’s Office

“First know the Self and then talk of social reformation.” -Abhijit Naskar

You are a social worker. A man walks into your office. You detect a vacancy in his crumpled eyes. You notice his unkempt hair and zipped smile. The man sits down with an easy confidence that feels disingenuous but you learned long ago not to assign meaning to incongruous behavior. You note the contradiction with curiosity. It may help you form a clinical assessment later and you also accept that the reconciliation of perplexing behavior is not always possible.

As a social worker, you know that the human experience does not exist outside of an individual’s engagement with other human beings. Because of this, you accept the centrality of the clinical relationship. With this relationship in mind, you empower clients to survive, heal, recover, grow and gain mastery by using their environmental expertise and inherent strengths. And you never forget that you, the social worker, are also a complex human being and a lively force in this relational dynamic.

And so you go about the task of gathering information from the mystifying man who walked into your office. As the man discusses his life, he assumes personal responsibility for the circumstances with which he is pleased and places blame on others for situations with less than ideal outcomes. The man speaks disparagingly about women, black people and outsiders. The man explains that people who do not support him and his choices are stupid. You challenge the man’s extreme thought patterns but he responds with outraged indignation. You note the man’s aggressive temperament and hypersensitivity to criticism.

In the interest of maintaining an emerging rapport, you refocus the conversation. The man is angry and defensive so you ask him to tell you about his strengths and his goals. As the man speaks, the line between fiction and reality distorts. In his words you hear grandiosity, impulsivity and juvenile demands for attention. The man appears to be a poor historian. As the man speaks, he alters his history to portray himself in a way that suits his current sense of self-perception. The longer he speaks, the more you suspect that the man is pathologically detached from reality. You develop a working conceptualization of the man’s clinical presentation. You conclude that the man exhibits strong narcissistic and anti-social personality traits.

You acknowledge that the man who walked into your office is so much more than this provisional diagnosis, and yet you do not like the man. You do not believe him nor do you respect him. You disagree with his thoughts, values, and rhetoric. Maybe the man even triggered unpleasant feelings within you.

But this is not your first intake. You have assessed clients with similar clinical presentations more times than you can count. As a social worker you maintain a mindful and deliberate awareness of the profession’s core values. You strive to embody the mission of social work, to serve and empower the well-being of your fellow humans.

As a social worker you know that inherent within each and every single human is strength. You reframe your discomfort, acknowledge your biases, address your triggers and strive to compassionately exist alongside challenging individuals. You act ethically and with integrity. As a social worker, you personify a sense of collective humanity and the recognition that our condition is defined by complex individuals and powerful experiences.

As a social worker, you treat and regard each and every individual with care and respect. As a social worker, you know that each and every single human is entitled to dignity and possesses worth. You do not define or hold this value selectively. In social work, there are not exceptions to this application for individuals whom you dislike or with whom you disagree.

Do these values resonate with you? Does this sound like the kind of social worker that you are?

Now what if I told you that the man who walked into your office was the President of the United States of America?

6 thoughts on “A Man Walks Into A Social Worker’s Office

  1. Wow! Very thought provoking!!
    I love your posts! Even though I am a rural psychiatric social worker, I can relate on so many levels. Thank you for your humor and great writing skills.

  2. I’m a recently retired social worker, 47 years experience, and I thank you for this wake-up call. Easy to judge, to forget the “whole person”, easy to dehumanize – things I never dreamed of doing in other circumstances, not ever. Thanks for this – I pledge not to allow these frightening circumstances to change me or my core values. By the way – LOVE this beautiful blog❤

  3. I had figured out who you were describing by the 3rd paragraph, LOL!! This is an issue I’ve discussed with my fellow Social Workers, the surprising effect this one human being is actually having on our core values and shining the light on our own “shadow” sides.
    we usually come to the conclusion that we would probably call a “5150” on him, for being a danger to others.
    LOVED this article!!

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