What It Really Means to be a Social Worker

 Social Worker Banshee
“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”—Dale Carnegie

Want a quick way to kill the buzz, turn off a cute date, or completely murder any conversation in a social setting? Just say, “I’m a social worker.”

“Oh, so you like take people’s kids and shit?”

“Man, that’s so crazy. Wow. So crazy.”

“Are you analyzing me right now?”

For nearly a decade, I have repeatedly faced these and a million other questions (whoever said there are “no stupid questions” was…well, probably stupid). Granted, over the years I have learned that I cannot expect people to understand what social work is, what social workers do, or why I am so deeply committed to such a demanding profession.

The profession of social work is grossly misrepresented and poorly portrayed in mainstream media. It is not surprising that most people are completely clueless. Though most days I still feel pretty clueless myself, here is my attempt to put into words what being a social worker means to me.

It means having an honest dialogue with people. It means talking openly about trauma, addiction, suicide, homicide, rape, abuse, homelessness, mental illness, poverty, sexual deviance, criminal activity, racism, sexism, aging, illness, abortion, marriage equality, religious freedom, euthanasia, finances, issues related to military combat, and gender identity—among other topics. It means discussing these matters in the complete absence of judgement.

It means early mornings, late nights, and hours spent sitting next to someone who mostly cannot stand you in an emergency room, a food bank, or at the Department of Human Services. It means finding a bed bug crawling on your pants, having your car tire slashed in a dangerous neighborhood, and finding a needle in an unconscious person’s arm. It means watching two years of sobriety get washed down with cheap vodka or go up in smoke.

It means going to sleep on a cold night thinking about the people not lucky enough to have found shelter in time. It means waking up to learn about the man that died of hypothermia while you slept peacefully in a warm bed. It means someone jumped in front of a train, or hung himself in a forest, or shot himself in a parking lot.

It means no longer finding it strange when people talk to themselves, or talk to people you cannot see, or style their hair in front of a mirror that does not exist with an invisible curling iron. It means that a woman engaged in sex work will think you are competition and chase you out of an apartment complex.

It means that you will spend your day surrounded by the profound suffering, deep sorrow, and unbearable pain of others. It means acknowledging that many problems have absolutely no solution. It means accepting that not all people want, nor need, the help of a social worker.

It means accompanying a human that you never would have met had you chosen a different profession on their powerful life journey. It means building meaningful connection with resilient and fascinating individuals. It means the precious opportunity to learn from people very different than you. It means experiencing the struggle with someone who so generously trusts you. It means sitting quietly next to someone in a moment of hardship and realizing that you do not need words to feel someone’s intense gratitude for your presence.

It means watching someone unlock the front door of her new apartment after twenty years on the streets. It means being present for someone’s first step toward recovery. And all the missteps along the way. It means being lucky enough to show up for someone in need when no one else would. It means being a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.

It means learning to treasure success, however small. It means constantly seeking to uncover the inherent strengths of others. It means triumph and transformation. It means always keeping the faith and never giving up hope.

It means asking yourself, “who am I not to change the world?” It means believing that you can, and do, make a difference every single day.

Social work means getting to fully experience the vast richness and the strange, exquisite beauty found in the rawest parts of our human condition.

Check out “What Else It Really Means to be a Social Worker”

144 thoughts on “What It Really Means to be a Social Worker

  1. Thank you for bearing witness to the inherent joy and pain in life and making a difference every day.

      1. Its serious, sometimes funny, but most of all its real -its “LIFE”. It is as if l am looking through a Kaleidoscope!! My views are colored by my beliefs, core values, life experiences, and training. Social Workers always make a difference by virtue of the depth of knowledge. The best change agents I know.

        1. Nancy ~ I must be honest. To suggest that social work is a “noble profession” sounded very demeaning, condescending. It just is what we have chosen to do, as do every other person in this field. I do not know whether to thank you for that or not. Either way, have a good day!

          1. Trying to sum it up… For me… As A Social Workers… we are all actors and actresses all through the performance of our professions… we are all trying to be super heroes trying to portray all tjose super powers… to protect and rescue all the oppressed… the powerless…trying to find ways in order to make this planet a safet and beautiful world nit just for us but also for our children’s childten. but as the curtain rolled down… we also have our silent cries… which makes us more human beings. as we realized our weaknesses our longings to be also with pur kids and familied at all times and to deal with our own problems left hanging and haunting us…. witj questions like amystery to us. Which also makes us realize that no momattet how our achievements…our position in life.. we need to be himble… as there were no other morr powerful than a need for God to continue consulting him to enlighten us… to ontinue using us… as HIS Instrument to be a blessing to others….

          2. Thank you
            I am a Social Wirker and so were my parents. Although they did not have the degree that I do, (and encouraged me to get), they did have hard core experience. Although, I have choosen another profession in my life, I hold true to what being a Social Worker means to me, not only in the way of what I learned academically, but more so, in what my parents taught me…
            In honestly though, it can be rather.isolating at times, because not All people do understand, However the older I get the more I am able to bridge that gap by surrounding myself with people who Do understand. One last thought is that my future vision is to merge my two professions, a change that I look forward to making next year when I return to my country.
            Thank you for listening.

      2. A passion, not a career…to come into someone’s life and join them…sitting with parents of a dying baby, standing firm with an immigrant mother whose child is being remove d by CPS and trying to reassure her in broken Spanish; walking out of a patient’s room and five minutes later, the patient codes; looking up into a skylight in a psych unit’s safe room, coaxing calm an angry teen; holding the hand of a young woman getting a forensic exam by a nurse for sexual assault; confronting a nursing home about not accepting a patient with end stage AIDS; confronting racism in your hometown and being threatened; finding the grave of a young civil rights worker desacrated and spray painted; watching a patient with Huntington disease from your storefront mental health office walk downtown with uncontrolled movements, on his way to get groceries; catching a 13 year old teen cutting school and he sees you, does not run away but kisses you instead; hiding a young woman from a boyfriend who beats her and then comes to your office saying he has a “blade” and a hotline to God…you calmly call the police while he is in your waiting area; bringing medicine to a lady’s camper at a camp ground and a young Mexican immigrant gives you $20, saying in Spanish…”this is for more medicine”. This is social work in its purist form…it is a career that is not for the faint of heart…I could go on but I don’t want to burnout…I have done social work for 44 years and never regretted my choices. One walks the walk everyday

      3. I’m an LCSW and I periodically read this article when I need to recharge. Thank you for writing it and putting the passion behind the profession into words so beautifully.

    1. I am proud to call myself a social worker! I believe it is a calling, and I am grateful that I have been fortunate enough to heed my calling. It is my passion. Woot! Woot! to us all…We dare go to places those could not even fathom. Thanks for this….

    2. Thank you my sister, daily (well almost< I have doctors and nurses in my ER and throughout the hospital say, "how can you do that? i could never do your job." True, as I don't always know how I do it. Thank you. Good luck with that raise. Louis Diamond LCSW CADC

    3. Good social workers are hard to find..hope all social workers to be read this and follow, you can make or break people lifes

    4. When humanity awakens we realize at many points we wear the shoes. Anyone seeking to destroy keeps the work required. Therefore everyone desiring LIFE better wear the shoe. Ase

  2. Thank you for sharing your insight so eloquently. You and Christine both are exceptional young women – who make a difference each and every day. Thank goodness for people like you two!

  3. You see people at their lowest and have faith in their will and strength to overcome whatever challenges they are facing. Your belief in their success might be the only positive light in their lives, thank you for putting yourself in their path. As you’ve depicted, it’s fascinating work but also demanding of your own emotional energy. I could never imagine how any of your stories could turn a guy off, but I do get the buzz kill part.

  4. You described your profession in such a true and beautiful way! I am so honored to have a great social worker (you) as a friend and to be the mother of another one.

  5. This is absolutely perfect. Thank you for putting into words what is so difficult to describe.

    1. I was so touched by this blog and each of your remarks. I have been a social worker for 40 years and you described my experience beautifully! I too have used the word counsellor but have returned to social worker recently. We are to be celebrated for our caring and commitment. I honour you and send prayers as you continue your journey. I have retired and find ways to bring the same energy to my daily life with others I meet along the way. Blessed Be!

      1. A beautiful and caring testimony to self emptying service you offer to those who need it most.
        As a teacher of young children, I’m inspired by your dedication to the delicate people who need gentle loving support.
        Thank you to all social workers who care so deeply.
        Thanks Christina for sharing this, it is so inspiring.

  6. I use the word “counselor” to describe my occupation as a clinical social worker to avoid the stigma the label “social worker” carries. The “counselor” label is accurate for what I do, but it is insufficient in that it ignores the important advocacy and case management aspects of my work as a social worker. It is sad that there is so much ignorance about the social work profession, which is mostly about helping the very people society has turned a blind eye toward. For me, being a social worker means trying to show hope and acceptance for the homeless male with severe PTSD who is entering addiction rehab for the 20th time. I’m guessing 98% of social workers do not play any role in taking kids away from families. It just gets so old trying to correct misinformation about the profession for the umpteenth time. Thank you for this great article.

    1. Yes I have taken children from their families. And I am not ashamed of it. For, you see, it was a life or death matter. Whether it was a physical death or death of the spirit. Child removal should be absolute last resort and only after intense work with family. I am not ashamed that I have removed children from their homes.

      1. “Bonus? The bonus is that I won’t see them dead on the news in a couple of months, along with an outcry about why I didn’t do anything.”

        I suspect that a negative view of social workers and CPS closely correlates with crappy, though not necessarily abusive, parenting…

    2. I, too, worked in Child Welfare and had to remove chicken from their homes. It was heart breaking because the kids hardly ever want to leave, no matter how bad things were for them.
      It was also a job in which I learned a great deal about the system, about Forensic Interviewing, signs and symptoms of abuse and neglect… I could go on and on. For all of that, I am an empath and didn’t make it for one year. I still get those same “steal people’s kids” comments, and even had one person ask what the bonus was for each kid we removed. Answering that was an exercise in self control!

  7. You have beautifully described the profession that I have loved and lived for the past 30 years! Our one character fault, as a profession, is that we just do the work and we do not celebrate and market ourselves. This is why the vast majority are unaware of all that we do. Other professions (doctors, lawyers, etc.) make sure they have a public presence. We should do the same.

  8. As a social worker I so appreciate this article. You are so on point. As I walk out this journey I understand that this is where I was meant to be. Thanks for sharing 😊

  9. I love this piece, and I love being a social worker. Thank you for your words. They are so true, and on point. I work in private practice now as a therapist, but my heart and soul is and will always remain that of a social worker.

  10. I have worked with social workers over the past thirty years and it means to me “that I do not have an opinion””that I am immature”I could go on for A long time there is also A very dark side to social work.

    1. I am a social worker and I agree. Most are so overworked and it takes a toll on them over time. The lack of time they have to truly help and be there for someone is sad. They can be very dismissive, callous, controlling and disrespectful. You the client come to be seen as a “problem”. Very unfair. These social workers are not writing articles. Truly committed career social workers are uncommon in my opinion. It is like a tour of duty. People need a break from it, but it’s how you pay your bills so you have to show up no matter how much you can’t stand it.

      1. With this attitude, it sounds like you may be a touch burnt out and/or in need of a job change (try a new agency/organization/population).

      2. Thank you for your honesty. This has been my experience with social workers and it makes me sad. I adopted my niece and it was a truly terrifying experience dealing with the social worker on my case and also the multiple other workers involved. It’s hard to think how many children and families have and will cross the path of these same workers. They were all very careless, controlling and some of the most dishonest people I have ever met. I feel in their profession it NEEDS to be the opposite of that. I voiced and was heard but no one cared.

  11. My wife sent me the link and I’m really glad she did. It’s really hard to put it all into words what being a social worker is. You did it amazingly.

    Before and after receiving my MSW, I was around at risk youth for 10 years. But I never got my license. I couldn’t hack it. I’d like to revisit it at some time, but, back then I couldn’t bear the burdens, couldn’t not take it home. I tired out after what felt like swimming upstream for a long time. It’s a really hard world out there. And so easy to feel so small.

    Keep doing what you’re doing. The world needs it.

  12. You described me. Folks just don’t UNDERSTAND 😀 I Love what I do. It gives me the opportunity to Live, Love and Let Live Unconditionally. Thank You. .Dee

  13. Social workers are God’s special angels on Earth. I’m very proud of my daughter, Cate Leonard, who is not only an outstanding social worker but the most loving and compassionate woman I know. When everyone else in the world let’s you down, that special person will always be there for you. They are not paid the same salaries as doctors and lawyers but they are the people who make change happen! My daughter is my role model and she always will be! I love you to the moon and back, girl!

  14. You described all the joys of my 41 years of social work before I remarried and left the city…I did not anticipate the difficult side of retiring from this passion, when I retired after working 31 years. Therfore I continued to work for anther 10 years…Then witin another year I began working(volunteering) to establish a community food pantry in a small rural town and have managed that with other volunteers for the past 6 years. I love it, because money means nothing. The value is the reward of empowering others and I plan to maintain this “work” as long as I am physically able to do so. My philosophy and suggestion to younger people is to find a life work that you truly love and it does not, or rarely ever actually feels like work…Take care…

  15. As a MSW student I look forward to the lifestyle and profession of a social worker. It’s definitely not a job for the faint of heart. It’s not very glamorous either, for who would want to attend to someone who the world has turn its back on, or be somewhere where others have given up and left? Social workers do and they do it willingly and enthusiastically hoping to make a difference in someone’s life. This is one of the most underpaid and unrecognized careers but it is so rewarding when you realize that someone has found a warm bed and hot meal for the day, or that someone has a fighting chance to see another day, or an entire community have a safe kids playground because of your advocacy. I may not have my license yet but I’m already a social worker at heart.

  16. Thank you for reminding me why I chose this profession. This was exactly what I needed right now, at this moment, to keep moving forward. Once again, THANK YOU!!

  17. As a newly licensed social worker who performs forensic interviews at a child advocacy center….thank you so much for writing this beautiful and poignant post. I’ve printed it out to keep in my “self care” packet.

    1. the confidentiality of social work does not allow depictions of what we really do, and I think that is the major block to having the rest of the world understand what social work is. Until the day they need it, or a relative needs it, they might not get it. So videos and clips are unrealistic for the most part, unfortunately.

  18. Have you ever thought about including a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is fundamental and everything. However imagine if you added some great graphics or videos to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with images and video clips, this website could undeniably be one of the very best in its niche. Superb blog!

  19. I have dealt with social workers due to my son and his school and the wild tales he likes to tell. They did come out and were very nice and found nothing to be concerned about because they spoke openly to my son and to me. I respect the work they do and in my own profession, I have had to make reports to AP’S and CPS.

  20. Thank you for this in depth look at what we do, where we do it and why. Recently retired after 37 years in the field, I often felt at a loss in attempting to explain my work to friends and family. You hit 99% of it in such wonderfully descriptive ways – thank you! I think the 1% that was so important to me – so important for self care and avoiding burnout – was and is – a very strong sense of humour – An ability to laugh, especially at myself and an ability to ‘get over myself’. Self awareness and humor allowed me to do the work – through all the pain, suffering, frustration and joy of the work. Blessings to all of you!

  21. The hardest part of all is convincing people you can help them, when they have been through every system and exhausted from doing so. It’s hard to get them to believe in anyone again!!!

  22. It’s hard, perhaps impossible, to explain all the things that social workers do, or what it is to be a social worker. But for those of us called to it, It is the only choice and the most fulfilling choice we can make. Helping people to figure out what they want and need, and then being there again and again to assist them to achieve their goals, and celebrating each small success, and enduring the setbacks (and inspiring the hope to keep going), that’s both the job and the reward.

  23. “It means acknowledging that many problems have absolutely no solution.” the truest source of my burn out. I love being a social worker and I have found so much joy in what I do, but some days I just feel lost and exhausted.

    1. I worked as a Social Worker/family counselor for Child Protective Services for 25 years. This blog described perfectly the dedication I felt to each and every family whose lives I was priviliged to enter. Now that I am retired, I still have thoughts of them that occasionally swirl around in my head. It was so difficult to explain to others the challenges of this profession and still is, but I still use those skills in interactions with others and probably will for the rest of my life. Thank you to you all for your honesty. As I read what you have each shared here, I feel such a sense of community with you!

    2. Social work is one of the most challenging and rewarding careers. Every day we get to make some type of impact in people’s lives. It has taught me humility in such a way it is hard to describe. I love being a social worker and truly believe it is a calling.

  24. I just loved the article. It pretty much described what social workers do in addition to so much more. I’m proud of my chosen career, best profession for me because I’m passionate & proud to serve in the field of helping others. Social Worker for life! Loved, loved the article ❤️

  25. Thank you! Well said. It is also accepting that people who don’t understand your work, “Don’t want to hear about it.”

  26. Hey, we love our fellow human beans. And we know the system is broken and broken people cannot fight it. It’s an honorable profession and not all bad–lots of fun and joy.

  27. Blessings for sharing this. I’ve had the good fortune of interacting with many social workers who have made it to my training program on pursuing resources for nonprofits. Would that there were many, many more in our midst who could attest to theirbexperience of and love for a noble profession.

  28. After working over 35 years in social work in all the various fields I could not have described it better. Beautifully written. Thank you!

  29. I’ve been a social worker for 33 years. I have loved the work I have been able to do during these years. While I have sometimes regretted decisions or actions I’ve made as a Social Worker, I’ve never regretted my choice of profession. It is often hard work but I truly feel blessed that I get to go to work and try to make the world a better place.

  30. Basically in a nutshell, a modern day priest, with a secular-humanist outlook on reality. 🙂

  31. A truly noble profession and a calling. To believe something is possible when the world so often is quick to discount and disconnect from those who need us to believe…in them and in ourselves! Thanks for making the world a better place Social Workers!

  32. Some years ago I lost track of my daughter and was told to expect a visit from Social Services. Many people told me to “Be careful. Those people will find any excuse in the world to take her away from you.” The day came and we had our visit. The lady was very nice and, toward the end of the interview, she said, “Have you considered counselling?” I said, “I’m happy to undergo any counselling you recommend.” “No,” she said, “I meant would you be willing to counsel? I think you’d be good at it.” Social workers are the good guys.

  33. There’s a note to police officers making the rounds on Facebook. I sure don’t disagree with much of what it says. Many officers are upstanding, hard-working public servants:

    But they are not the only ones. There’s another group that works long hours in dangerous settings with pretty much no recognition: child protective service social workers. So I wrote this in response:

    “Dear social worker: I want you to know that I see you. I see you as you go from house to house with no badge, gun, radio or back-up, to talk to people about the violence that may be occurring there. I see you talking to people even-handedly so that even if they have hurt their children, they will want you to come back and help them learn to be more loving parents. I see you struggling with mounds of paperwork after hours so you will have more time during the day to spend with the real people who really need you. I see you accepting low pay and limited benefits so you can continue your labor of love. I see you doing your job in spite of the limited resources you have to bring to people in genuine need, while millions of dollar’s worth of boats sit idle, month by month, at the nearest marina. I see you taking hard-earned dollars out of your own pocket to buy that Halloween costume, those school supplies, or that dental work for the child whose parents can’t. I see you brushing fleas off your clothing so they won’t hitch a ride into your car and your home. I see you finding the time to go to the soccer game, the church choir concert, or the high school graduation of some child no one else ever thought would make it that far. I see you teaching your own children to be grateful for all the blessings they enjoy. And doing all this with less public awareness or acclaim than police, firefighters, or military personnel, because social work is your calling and you could do no less. I see all this because I’ve been right there by your side for 40 years, sharing the laughter, the strain, the fear, the anger, the hardship and the joy.” – Bruce R. Arnold, DSW, LCSW

    I posted this on Facebook, but thought it was worth passing along.

  34. Thank you – this is beautiful. And this is why social work is not a job, it’s an attitude, a guiding philosophy. I left working as a social worker in the practical sense 10 years ago, but I will always be a social workers.
    And yes, 98% of social workers do not take children away from their parents. The ones that do are working for a system that requires that role from them, they don’t do it out of meanness or spite. They do it because children are in need of protection. It’s probably the hardest job you could have in social work and that’s why I never did it. The profession needs to support those who are in those very difficult positions.

  35. I’ve have never been so stressed out in my life as a child welfare social worker, but it’s important work and we need dedicated social workers to do it!!! We’re unique professionals who work in so many areas to help and that’s what’s so awesome about us!!!!

  36. 16 years as a Social Worker and I would not change it. I have seen things and heard things that have scarred me mentally and emotionally. I have seen humans at their lowest. I have also seen individuals that have risen above all expectations and have taken my breath away at their strenth, determination, hope, and love. During my journey as a Social Worker, I have done CPS, substance abuse, adult mental health, Private counseling, and I am currently working with incarcerated adult male sex offenders (try that for a conversation killer). I may not be financially rich, but I am rich in other ways that I would not be had I gone into a different profession. Over the last 16 years, when asked what I do, I am proud to answer “I’m a Social Worker”!!!!!!!!!

  37. “who am I not to change the world” Indeed. I liked this post much better after reading it the second time. What I thought about was the second time was hearing colleagues who are not social workers say that we seem to express ourselves in terms that sound “too…” idealistic.” I think was the word. Might as well said “unprofessional”. That may have been in the next, unspoken sentence. Sometimes its a request to edit, amend, or change tone. Sometimes its a thinly veiled criticism that we are acting more like “advocates” than we should. Here’s what I’ve observed as someone who has some seniority in the field. The more frequently that “more experienced” people DO act like advocates from their positions, the more its appreciated by senior level colleagues to hear frankness and directness in professional exchanges. I’m as guilty as anyone on not being direct with my words– but if I’m “accused” of being “passionate” at this point–I’ll brush off my shoulders and keep acting like the social worker I am.

  38. My 27 year old daughter is a social worker.She graduated 2012, and has had 2 jobs. In a jail preparing them for the outside new life ,and now as a drug coordinator in court.
    She gets into ruts and swears she needs to find other career. Her cell ringing in the middle of the night,while on vacation. I eveon heard her helping the mother of an inmate while she was here for my dad,her poppys, funeral.
    But then,a few weeks later she calls all excited because found this young girl a bed in a halfway house,and she didn’t have to go to jail. The happiness in her voice tells me that this is what she was meant to do.

  39. Thirty four years of giving huge pieces of myself to others and accepting whatever they could or couldn’t give back helped me to learn to accept the smallest possible changes in others and in myself. One of the most noble professions yet completely mis-understood but each of us knows in our hearts what we have given. It is God’s work and certainly not for the faint of heart. Try saying you are a Hospice Social Worker and see what happens. I did that for the last 12 years and now I am content working with fibers and putting my needs first. Bravo to all who share the profession.

  40. As an aspiring Social Worker (currently in Uni) I thank you for this article. I feel it is an honest representation of all that I want to be.
    When I tell people I am studying to be a Social Worker, most people give a horrified look and then ask me why I’d want to do that? I tell them because I see both the struggle and the strength within people and in my own small way, I want to help. Human beings are amazing. Sometimes they’re selfish and (to be frank) stupid, but other times they show unbelievable courage and just need someone to be there for them.

  41. Guess I can’t quite relate tho the first sentence considering I’m a heterosexual male social worker haha. Oh well, guess that’s the stigma of social work lol female-dominated profession. The rest of it was pretty spot on. 🙂

  42. Very well stated. Telling someone you are a hospice social worker has a way of killing any chance of being known as a regular human, between “You must be an angel” & “That has to be so depressing” somewhere lies the truth.

  43. Lately, I’ve been struggling with some early signs of burnout. I’ve been searching for these words, how to vocalize to my family– what is, the essence of a social worker. I can’t wait to show this to them, I think then they’ll truly understand what I do. Thank you! Keep spreading hope!

  44. Thanks for your insight! I just stumbled upon this article and I have my orientation tomorrow for my MSW program.

  45. After 25 years of Social Work I took early retirement. As I am now letting go of Social Work I can now see much more of what I have actually been involved in all those years. It is a privilege to be able to get to know people in this way. At the same time the job can play havoc on your health. Look after yourselves guys.

  46. I sat and cried last night reading this because I have a social worker in my unit who had a meltdown yesterday, this was her second one in 2 months. I don’t think she’s going to make it- and it would be a loss to our profession.
    I am lucky who is there for me on bad days and on those good days. And you are so right we do not have jobs that make for interesting conversation unless people who have passion and compassion are interested.
    Today a student intern who will be with me for her BSW for the year; her new enthusiasm will hopefully give my staff what they need to keep them going..will rekindle the flame of burn out.
    Thank you..

  47. This is really beautiful. I never knew exactly what social workers do, and I think this entry gave me the clearest picture of it. Thanks!

  48. Your comments of how people don’t understand and don’t know how to react reminded me of a story. I used to work as a social worker with women who were on parole. On day, my sister was coming to visit from out of town. I had to work my group that night and then was going to meet my sister at my home when she got into town. I was late and came rushing home and said something like ‘I’m so sorry, one of my women was having a hard time. She just went to the bathroom but then she locked herself in there and we were worried that she was going to hurt herself but she didn’t but we had to get her out of there because if she missed her curfew she would violate her parole and go back to jail and she missed her ride and I didn’t want her to miss curfew so me and my co-worker had to take her back to the halfway house…..so that’s why I’m late.’ All perfectly normal explanation of a work day for me but when I finished I saw my sister was staring at me like I was from Mars. Then I remember that this isn’t a normal work day for most people and sounds rather scary. It’s hard to find people who can relate.

  49. I must say I not only felt emotional upon reading this but I am also reminded why I have decided to embark on becoming a social worker at this point in my life. Being a first-year student at the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work, I already sense that I am in an atmosphere of those who are truly devoted to empowerment and making a difference. I am in awe of the faculty, staff and other students who share their insight about this profession. One cannot help being inspired!

  50. Yes!!! I’ve had the conversation killer episode SO many times! This brought tears to my eyes and made me laugh out loud. I left real estate to become a social worker, and what an adventure it has been. Bearing witness, being present, supporting without judgment…all intangibles to explain and an art, skill and craft all rolled up in one. After more than 2 decades, I am still in awe of the trust that clients and patients place in me when they take that leap of faith to work together with a complete stranger prior to whatever brought them to me. It’s a great privilege. When I’m asked what I’d do if I won the lottery, I actually say, “I’d be a social worker.”

  51. My daughter, who is a Social Worker, posted your article on FaceBook. She is under 30, a wife, a new mom of a 2 week old, and has taken on the responsibility of many, many children in the short 5 years she has been in her profession. She has tried over the years to explain just what she does, and we understand, mostly. But this just helps put it all in perspective. The late nights, the on call, the calls during family get-togethers, her ability to find the good in someone and help them find it also. Thank you so much for this post.

  52. Check, check, and check! I was a social worker for 32 years. It was challenging, rewarding, taxing, exhilarating, frustrating, and uplifting. What a way to make a dime! You hit it right on the proverbial head!

  53. I always say I am a supervisor for a non profit working with abused and neglected kids👍🏻. If they ask more I explain I oversee caseworkers who provide parents/caregivers services to address the issues that led to our involvement in the hopes of getting the kids back home. They do ask if we take the kids from homes and I explain that the shetiff’s officr does that and we get the case after that and our job is to try to get the kids home safely

  54. I’m a former foster child… I now work for the group I lived in four years ago.
    Social work is so commonly mistaken for as a job for someone who is evil, or likes to see people suffer. When in fact it is for the exact opposite. You need to be strong, and let’s not forget orginized! Thank you for your work. I’d love to talk to you. My email is [email protected]

    1. If you click on “ABOUT THE BANSHEE” at the top of this page, there is a little blurb about this blog. at the bottom of that page is a picture of the artist, and these words: “Banshee banner courtesy of this beauty, Ms. Morgan Angel.”

  55. The painting at the top of your post is beautiful, but it isn’t credited and I’m having trouble finding the artist through image search. Could you credit them?

    Your writing was also gorgeous and thank you for helping people outside of social work understand why we do what we do.

  56. Hi there,

    I appreciate what you say about the real life experience of being a social worker. It sheds light on a profession that is so often misrepresented and misunderstood. I would like to take issue with one sentence you wrote, however. “It means talking openly about trauma, addiction, suicide, homicide, rape, abuse, homelessness, mental illness, poverty, sexual deviance, criminal activity, racism, sexism, aging, illness, abortion, gay marriage, religious freedom, euthanasia, finances, issues related to military combat, and gender identity—among other topics.” I find lumping “gay marriage” and gender identity in with a long list of really terrible things that can happen to a person to be in very poor taste and perpetuates bigotry. While your intention was likely to illustrate that social workers are often confronted with hard to talk about subjects, I found the association to be harmful.

    Thank you for your insights and perhaps this comment will help you to amend the sentence to be more LGBTQ-friendly and affirming.
    P.S. marriage equality is a much more friendly phrase than gay marriage.

  57. What is Social Work?

    Social work deals with social problems, causes and solutions for individuals, families and groups. Its main concerns are human rights and social justice. On a grander scale, social work looks at the well being of society. That’s my opinion.


    As soon as the word “Field” is added…i get a completely different image in my mind. When i hear the word field, I picture a wide open space – with grass, lots of room to play. Now i see players. Its a game field…but what is this game?

    “To get through life comfortably with as little problems as possible”

    There are many players and few coaches and trainers. Team captains play on the field and give direction to the other players. Coaches and trainers are on the side lines to give instruction during shift change and come up with new strategies. There is also a doctor on the side lines who can help repair an injured player and get them back into the game. There are referees who try and make sure there is “fair play”, however, there are so few referees that they cant see all the foul play.

    On the Field of Social Work – I’m a Player; team Captain. Not only do i get to play the game, but i also get to speak with the officials and give direction to the team. I know how to play the game. I understand most of the rules and Yes I sometimes get called on foul play…however, the game is a learning experience. I’ve been on many playing fields. The rules change, the goals change, even the ball changes, however the game is still the same. And I’m a Natural

    Hmm. penalties – I played football most of my life, and now I’m playing soccer…i still get instinctive urges to tackle, however, the more i play soccer, the less instinctive this urge becomes

    The “Field” of Social Work – a Players Perspective

    Capitain Peter

  58. Is it possible to have your essay printed in teeny tiny font on a business card so I can hand it to people and say, “Wait, ready this first and then we can chat” ? – because this is who I AM.

  59. Very well stated! I think if more people had the opportunity to see and experience what we do in this field, more people would be kinder, more understanding and less judgemental human beings.

    I hear so many people being fixated on how they believe people who are impoverished, disabled, mentally ill, drug addicted, etc. are abusing the system, freeloading on benefits, are lazy and not hardworking.

    In my 10 years (so far) working in various sectors of social work, from impatient behavioral health and community mental health to vocational rehabilitation, I can say that it is rare that I see people who seem to trying to “work the system.” Once and a great while, I may see someone who gives that impression, but even then, there is usually a reason or situation behind it and these people still aren’t making ends meet.

    So I think people that don’t see and experience what we get to, have an inaccurate perception and assumptions about how entitlements work and are accessed, as well as the people that need to use them. There are so many hoops that people have to jump through, and these are people that usually aren’t able to fully understand and navigate the incredibly complicated system independently. And to top it off they are often treated like garbage by people at those agencies.

  60. As a BSW, SSW, this resonated deeply.
    My clients have schizophrenia and I have learned that most of them are beautiful people that are much more than their mental illness. Also my clients are very misunderstood and stereo typed, this compounded with mental illness makes day to day living quite difficult.

  61. Effing Love the post! I am also a social worker. I love what you say about the connections we make with people by virtue of being in their lives. Yeah, us social workers are good at that connecting stuff. Something I learned in graduate school, in my social work education that to this day blows my mind, is that you can be a mediocre social worker and have an amazing connection with a client \0/ or you can be a highly skilled/educated/experienced social worker, yet lack that strong connection with your client —- and the former scenario will be the one that carries the day. I love that.
    I am SO AWARE of the truth of this wisdom.
    You GO Banshee!

  62. WE serve the hated and feared. For the past too many years I have worked as a Crisis Worker in a hospital Emergency Room. The difference between us and medical staff in caring for people with mental illness, alcoholics and addicts can be stark. That’s where I hear the phrase that pays , “I couldn’t do your job.” So B, take heart. You will go to heaven. Every day, you touch someone in a way you’ll never expect and often not know. People you saw once five years ago will come up to you on the street and thank you. You know your value and worth. and you get to laugh about things that other people would want to lock you up for, or at least move away from you on the bus. You’re great and I don’t even know you.

  63. What a wonderful summation of what it means to be a social worker! We are everywhere one needs to be, when needed. For those that I know, it is a calling, and there is no other way to be.

  64. Love this so much!! As a social worker thank you for posting such an accurate portrayal of letting the world know what we do and why we do it!

  65. As I finish my MSW I am in a bit of a panic about re-entering the world as a social worker, so I cannot thank you enough for this writing. As I read it I realized… no, I REMEMBERED… I’ve ALWAYS been a social worker, it’s just that now I’ll have the credential and the privilege, to act. Not feeling as panicked anymore!

  66. Great post! I appreciate the vivid image of social worker’s role as one who is present and empathetic with the individual (client), so much so that one can partake in their joys and pain. I’d also like to add our role as one who empowers others. It’s what drew me to this field– the ability to guide someone through a greater/deeper understanding of ‘self.’ The ability to build someone up to achieve greater self-efficacy. In tandem with this role, the ability to create a space where ‘safety’ is felt, such that an individual is willing to engage in such a journey. The role of a social worker is a beautiful thing.

  67. Thanks for your eloquent description of my profession. I laughed & cried reading it. I have learned through the years , if I want to enjoy myself at a party with non-social workers, when asked what I do for s living, I quickly say healthcare & change the subject. Lol

  68. I just found this earlier this evening and it is now almost 5 a.m. the following morning and I have read and reread this article while shedding some tears along the way. I am the mother of a social worker and I have been so proud of him all his life, but now, there are not enough words in the English language too tell him how proud I am of him. I just want to put my arms around him and show him my love and support, but we live many miles apart and I’m not sure when I will see him again. So, Nick, if you are reading this, just remember how much I love and respect you and if you ever start feeling the least burned out, YOU KNOW WHERE I LIVE!!! I am always here for you, just like you have been for me, if you will just share whatever is on your heart. I probably can’t help much but just listen but I have always been interested in what you are doing as a Social Worker but I NEVER dreamed it was so intense, until I read all of this. God bless every Social Worker out there!! I am so proud of each and every one of you!!

  69. This is a wonderful article and so accurate too. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experinces. I have been a social worker for 34 years and did Child welfare for 30 years and now working in Education. It is diifult to explain to people in general what exactly we do because so many other professional really think that they can do it. Our profession is not well understood and therefore not well accepted. It takes special training, knowledge and skills to do this work to be able to keep moving forward. It takes a tole on your physical, mental, and emotional health however I would never do anything else. I am proud to call myself a social worker☺️☺️

  70. I just finished my training to be a guardian, and this voice of support couldn’t have come at a better time!

  71. Great piece. 25 yrs of social work include the constant wear and tear on your own soul, and the constant pursuit of real truth no matter how awful and heart wrenching.

  72. All of the comments are so relevant and genuinely felt. I don’t know what other job I would want to do besides social work. It’s messy, gritty, honest, no frills, but human, sensitive, respectful and real. And, more often than not satisfying and follfilling when all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

  73. Very impressive. Every day the world gets up. Commercial radio puts on a light & breezy tone as we get our coffee, drive to work and do what we do. On the surface there prevails the image that everything is working fine- ask most people how they are and the auto answer tends to be “All good, all good.” However, reality is not that simple. Life is great, however for many its tough. Thus the importance of the above article & comments. There exists some perplexing inconsistency as funding, airtime, prestige & recognition is generally reserved for a handful of political/business elite and their projects- candidates latest squabble or Apple’s new trinket. Where is the truly arduous, required and rewarding work being done- in places & by people as discussed in this very article on social work.

  74. This vocation, we call social work, is at times the most taxing. Yet, it is also very rewarding. Thank you for your words, they enlighten, encourage, and inspire…

  75. So spot on! The only thing left to say is, while everyone else can talk frankly about their jobs and how their day went… REALLY…We can’t. We can’t tell our family why or where we worked at night or on weekends or whatnot. The real reason why we were late for supper or the school play. Why we seem distant or overwhelmed …. since we can’t talk about what happened in case someone might put 2 & 2 together which is a BIG faux pas. So people close to us have a major contract and must be as understanding as we are. There ya go…yup…that’s about it in a nut shell. Ouuuuu…one more thing. When we crave alone time or off the grid time??? We are not… I repeat… NOT in a bad mood. We are just trying to compartmentalize things in our heads and in our hearts in order for us to keep doing what we do!

  76. Sometimes in social circumstances I want to say “I sell vacuum cleaners”. Mostly because I have a long history of breaking them, but also because of the general public response. You are right on point.

  77. You are so good at what you do. Thank you for not only changing the lives of those you work with but also the lives of the people you choose to surround yourself with.

  78. As Social Worker for many years I worked with multiple populations in multiple settings. I want to Thank You for this moving and poignant article.

  79. Nailed it! As a fundraiser for human services, I must admit, I do what I do every day because you do what you do. Thank you for the sacrifices you make to nurture and care for people with the greatest needs. The lightbulb moments you facilitate are amazing and I honor you for it. God bless you.

  80. I needed to read this today. Thank you. It is truly inspirational to know that we are not alone because sometimes it feels like carrying the world on our shoulders. We are awesome because of what we all do whether it is understood or not. It truly is a calling and no matter what my days bring, good or bad, i would not change it. Thank you for these words and thank you all for your dedication to this amazing, exhausting, relentless field of work!!

  81. Definitely a noble profession. I am a social worker and as a spiritual care worker I work alongside many social workers.

  82. thanks for this! I really needed this today -feeling pretty low about my work. I am a forensic social worker, and sometimes it can feel pretty lonely and desolate. I work with individuals who are involved in the criminal justice system, and it is difficult to sit with the challenging situations these individuals come from. Yet, it is a privilege to be allowed to explore their lives alongside them & discuss ways in which they might have done things differently, and how to continue to find meaning and hope in their future.
    Thanks again!

  83. Pingback: Tamica Kjetland
  84. Thanks for pointing out that doing social work means building meaningful connections with people who are resilient and fascinating. I’ve been considering pursuing a career because I think it would help my life become more fulfilling. I’m glad I read your article because you helped me see why pursing social work licensing would be a really great option for me!

  85. My ex-husband was a social worker – what a joke he was. He himself was not a nice person.. he abused me and my child. He dunk my child’s head in the river because he was splashing… he was like 6. He picked my child up by the feet and held him over the boat. I wish I would have called the police…. he would no longer be a social worker. Glad he is my ex.. I heard other bad stories about them. Sometimes they don’t have the best interest in children.

  86. Wow. I cannot express how wonderfully you have put into words the thoughts that run through my mind and heart as a social worker. Well done, lady. Deepest appreciation.

  87. You are so lucky to be in this profession. Many professions are tough but you have the chosen the one that allows you to see the impact you can make on other peoples lives as you are assisting them. It’s called instant gratification. This is well put.

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