Monday, May 25, 2009

A bit about my case management job

In my day job I'm a case manager.* After college I expected to find a job where I could write -- something I've consistently loved doing. Case management came as a surprise, because while I like people -- at least, the concept of people -- working intensely with them was not work I expected I'd do well, if for reasons of being introverted or because I never had the opportunity to try it so I didn't know what to expect.

I work with people who are vulnerable, often come from underprivileged backgrounds and many have recognized or unrecognized (by themselves or the state) mental or physical disabilities. In the past two years of doing this job, I've learned extremely useful skills -- diplomacy, which in this context means using non offensive descriptive words to describe people's situations. Some may call this being politically correct -- I don't think this is the right word. A simple example is not to say 'homeless person', but 'person experiencing homelessness', but it can be terms that are less subtle than that.

A case manager doesn't tell other people how to live; at least, that's not the goal. It's more about empowerment, something I find extremely rewarding. To guide a person to realize her worth and support a person when she doesn't have someone else in her life. Sometimes I joke with my coworkers that, God forbid, we'll have a supportive person like that should we be in a similar situation.

This work has also made me reconsider systems of mental health and treatment, specifically mental health institutions. The idea of bringing tens or hundreds of mentally ill people together. It's not surprising that an environment like that is not conducive to healing mental illness. It's comfortable for the rest of us when the 'crazies' are hidden away from us. I'm not sure what the alternative to mental health institutions would be -- and sure, I understand the hesitancy of putting people who are ill and violent with the 'normal' folks but there has to be a better way to deal with mentally ill without hiding them from society.

For more about the nitty gritty details of my work, see my post:
Homelessness prevention and emergency assistance

*Originally this line read "I'm essentially a social worker without the Social Work degree." I wrote this because I sometimes explain what I do by saying I'm a social worker; people recognize more clearly what that means as opposed to saying case manager. I don't presume to have the academic background of a social worker, but I expect I share similar duties with many social workers.

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