Sunday, November 25, 2012

Why it's Sometimes Hard to Relate to Non-Social Workers

I don't think it's uncommon for professionals in a given field to find it easier to relate to one another rather than to outsiders. Insiders understand better challenges and frustrations of their work. For an insider the job is not necessarily idealized or reviled (burnout put aside) as it may be from the outside. Social work may bring out intense reactions from non social worky people (i.e. heroic figure or baby snatcher).

It is easy to lose yourself in conversation with social workers or case managers and talk about work. For you and them the system is fairly familiar (i.e. public aid or social security). They know the terminology. Venting with a fellow professional will not need a big set up. They tend to get it. They have similar challenges in working with providers, both state/city or even other providers. It is easier to talk about difficulties in working with clients. It may be easier to talk about how the system needs an overhaul.. Even if the social worker you are talking to may have a different opinion.

And as far as challenging situations go, social workers are more likely to understand my situation as a case manager who works with people from tough backgrounds who have fixed incomes, see their daily struggles and how lack of options detrimentally affect their lives, and know that in a lot of ways I'm limited in how I'm able to support them. And social workers want to understand the big picture, how the US social system/policies or lack of them may perpetuate poverty and discrimination in certain ways.

Another aspect that keeps drawing me to social work is professionals' awareness of the fact people operate within environments, not vacuums. Family, socio economic background, one's background are a few factors that influence a person's choices. How do you relate to fellow social workers as a social worker or someone outside the field?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Don't Say "I Know" to a Client

Most of us know this, through advice from another case manager or through having said it to a client ourselves. "I know" being a response to a client talking about a personal and difficult situation, like living in an apartment that's in a poor condition. No, I don't completely know what it's like.

I have said "I understand" in the past but I've been told by a coworker that this may be tricky too because I don't really understand a situation. I mean it more as a I understand where (client) is coming from.

Really though, if I have been in a similar situation to a client, would it still make sense to say I know? Even if I do know what it feels like, would that be helpful? Apart from the fact that some of us may not respond to the same situation, i.e. crisis, in the same way. Though I do think to a degree it may make a client think that the person she's working with does know what she's going through and so respects her more, platitudes only go so far. It's important to acknowledge how a client is feeling, but I've spoken about how venting sessions eventually become unhelpful to a client too. It's also not what case management is about ultimately. We're not therapists. Our goal is to support the client to address her problem (and encourage this to do this on her own). Though the method may not always be a smooth one. (It wouldn't be as much fun if it was, right?)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Clients' Issues are Typically Complex

I've been trying to practice more self-compassion, having realized that I'm fairly tough on myself when it comes to doing my job. See my pacing posts, most aptly the last one I wrote. I want to be able to support my clients and get frustrated at myself when I'm not able to help them solve their challenge as quickly as I would like or when I fail to have a straightforward solution. I thought about this recently and considered something -- the fact that clients' issues and challenges are often complex. If they were simple, my clients wouldn't need the degree of outside support they need. Complex issues may need a step by step approach. Clients need to follow through on the joint plan between them and the case manager. And in situations when, for example, a client shows up 3 months behind rent, and is already being taken to court, a case manager's approach is different (read support is more limited) than if the client showed up the first month he got behind. Our clients need to be accountable to a degree for their choices. As case managers we do the best we can, and at the same time hold our clients accountable for their choices (considering the circumstances they made the choices in, but it's ultimately positive to hold our clients accountable).

This post is to all case managers who set high standards of the support they provide to clients.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Pacing, a Success

A client came in to see me earlier this week and laid out in length how things have been going with her and her mom for the past month. Benefit issues, housing challenges, legal questions. A lot may happen in a month. Most of the issues she brought up we would absolutely be able to collaborate on but not in one session. I need to fight back this impulse that still lurks in the back of my mind, tempting me to look into a pool of challenges and issues and look back at my client and say, OK, *deep breathe*, let's jump in. And swim around trying to grab at as many challenges as possible to tackle them in one session...... But it's just not practical. And this way it gets harder to remember how to prioritize what needs to get done first.

I listened and took down notes while my client talked. I asked her what she wanted to work with me on for our session. "I want to find a new doctor that accepts Medicare," she said, a topic that she interestingly had not brought up yet. We prioritized what she wanted to get done from what she had talked about. And talked about how to get her a doctor.

I was glad I that I was able to stay in the big picture mindset. My client and I knew what she wanted to get done and knew what the game plan was. Though the game plan may change and priorities may also, putting some structure keeps things organized.

To a happy, healthy, laughter filled new year and one where we challenge ourselves and one another. Throw some love in there too.