To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, “Social Work helps the arc of the moral universe bend toward a better society.” Social Workers stand up every day for the disenfranchised, the abused, the homeless, the sick, the broken, the dying, the healing, the rejected, the fatherless and the stranger. Social workers are over 600,000 strong in the US alone, and yet, their work so often goes unnoticed and undervalued in society. I have said it before but it bears repeating – every one of us has either been directly, or had a loved one benefited by the care and compassion of a Social Worker!
Social Work is a profession that is quite broad, diverse, and offers a variety of settings, roles and services to those who share one common value: to help those in need. I really don’t know of any other profession that is as involved in addressing the needs of human beings--across the life cycle--and in so many diverse ways. From birth to death, Social Workers are there to provide the critical support one may need at any moment in time.
Here are 10 characteristics or traits that I believe Social Workers embody, making them the Personification of Caring.
One, the most important characteristic of every Social Worker is their Empathy. Social Workers are able to walk in the shoes of their clients without being repulsed by the most painful or horrific of circumstances, but rather, transcend them to provide genuine care, support, guidance or whatever it takes to bring comfort and direction. Empathy is the primary vehicle for effective human to human connection.
Two, Patience dwells in the hearts of Social Workers to a degree much greater than for most. The process of change can be slow and a real roller coaster of ups, downs, setbacks and slow progression. Plus, humans are very complex and can be very challenging. Patience is a critical element of Social Work success, the ability to assiduously wait out the change process, allowing time to work it’s magic.
Three, Integrity is an essential ingredient in developing the client trust Social Workers must have to be successful in their efforts. Braided together with dependability, honesty and deference, integrity builds strong client relationships and respect. Social Worker Integrity is doing things the right way, which is an invaluable tool in breaking down defenses and barriers, and opening doors to success!
Four, being Organized will help anyone succeed, but for Social Workers it is particularly important. I view Social Work as being like a master juggler, handling multiple issues, responsibilities, crises, reports, caseload requirements, et cetera, all at the same time. Competent Social Workers are by nature well organized, least they drop a critical ball that could negatively impact someone’s life. I never cease to marvel at the capacity of Social Workers to shift from one task or activity to another, while keeping track of the critical needs of their clients.
Five, Social Workers are by and large Excellent Communicators, they have to be out of necessity. Excellent Communication is not just being able to converse clearly and effectively, but involves excellent perception and good listening skills. In my experience, Social Workers are just intuitively great active listeners. Social Workers are also masters of crafting their message so that it can be understood by their diverse caseload of clients. Each person is unique and Social Workers have the perception and awareness of their clients idiosyncrasies to communicate to each in the most effective way.
Six, just as important as Social Worker Empathy, is their ability to be Objective. Social Worker objectivity is critical; they need to be free from favoritism, bias, and assert excellent professional boundaries. Social Worker skill in maintaining Empathy, coupled with Objectivity, allows them to be much more effective in assessing and solving client issues, while not being drawn into an emotional morass or entanglement. Objective Social Workers are able to deal with facts or conditions, without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations, which, in turn, produces far better outcomes!
Seven, the activity of Social Work embodies the characteristics of Tenacity and Persistence. Change takes time, and, when dealing with human beings, you can pretty well guarantee the unpredictable will occur. Social Workers understand this, and have the uncanny ability to adapt and adjust quickly, while tenaciously working towards desired goals and outcomes. Patience is the wonderful characteristic of being undaunted by the process of time, Social Worker Tenacity is the ability and commitment to keep the process moving forward in spite of setbacks, unforeseen challenges, slow progress and outright resistance.
Eight, Social Workers are Adaptable, possessing ready capability to accommodate new, different or changing requirements. Social Workers are able to respond to their client’s needs, at times when it best serves the client. These times occur on evenings, over weekends--crises arise any time, day or night. Social Workers are generally “on-call” all of the time. Social Workers’ ability to adapt and be flexible is intimately tied to their clients’ success!
Nine, Social Workers are challenged daily with difficult or tragic situations, demanding that they be Resilient and emotionally strong. Social Workers routinely deal with physical or mental abuse, drug addiction, alcoholism, poverty, financial hardships, bereavement, or every sort of human tragedy imaginable. Social Workers have the unique capacity to experience client hardships, rise up and bounce back to begin again another day–they are the embodiment of Resilience!
Ten, one of the most amazing characteristics of Social Workers is the fact that they are Driven by compassion, caring and an intrinsic mission to help others! Social Work is generally not a fiscally lucrative career, never rising to the social value and financial rewards of let’s say, a Wall Street banker, hedge fund manager, software engineer or movie star. But the internal rewards of Social Work, the priceless experience of seeing lives benefitted through one’s Social Worker activity, far exceeds any material benefit.
I am very thankful and appreciative of the Social Workers who have dedicated their lives to the betterment of the children, youth and families served by Family Care Network. They truly are the Personification of Caring!