I have often thought about the loneliness of the work we do. In my world everyday I am confronted by the sad stories of my clients. They come to me because they want help. Whatever that looks like. I listen and try as best as is possible to understand what they have experienced. For the hour they spend with me I focus exclusively on their experiences and the emotional pain many of these experiences have caused them. Clients express all the range of emotions you can imagine during that hour. Some leave relieved that they have been able to expel their feelings. From these emotions they develop understandings that they wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for this experience. Others come to me because they just want to be understood and validated in some way. There are so many reasons why clients visit with me and not all of them are helpful (eg. to validate bad behaviour).
The clients I enjoy working with the most are those who are the most disempowered in the community - those who are looking for a sense of justice and someone who will go beyond being a counsellor and who will advocate for them. These clients want a voice amongst a screaming bureaucracy and professionals who have all the power and impose that power with little to no understanding of the clients experiences. I love this work because it represents the best form of Social Work.
It has its problems though because there is no funding for this work in private practice and all I ever receive from other professionals is negativity. I will be waiting for a long time before I hear any of those professionals I work with while advocating for clients tell me that they appreciate the work I do. I know I am an irritation to many of them because I am there to speak for my client. One would think that within the Social Work profession we would celebrate difference. To have someone critique your work and to suggest other ways of working I would have thought was a positive aspect of Social Work. We haven’t developed as a profession where we see this as an essential aspect of he work we do even though it is codified in the AASW code of ethics.
I am aware that amongst child protection workers I am often seen as “the enemy”. I am frustrated that the work I do is not valued. I am angry that I am viewed as an irritation. I am resentful that there are some social workers who haven’t even met me pass judgement on me because of what others have said about me. I am disappointed in my own profession because no one has supported me in the work I do. I have attended many meetings over the years with other social workers who bag Families SA in ways that I would never think of doing but none of them have ever confronted the organisation or workers about unhelpful practices. They tend to hide amongst anonymity and the sly comment when they think they are talking to a sympathetic listener, but they do nothing.
So I am like the “Shag on the rock”, easy pickings and a clear shot, for anyone who wants to take out their frustrations. Not only do I not get paid for the work I do with this client group but it is emotionally exhausting. Recently a client told me that her partner stated that I wasn’t doing enough for them to have their child returned to them. Not only have I been working for them for twelve months without any payment what so ever, I field calls from them evenings and on weekends. I have meetings about their case at the highest possible level. I feel their pain and frustration. I keep this to myself but it has a toll. I go through periods when I lack enthusiasm and start staring down a very dark and deep hole. This is not a good place to be.
I am not seeking sympathy but I am seeking understanding. I know that I am reasonably competent at what I do. My goal has always been to work as a partnership with other professionals because it is through that sort of collegiate enterprise that we will have the best outcomes. I know from experience that is the case. We need to understand what it means to have other critique the work we do and we need to understand that the more we understand the practices of others, either helpful or not, we will be develop a better and more comprehensive idea of our own practice. This produces better outcomes for clients.