Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What makes a Social Worker?

I have a confession to make: I am not a social worker.

That is, I don’t have a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) or a Masters of Social Work (MSW). I’m not even a registered Social Service Worker, which is a two year diploma.

This does not stop my clients, or even friends and family from referring to me as a social worker.

I did go to school. One year of a Bachelor of Fine Arts (dropped out) and a diploma in Assaulted Women and Children’s Counselling and Advocacy (AWCCA). It’s an awkwardly titled and unique program, but I learned more there than in any other school I’ve attended my whole life. And it is in the Community Services department.

I believe in a recovery model of mental health work. Recovery is a word I’ve heard kicked around in mental health departments for a long time, but a lot of the time it seemed to be more of vague notion of an ideal rather than an actual working philosophy or model. It’s only been in the past year or so that I have really learned how the concept of recovery can be used to help clients and improve the work that I do.

I took to the recovery model very quickly, because it jives well with my feminist and anti-oppression perspective. These are things I learned in the good ol’ AWCCA, as well as my life experiences. 

Most of the time, I feel pretty well prepared to handle the work I do. I attribute this to my training, but also to my ‘lived experience’ - the things you don’t get out of a book. The recovery model values this highly. It emphasizes the importance of lived experience and in particular peer-support in doing mental health work.

Meanwhile, the social work sector seems to be headed for increased professionalization. I don’t really have numbers to back this up, but I have certainly noticed it from my constant perusing of job postings. More and more jobs are requiring BSW’s and even MSW’s for community work that has often been done by people like me. While I strongly believe that further education is a good thing, I do question whether this trend can be congruent with the recovery model.

I also would never want to disrespect or devalue the years of effort and hard work that others have put into their professional designations. Goodness knows I was proud when I graduated my program (with honours thankyouverymuch) but is completing a two or four or five year degree the only way to be a Social Worker?

More to come in a new blog series I am going to call Recovery 101.

1 comment:

  1. I've always felt being a social worker was more a frame of mind rather than the degree behind it. One of the best social workers I've even encountered (he's still in the field) has a religious studies degree.