Change of focus for a minute to the other side of the desk. Mine. CNNMoney.com headline depicts social work and several related careers as “stressful jobs that pay badly.” When done right, social work is a dirty and messy job working with people in crisis and helping them to rearrange their lives. So, of course I absolutely love it and am amused that I get paid to tell adults what to do!
However Social Workers have a high rate of PTDS. Sometimes even I have a hard time, and if you’ve met me then you know I am Pathologically Cheerful.
It takes a really strong set of boundaries and a great at home support system in order to survive working with people enduring Domestic Violence, Substance Abuse and Use, Mental Health Issues, Developmental Disabilities, Poverty and being Homeless.
Teaching people new to my life that sometimes I need to be treated more gently than usual – well, that is a problem. I am usually good about telling people if I have had a hard day – like when I:
- wrestle scissors out of a pregnant mother’s hands,
- or call Children and Family Services for a child who is being abused in my office,
- or driving someone to the Psychiatric Ward for self committal and they grab the steering wheel to try to drive us off the 1st street bridge.
- or wait for me by my car after work to personally deliver a death threat
because those things really do go home with me at night.
Yesterday a client whom I worked with two years ago came into my office. Former clients drop in pretty often to tell me how they are or bring me pictures of their children so I was excited to see her and totally unprepared for what has changed in her life. She has a school age child, and 8 month old baby and is two months pregnant – and she is using drugs, homeless and openly suicidal. All she could think to do was come in and talk to me.
Fortunately I had baby clothes in my car (yes, my daughter is almost 16 years old and I have baby clothes in my car) so I was able to redress the baby in something appropriate and clean. And it helps that I have an excellent and knowledgable staff in the office with me (Daisy, Veronica, Sindye, and Karen) to assist me in triage.
And I was able to vent a little through Twitter and FaceBook and texting a friend until the novelty of FEELING everything my client felt went away because I was overcome. I went home and walked and ran and tried to take a nap and eventually went to see a friend. All I really wanted to do was hold someone’s hand and cry it out. I should tell you – that if YOU are in the support system of a social worker or other professional where we deal with humans in crisis – this is not the type of day where you want to make fun of how they dress, how they walk, how they feel or kid – tease – or demean them in any way. Be NICE. If you are having a bad day too or don’t have the social skills to extend a little patience for a frazzled friend: it is better to not invite them over for “after care” than it would be for you to compound the day’s injuries.