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During my first supervision as a social worker, a psychologist asked what I liked about being a therapist. I replied: ‘helping people.’ The psychologist replied: ‘That’s a bit nebulous; help how?’

Well, to this day, I’ve always felt strange about that psychologist’s response. I still don’t believe the psychologist understood the nature of social work as a profession. For me, social work means answering questions in people’s lives without a clear resolution.

Social workers use their instincts to navigate the unknown. When information and experience fail, instincts drive treatment. Social workers create solutions for people when there are no answers. Social workers get in touch with the most basic to complex feelings and thoughts.

Being tuned into these thoughts and feelings is essential to practice as a social worker. The instincts of social workers are visceral. To do this, social workers can get underneath the plausible and the facts. Sometimes, logic, sometimes chaos, and definitely in between is a space where problems are transformed. Getting past the glory of being the person who ‘righted the ship ‘and a ‘miracle maker’ is fundamental to this sometimes-thankless work.

Accepting death and failure and being the bearer of bad news is a big part of being a social worker. Social workers need to be pragmatic. But when the clinical need calls for boldness and a bit of spontaneity. Social workers are just as confident in the face of uncertainty as if the answer was right in front of them.

The behavior and language of social workers creates space for their consumer’s next steps. Be the worker that sets a standard.

Social workers need to trust their instincts. After all, they teach their consumer to trust theirs. Trusting your instincts is critical when there are questions than answers.

The psychologist who asked me about social work and being a therapist at supervision was talking about “therapy” as a professional on the level of management.

Social work is more than providing therapy. Many social workers never become therapists or do clinical work Many are case managers or go into macro-level social work. They work at a more significant level and provide community consultation or are administrators in non-profits. The psychologist wanted to know how work was going.

Psychology has had a much longer tenure in academia than social work. People understand where a psychologist is coming from in terms of their approach. In terms of the clinical supervision ‘help’ seemed unclear somehow to this psychologist.

Help may be specific to the person, but the act of helping is as clear as day. Helping someone, a family, a kid, and an adult is one of the most rewarding things I can think of doing in a world riddled with competition, violence, and tragedy. The act of helping, the helping profession, is and needs to be a must in a much too ‘nebulous’ world.

Social workers wake up every morning thinking and hoping that my words will uplift a person and improve the quality of someone’s life in some capacity and form. It brings me joy in its most Platonic form: It drives the work forward. These feeling challenges social workers to further practice their skills and improve their craft.

The relationship between social work and psychotherapy continues to be misunderstood. People don’t go into this work for the money, and most social workers don’t go into social work for the sole aim of being a therapist.

Students go into the profession to get the micro/macro ‘bio-psycho-social-spiritual’ lens encompassing and beyond a single discourse scope.

Social work is truly one of the first interdisciplinary discourses. In the end, sadly, most social workers have other jobs to support the thankless, never-ending work as we march on as undervalued ‘helping’ professionals. Please make no mistake about it. Social workers love to see people better themselves. I am hoping all of you are helping professionals keep your heads up. Keep the work going.

Social workers will continue to support people through desperate times, instilling inspiration and grace with their helping hands.

About the Author

J. Peters

J. Peters is the Editor-in-Chief of Mental Health Affairs.

Award-winning book author and Bold 10 Under ten award recipient J. Peters, LCSW. Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Mental health therapist and disability rights advocate Mr. Peters fights for those without a voice in various care systems, such as the New York City Department of Social Services, the New York State Office of Mental Health, or the city's Department of Corrections.

Mr. Peter's battle with Schizophrenia began at New London University in his last semester of college. Discharged from Greater Liberty State Hospital Center in July 2008, Jacque's recovery was swift but not painless and indeed brutal after spending six months there.

He has published several journal articles on recovery and mental health and three books: University on Watch, Small Fingernails, and Wales High School. He is also a board member of the newspaper City Voices. Mr. Peters currently sits on the CAB committee (Consumer Advisory Board) for the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene in NYC and the Office of Mental Health (OMH) as a peer advocate.

Owner of Recovery Now in New York, a private psychotherapy practice, Mr. Peter's approach is rooted in a foundation of evidence-based practices (EBP). Jacques earned a master's degree in Social Work from Binghamton University and worked as a field instructor for master's and bachelor's level students in NYC.

He is blogging daily on his site mentalhealthaffairs.blog, Mr. Peters regularly writes articles relating to his lived experience with a mental health diagnosis.

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