March is Social Work Month in the United States. Social workers stand up every day for human rights and social justice to help strengthen our communities. They can be the voice for people who aren’t being heard, and they tackle serious social issues in order to “forge solutions that help people reach their full potential and make our nation a better place to live.” There are over 600,000 social workers in the US alone, yet all too often their work goes unnoticed in society. To better articulate why social work is so important, we interviewed some social workers who have dedicated their lives to practice and research in the field. Their thoughts and experiences make it clear why social work is so critical to society.
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Thoughts on passion in the field of social work
“Social work helps the arc of the moral universe bend toward justice, to paraphrase the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
—Miriam Potocky, a specialist on refugees, human rights, and international social work
“I believe that there is always hope even in times of despair. I have witnessed people experiencing darkness that seems inescapable and I have seen these persons find hope in the hope of others. As I have often stated to a few clients—’I will hold the hope for you even when you cannot.’ This leads me to believe that support is key to making a huge difference in someone’s life. I also believe that people can change, and that as social workers we often are in the position to guide and to facilitate these changes in someone’s life, when they are ready to undertake this work. I hold the conversations, narratives, and stories of those in need as sacred and precious. I remind myself that of all the people in the world they could be sharing this story with, that I have the honor of bearing witness to their experiences, and I am humbled by these opportunities. These beliefs keep me going, feed my soul, and contribute significantly to my passion about social work.”
—Sandra A. López, a key leader in calling attention to the essential practice of self-care within the profession of social work
“My passion for the field of social work emanates from the desire to advocate for others that may need a voice within society. I believe strongly that it is our profession’s role to promote social justice for all marginalized populations and groups, as well as it is our responsibility to teach generations of social work students, practitioners, and researchers to do the same. This passion to advocate for others has become infinitely clear to me in my practice efforts over the years whether working with the HIV/AIDS community, LGBTQ youth, older adults, or the disability community, among many others. In the same regard, with the recent increase of hate speech and incidents related to xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism, my passion for the field of social work has been further confirmed and is often reignited.”
—Michael P. Dentato, author of “Queer Communities (Competency and Positionality)” in the Encyclopedia of Social Work.
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The important roles of social workers
“We are champions of human rights and social justice.”
“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 of helping those in need. As biased as this may sound, 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. In addition, we play so many roles; from therapist or clinician, to administrator, to policymaker across settings like healthcare, schools, community centers, juvenile probation, hospice, behavioral health, and early childhood development to name a few. Although our roles and settings may be different, the cardinal values of social work bring us together in a powerful fashion.”
—Sandra A. López
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Common myths and misconceptions about social work
“Some common myths and misconceptions about social work and social workers pertain to minimizing the vital role that we play, and the impact that we can have serving diverse populations within various settings. As a huge fan of promoting interprofessional practice, I often tell my students it is important to integrate themselves into teams in which social workers are vitally needed, and to ensure our voice is always ‘at the table’ all the time as we are trained in a much different way than others across the health and social sciences. Such training points to the manner in which we use a person-in-environment perspective during assessments and interventions to determine the most affirming and/or evidence based model(s), appropriate theory or theories, and level of care to best meet the needs of our clients at all times.”
—Michael P. Dentato
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Why is social work still important?
“I often wish people would ask me why the field of social work remains so important today. My response would be that the field of social work is vitally important today more so than ever, as we continue to promote a person-centered, empowering approach to our practice at all times, as well as we compliment and strengthen the roles of others across diverse professions. Lastly, that our history provides evidence of the critical ongoing need for social workers to advocate and lend a voice for all marginalized and oppressed groups.”
—Michael P. Dentato
“Why do you keep trying to learn and make a difference? A rolling stone gathers no moss.”
—Rosalyn M. Bertram, a lead researcher for several national initiatives engaged in systems transformation.
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Featured image credit: teamwork co-workers office by pmbbun. Public Domain via Pixabay.