Rebecca Joy Novell

The creation of a charity, from the very beginning.

Social Work Life Crisis

So… this weekend I told a twelve year old girl she will never find happiness.

No, I’m not proud of myself but it happened, okay.

I was at a 50th Birthday party and there was a free bar. A group of twelve year old girls had been talking about boys all evening. In fact, they had been talking about boys longer than I had been drinking. Then one of them made the fatal mistake of asking my opinion on whether she should text a boy. [I would like to remind everyone at this point that I have recently come out of a long term relationship, and, as I said before, the bar was free. *FREE* people!]

My answer to the girl was something along the lines of:

“Boys are exciting at your age. Relationships are exciting and hopeful. And that’s good and nice. (*Wine spilling out of my glass*) But very quickly the Disney promise of a Prince Charming *hic* will show itself as the cruel lie it is and love will become painful and problematic. *hic* But if you’re lucky, and haven’t messed up your future for some sixteen year old in a band, you will throw your hopes and dreams in to a career. And you’ll work hard towards that career goal, which you think will give you a sense of validation. *hic* But then one day something will happen to make you realize that even your hopes and dreams can let you down and life is ultimately meaningless. So in conclusion, girls *hic*, text them, don’t text them, do what you want, because ultimately, you will never find happiness.”

My favourite reaction, to my shattering of a child’s hopes, was from a colleague, who didn’t disagree with my pessimistic outlook on life, or blatant bitterness. She just calmly replied: ‘They’re supposed to find that out for themselves you know’.

I think it’s safe to say I’m having a bit of a career crisis at the moment. At work people no longer bother asking me how I am for fear of the morbidity of the reply. I am not depressed. I’m just at a crossroads in my Social Work career, near graduation, where I have to decide if this is really the job for me. And I’m not sure it is. There are so many aspects of Social Work that I detest. Many things do not make sense to me and many more things make me think that Social Work does more harm than good. Consequently, the last few weeks at work have involved me having a daily mini break down.

And it happens in all professions. My friend is the head of Marketing for a large internet company and she recently had a breakdown of epic proportions. I’m not sure of all the details, but some of the texts I received from her over the following week included:

‘Everyone in the office is smiling at me a lot. I think they’ll think I’ll start crying again’.

‘The Warehouse boys are scared to put paperwork on my desk. They have brought me a cake instead. They’ll be padding the walls next.’

I’m sure everyone has bad weeks at work where they wonder if they’ve chosen the right career path. The problem with Social Work is that, for most Social Work students, it is a calling; a profession that encompasses everything you think, feel and believe; a way of life. So when you doubt that Social Work is the right job for you, you automatically fall in to a spiral of questions culminating in ‘who am I?’ and ‘what is the point in life?’

Of course ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’. But bloody hell, asking yourself what the point of ‘me’ is every Monday morning when you’re on your third chocolate digestive and half way through ANOTHER risk assessment is a bit much.

Social Work seems to have become a 9 to 5 profession for many people. The professionalization of the job has some obvious advantages, however the many disadvantages are becoming more and more apparent to me. Too often do I ring an agency for support with a young person in desperate need of help, only to be told that “it’s Out of Hours” and “there’s not a lot that can be done now”. I went in to this job to help people in need. Within Social Work, the help I can offer seems so constrained by Risk Management and bureaucracy, that rather than actually help people, I spend most of my time filling in forms about them.

A young boy I work with recently rang me at 7pm at night, hysterical and refusing to go home due to ongoing problems. He had rung me for help. But of course, due to Health and Safety and Policy and Procedure, rather than drive to the boy to calm him down and return him home, I had to ring four different agencies to see if they could offer him some support for the night. It’s not in my job description to help him in the evenings and, as a student, I would have been removed from placement if I’d gone to see him. So I spent the evening ringing agencies and filling in the relevant paperwork whilst a fourteen year old boy walked around the streets of Sheffield in the pouring rain, in tremendous distress. No agencies were able to help him. He stayed out all night. I sat in my warm house, feeling utterly useless.

The next day, my Supervisors could see that I was annoyed about the situation. They tried to justify the actions we had to take by talking about empowerment, dependency, risk and not being a “rescuer”, etc, etc. But none of that really sits well with me. I don’t seem to buy in to the Social Work ‘doctrine’. And for that reason, I’m not sure if I’m made to be a Social Worker.

There is a quote by Jan de Hartog that says ‘Do not commit the error, common among the young, of assuming that if you cannot save the whole of mankind you have failed’. I think an error, common among some of the more experienced Social Workers, is to think that just because we may not be able to save the whole of mankind, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t give it a good go.

Anyway, my brain is still fried and I will probably read this outpouring tomorrow to realize it is not in sentences. I’ll let you know if I make it to graduation!

Good night,

Novs xx

2 comments on “Social Work Life Crisis

  1. Thanks Rebecca. That’s the Pathos of the Week award sorted then, and that wedding analogy? Priceless. As a mental health nurse I’ve worked alongside (and befriended) many SWs over the years, and would say my favourites were always the ones who weren’t too bothered about dotting i’s and crossing t’s as long as it meant doing the right thing. They got very frustrated.

    One point of query, though. As a grizzled old behemoth who’s spent many years in the social care trenches, I would personally NOT be answering my phone to clients after hours. Yes, the personal/professional duality is bloody hard work and what your post is all about, but there are all sorts of very good reasons why, at a certain time of day, the mobile switches ‘Off’ and The Forcefield switches ‘On’. Just a thought, and apologies for the sci-fi analogy.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Rebecca Joy Novell
      17/05/2012

      Completely agree! It was my mistake to answer the phone- as I when I first received the call I was still in the office doing paperwork. It is important to be able to safely ‘switch off’ from work, otherwise it can easily consume you and damage how productive you can be. It’s just difficult not to be able to help when you feel able to… If that makes sense.
      And thanks for the feedback 🙂 x

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