Social work is a rewarding career choice. We all come to the profession with a desire to help and facilitate change in the world. I have been practicing social work for twenty years and I’d like to offer you five tips on how to become a successful social worker.
1. Learn from everyone around you.
Your peers, supervisors and clients are all your teachers. Be open to all the different lessons they have for you. Our supervisors and managers are obvious teachers. However, we often spend more time with peers and clients than our supervisors, so don’t underestimate their influence. Sometimes, our peers or supervisors aren’t the best role models. I always tell the students I supervise that some people, unfortunately, will be lessons on what not to do. And clients are often the best teachers of all. I often feel (and hear the same from other therapists) that I learn as much from my clients as they learn from me.
2. Don’t let your clients’ success or failure determine your worth or success in the field.
I can’t stress the importance of this enough. You are not responsible for your clients’ choices. Being a successful social worker means you can’t get attached to the outcome. Do your best to facilitate change and realize your clients are both capable and responsible for their own lives. This can be a very hard concept for new social workers to accept. We are a caring bunch of people and it can be hard to let go of our dream to save the world!
3. Self-care is essential.
Self-care is one of the keys to longevity as a social worker or therapist. We’ve all heard the old adage to put our own oxygen mask on first – and it’s true. I encourage you to intentionally make time and plans for activities that relax, rejuvenate, energize, and restore your body and soul.
4. Get excellent supervision.
Even after licensure, supervision is an invaluable resource. I consider it an investment in your career. A good supervisor will support all aspects of your work life. S/he will not only provide professional guidance on your client work and record keeping, but also provide an outlet for work-related stress, transference and counter-transference. And a supervisor outside your place of employment can also provide career guidance.
5. Get your own therapy.
A quality therapist is another investment in yourself. Unlike a supervisor, a therapist is your personal resource for working out your “stuff”. This will include your personal life and how your issues affect your professional work. Yes, many social workers experience of vicarious trauma, but even more feel called to the profession after experiencing trauma in their personal lives. I think social work training programs would be wise to mandate psychotherapy as MFT programs do.
I hope these tips on becoming a successful social worker are helpful. Please add your own tips in the comments.