The Life of a Social Worker

This is going to be one of those “whiplash moments” I previously warned about.I’m a Social Worker…

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I actually am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker ( LCSW) and I work in the mental health field, mostly as a therapist. I know I haven’t gotten to that point in the story of my life yet  but today is one of those days where my current reality is more important than my past.

Earlier today while I was checking emails and reading a few posts on Facebook I came across an article on my college alumni page that hit very close to home given my current professional situation and it made me think about the jobs I have had and why I chose this profession given the environment we live in…

The Social Work Job Offer: Decline or Accept?”

Since graduating Aurora University​ with my MSW in 2011,  I have worked in several different environments and had to change jobs more often than I would like. In fact today ( Friday, April 27, 2018 ) is my last day at my current job where I am the Director of Behavioral Health at an HIV Clinic and I am sad to be leaving, but excited about the next chapter.  I love what I do for a living , but as always  I will miss my patients and my coworkers.

I currently work in a small non profit clinic that offered me an opportunity to grow and develop professionally which is always the hope of a new job.  In a previous position I had been tasked with leadership responsibilities as part of my job while working at a community health clinic including providing supervision for student interns, helping to develop policy and basically creating a behavioral health department inside a primary care clinic where there wasn’t one before. Although the work was hard and incredibly rewarding, the downfall was that I was not given the official title or the pay that should have come along with it. My boss, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) gave me high praise and tremendous support to create the Integrated Behavioral Health Department that I was so proud of, where I earned the respect of the medical clinicians I interacted with everyday. and the entire clinic staff. I was able to create a program, educate staff and be called on as an expert where mental health issues were concerned.  I was so proud of the work I was doing and the program I was developing; as well as, the sense of purpose I felt even on the hardest of days.  However, the sad reality of this work can be that if you work in public mental health in the state of Illinois under the current political leadership, the funding for your position may not always be there and it was exactly that issue, a state budget crisis, that inevitably made me leave the position that I loved, which lead to the biggest mistake of my career.

In uncertain times we can often make the wrong choice for what we feel , at the time to be the right reasons and that was so true for me when I unfortunately took a job I thought I would like. When you are forced to leave a job you love, due to no fault of your own, where you are a vital part of a successful team and you are respected, it can be very hard to adjust one’s own expectations.  I sought out a similar position, provided 8 letters of professional recommendation and was very clear about what type of responsibilities I wanted and what I was capable of bringing to the position. I had been taught to be confident in my skills and to only seek positions that allow those abilities to shine and grow, to identify the role I wanted to play in an organization and how my unique skill set could bring that to fruition.  It was at that time that professional promises were made and responsibilities were agreed upon, the job was offered and  I happily accepted. I knew what I wanted in my new job , I had asked for it and I got it, not because they simply offered it, but because I was able to articulate my goals ,my abilities  and how I could be beneficial to the team.  However, what I soon found at my new job was a change in leadership, which almost immediately had me asking myself if I had made a mistake.

Good leaders do not have to be experts at everything, but they do have to be aware of the deficits in their knowledge and have the ability to surround themselves with people who are experts, and be confident enough to listen to them when needed. This can be a challenge for some and appeared to be problematic for my new boss which quickly resulted in unprofessional /unethical choices, and eventually lead to an extremely hostile work environment.

I’ve never been one to feel trapped by a citation, I have always found a way to make things work but the toxic workplace and unfulfilled professional opportunities lead me to leave after only 10 months due to the emotional distress I felt everyday.  This was not an easy decision for me, but after discussing the issues with my husband I knew it wasn’t where I needed to be, but leaving meant more than just looking for another job, more than going through this whole process again, it also meant turning down the federal grant money I had recently been awarded that would have paid off my sizable student loan debt. However, turning it down was easier than I thought it would be because in order to receive the money I would have been required to make a 2 year commitment to  clinic and it was not worth it to stay.

Professional and personal goals can sometimes dictate the job offer you except even more so than money. Recently while interviewing I was offered a clinical position in a state prison providing mental health services to adolescent boys age 12-22 and the pay was well, lets just say it was significant, but the position environment and schedule offered no work/ life balance, didn’t fit my needs and at that time I was already in a position that was  becoming detrimental to my health due to stress, so I turned it down, which was not an easy thing to due considering I was leaving a job where if I stayed my student loans would be paid off, but I had to do what was best for me and keep interviewing. I eventually was offered and accepted a position as MISA Coordinator ( Director of Behavioral Health ) with a small non profit agency that would allow me to achieve both my professional goals and my personal needs. The work environment was more collaborative and promoted a healthy work/life balance and even though it didn’t pay the most the benefits to my career growth were significant and it allowed me more time with my family. However, in accepting this job I broke one of my own professional rules, it was grant funded and I had swore I would never take a job that had an expiration date, but after discussing it with my husband we decided the potential for professional growth was worth the risk , and the truth is that changing jobs will always be risky, and as my luck would have it the funding for my current position is no longer available and I was once again forced to find a new job.

While I take the pictures off the wall and pack up my office preparing for the next opportunity I stop and think about what I have gained from my time in this job.  I have truly enjoyed the experience and feel I have grown as a clinician, a supervisor and had an opportunity to develop new skills in my leadership role. Although I am sad because I am saying goodbye to the friends I have made, my colleges and my patients I am looking forward to the nest step in my professional journey.

There are many challenges in this profession including but not limited to the constant change and uncertainty that can be hard on my family, but the rewards make it all worthwhile. Working in the mental health field, being a Social Worker has been one of the great joys of my life, allowing me to live a purposeful life. Since starting down this road I have been asked why I wanted to be a social worker, well it sure isn’t for the money because social workers are not paid what they are worth, I became a Social Worker to make a difference. The pride I feel helping my patients improve their quality of life, helping them find joy after pain and sorrow, fighting for social justice, being the voice of the voiceless, advocating for those who either cannot or will not speak for themselves is why I do what I do. So today as I pack my things and close my office door for the last time I am sad, but I can smile because I know I made a difference here and it’s just time for me to make a difference someplace else…

There is such a variety of things to consider when looking for a new job and when deciding which offer to accept or decline but the most important ones should always be will it make you happy in the long run? Will it meet your professional and personal goals? Will it pay enough to meet your needs? Will you achieve a healthy work /life balance?, Does it promote self care and a healthy environment and most importantly will it make you proud of who you are and the work that you do?…and if the answer is no, don’t take it and if things change and you find yourself in a position like I did where a professional change is required, do what needs to be done.  It may sound silly, but I have found that life is too short and the world is too hard and cruel at times to spend my life doing things that don’t make my soul sing.. find your joy in both your personal and professional life and the rest will fall into place.

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