Ambivalence is something we run into with our clients, in our institutional settings, even within ourselves, on a daily basis. It’s that existence of two polar opposites in one moment, where two seemingly contradictory states of being coexist. This is a very real state of being for students who are looking forward to their break from school even while they’re aware that they’re receiving a valuable education that they will soon miss when school is over. It’s the competing interest of both euphoria because of a wonderful experience and the deep sadness about the impending end of the experience.
Why is it important for social workers to face these feelings of ambivalence? For one it is a part of mindfulness that cannot be ignored. Realizing that we’re capable of contradiction brings us closer to other people who make up the systems that we work with. If we feel conflicted we can remember that we’re not alone, because our clients, colleagues, and even strangers we haven’t met yet are sharing in this very human response to the world around them at times.
I’ve noticed that the experience of getting a degree can have the effect of creating “experts” rather than reminding us that the expert knowledge depends upon interactions with other people. Even “experts” must continue to grow and learn in order to maintain that label. Every encounter with people throughout our lives can help us to grow and change our outlook on the world and become a better person. Our clients don’t just need us, we need our clients to continue to become better social workers.
Mixed feelings and being unsure of what one wants, come up throughout our career. We can feel the urge to help everyone with the competing reality of limited resources. The topic of gate keeping, which inevitably comes up in our work, is a contentious issue that can bring people with many different perspective, to this field for different reasons. And it’s important to constantly continue our learning and challenge ourselves to never feel like we’ve made it to the end of that knowledge and not become too stagnant in our identities. We can’t limit our own thinking to become intolerant of people with opposing viewpoints or we might be stunting our own development as well rounded social workers.
Social work is a constantly evolving field, because we work in environments which are consistently adapting, and the way we navigate through these changes are by committing to values/beliefs, a “code of ethics,” a way of behaving. We hold tight to our end goals even when that path becomes confused by contradictory feelings from whatever life throws our way. When school gets tough we visualize that degree and the light at the end of the tunnel. Let us be the change we wish to see in the world and continue to help our clients, friends, and agencies hold on to the light at the end of the tunnel.