For the past few months, I have been wrapped up in my own life- my own social work-y, professional life, that is. “My contribution will be greatest if I use and hone my strengths,” has been the mantra. For this reason, I have been in the zone, locked in, put my blinders on- but primarily about clinical mental health and clinical mental health only. I care about other areas of social work and of life in general, and I engage in them frequently… nevertheless, my passion or drive has been singular in focus, and it leads to becoming the best clinician I can.
Despite my diligence, my mantra of ‘play my part and do it to the utmost’ is sometimes wrenched from center and replaced by the Bigger Picture. A current event illustrates the entirety of cultural oppression. The zeitgeist crashes through the computer screen after reading an article. Most commonly, “The Big Picture” sits right there in the room with you when you realize how little you can do for a client, because there just aren’t the resources, or the time, or “anything else we can do.” Suddenly, my focus on being the best I can at what I do, is placed in context, which becomes so much louder than the small picture.
You have to see the forest for the trees.
Recently, I read a couple of articles posted online by the North Carolina chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). One was about horrendous wait times for in-patient psychiatric care in NC, and another about executive action that will see health insurance premiums rise for middle- and low-income households. Regardless of the skill I hope to display in the therapy room, in the recovery center, or in the case management role, one cannot transcend the context. My fixture to my chosen role loosens with thoughts like these and I start dreaming of a “macro” role: championing a social movement, starting a political career (HA!), or writing groundbreaking books that will change the course of history.
OK, calm down, Rob.
More realistically, I will continue to provide direct care, but focus on doing so with awareness of current policy and the happenings in a community. That’s where the MSW comes in. There is a reason we all study both ends of the spectrum in social work. One cannot focus only on one side and shirk the responsibilities of the other. The Generalist Curriculum at Chapel Hill prepares you for both direct practice and community and policy work. In the first stage of the social work education, we spend equal time covering the foundations of human behavior as we do the underpinnings of current systems of oppression: both affect the people for whom we work. Assignments are developed intentionally to assess our skill in conceptualizing individual cases as well as to assess our ability to identify needs in a community. From analyzing policy to evaluating evidence-based practices, we need to be able to think critically.