Why social work matters

by Lauren Walther, LMSW on March 28, 2012 · 2 comments

in social work

March is Professional Social Work Month. It’s designed to acknowledge that our nation would be less successful without the contributions of America’s 640,000+ social workers. The primary mission of social work is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic needs of all people, especially the most vulnerable. Given this mission, it is fitting that this year’s theme for Professional Social Work Month is “every person matters.” Social workers help people, who are often navigating major life challenges, find hope and new options for achieving their maximum potential. They function as specialists, consultants, private practitioners, educators, community leaders, policymakers and researchers to achieve this mission.

Below, several social workers at The Menninger Clinic share their reflections on “every person matters” and how it has impacted their personal and professional identity. Join us as we celebrate the social workers at The Menninger Clinic and the social work profession.

Adapted from www.socialworkers.org.

Lauren Walther, LMSW
Professionals in Crisis Program

My interest within the social work profession originally stemmed from a ‘micro’ perspective: working with the individual. For me this began as a child listening to friends in need and enjoying being in a helping role. Over time I began to find myself in positions of helping others personally and professionally until I realized to be truly effective I’d need more education.

After graduate school I worked with teenagers who struggled with poverty, had little to no support at home and found mentors in gang members and through crime. From there I began to work with the family system, realizing that working only with the individual would provide limited impact. By working in that system, I soon realized that it’s made up of individuals, all of whom have their own difficult history, which impacts the adolescent. Recognizing rather than blaming authority figures in those troubled systems, and treating them as people who matter, helped me to better understand each member, and begin to intervene in ways that would be most effective for them as a family and as individuals.

Hans Meyer, LCSW
Pathfinder, a community integration program

Everything we do in our life and work can be boiled down to relationships. In my high school and college years, I was treated like I mattered by a variety of teachers, professors, supervisors and mentors.  I was not just a job to them. Looking back, I feel like they each took on the mission to model for me, implicitly or explicitly, what it meant to be in a relationship. The message I consistently received from them was that “I mattered.”  They made me feel important and a part of their life on an ongoing basis regardless of my daily performance.

Social work is about instilling this feeling in as many of our patients as we can, regardless of our theoretical orientation or job description. I have embraced the activity of mentalizing with my adolescents and families, co-workers and in my own personal life since being here at The Menninger Clinic because it is the best tool I have learned that encourages this feeling. The social work value of “dignity and worth of a person” really gets to the heart of “every person matters.” I believe that when a person feels like they are important to others, they are better equipped to treat themselves and others in a similar way.  

Chris Grimes, LCSW
Adolescent Treatment Program

I’m proud and honored to participate again this year in recognizing the 28 social workers who work tirelessly with patients at The Menninger Clinic, including a social work colleague who heads up The Clinic’s outreach program with the chronically mentally ill. Altogether, we have nineteen full-time social work staff, along with four contract social workers, four postgraduate fellows and two advanced social work graduate student interns. This is a large group of clinicians with diverse backgrounds and interests. However, it is a comfort to know that drawing us together is the important notion that in our lives and in our work “every person matters,” the very apt theme of National Social Work Month this year.

It has been my experience that the person drawn to social work has a strong belief in the “dignity and worth of every individual” as stated in the Social Work Code of Ethics. Moreover, we are involved in a profession whose mission is “… to enhance human well­being and help meet the basic human needs of all people….” These concepts inspire and help us move forward and challenge stigma, bias and prejudice that impact our patients, colleagues, family, friends or even ourselves. 

Here at The Clinic we remember that Karl Menninger, MD, turned to psychiatric social workers as those who could “glean from a study of broken personalities…the sociological and environmental data necessary to evaluate the case.” (1930)

It is not difficult for me to see that the principle of “every person matters” is clearly reflected in our current social workers – talented clinicians who not only dedicate themselves to best practices in patient care, but also extend these virtues, often passionately, to everyone in their sphere. It is a great honor and privilege to be a part of this group of stellar, supportive and caring professional social workers. 

Janice Poplack, LCSW
Director of Social Work

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim H April 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm

As a former M-PIC patient, I second Dr. G’s remarks and add that exploring a patient’s family background and social structure does something far more important than educate doctors about their patients and demonstrate to patients that clinicians care about them. Both are worthy objectives in themselves, but the direct therapeutic benefits of this activity cannot be overestimated in my opinion. In many cases this is essential to a recovery that will endure beyond the hospital’s grounds. Exploring my relationships with family and others actively as a team with my social worker educated ME about how my issues have affected them, how theirs have affected me, and how we can better support each other’s needs in the future. It’s remarkable how often I heard other patients echo my own experiences about this. Nearly every day a patient shared with me how deeply affected he or she had been by a SW-pt phone call or meeting with a spouse, child, parent, co-worker or friend. A talented social worker will direct attention, with compassion for all but as the patient’s advocate, to issues patients and others may be unwilling to address or unable to see as vitally relevant. Such encounters often rekindle feelings of mutual understanding and love, but more importantly in my estimation, they bring clarity to the patient about his or her relationships and thereby advance the patient’s planning and enhance the patient’s prospects for a sustained recovery. The social worker-directed therapies at M-PIC were in my experience as helpful as therapies directed by any other clinicians on the unit.

Michael Groat April 3, 2012 at 6:26 pm

I really appreciate the way the social work staff at Menninger helps our treatment teams understand the context of patients–the developmental context, family context, and cultural context from which they have come. This work incrementally adds to our understanding of patients, and helps us provide better care. It also powerfully demonstrates to patients that the entirety of their lives matter to us.

Thank you to all of our terrific social work staff. I appreciate you.

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