When I was younger and listening to that song, I had no idea what those lyrics would go on to mean to me.
I had no idea that the more I changed, the less I would feel.
I had no idea that being a social worker would do that to me.
I knew that it would bring me into contact with the pain of my fellow human beings, but not how I’d carry that pain with me through secondary trauma.
I know that the job would be demanding, but not that it would steal away so much of the time I spent with my loved ones.
I knew that I would learn more about the world, but not how much more I would learn about myself in the process.
The books I read kept telling me that social work was a vocation, but I really wasn’t aware of how different that made it from all the other things I’d done for money before that were just jobs.
Nine years on from taking my first steps into college to begin my social work journey and I’m a totally different person than I was back then.
Less exciting, more rational.
Less brash, more considerate.
Less selfish, more empathetic.
Less risky, more rational.
Some of those changes have come through the compounding effects of age, marriage, fatherhood and responsibility… but most of the changes I can attribute to Social Work.
I’ve seen lives begin and end.
I’ve fought with all my might to reunite children with their birth parents, after other Social Workers had given up, and seen the pure joyous relief that giving somebody a chance to look after their own baby can bring.
I’ve seen the best and worst of human nature.
I’ve faced the most horrific threats and worked through these to find the reasons that lead people to say such evil things; coming through the other side with a shared vision about how we can life-limiting problems.
I’ve seen people do things you wouldn’t believe they were capable of.
I’ve heard the most stomach-turning tales from children who have suffered in unimaginable ways at the hands of those who should have loved them most. At the other end I have been blessed to see people blow away all the things that have held them back, going onto build brand new lives for themselves.
I’m not the man I used to be, for better and for worse.
My friends will tell you I’m not as fun as I used to be, but my family will tell you I’m far more caring and appreciative.
What will I tell you though?
Well… I’ll tell you that I feel truly privileged to be a Social Worker and that every single day I appreciate the valued access I’m given to the lives of my fellow human beings.
But I’ll also tell you that the more I change the less I feel.
The first time I had to remove children from the care of their parents I lay awake in bed all night. wondering if I’d done the right thing.
I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t think of anything else but those little children looking out the back windows of my car as we drove away from their parents.
Sooner or later you must let go to carry on in your career and focus on more pressing matters. The emotions are always there, but you bury them in order to focus on the practical matters of paperwork, assessments, reviews and statements.
And each time you do it, it hurts you a little less.
I can’t say it gets easier, because seeing people go through these things is never easy… how can anyone use such as word as ‘easy’ to describe coping with the secondary trauma of witnessing sexual, physical and emotional abuse?
No, it never gets easier, you just get better at coping with it.
It’s called ‘emotional resilience’.
The more you change as a social worker, and the more emotionally resilient you become, the less you feel.
It’s the only way you can cope.
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