Recently, when teaching the first year BA students where I work I’d gone off topic….. this never comes as a surprise. And I asked the students, “What is the unique contribution that social work makes to the professional world?” Now, it’s not the first time I’ve asked this question, and the answer I get is usually the same one. Silence. And I’m left thinking, well, if we don’t know what our unique contribution is then no wonder the general public, and possibly other professionals, are at a loss as to what we do!?
If you ask solicitors what they do they will tell you. They give people legal advice. They represent people in court. Ask nurses. They administer medication, they bandage things. Ask doctors. They diagnose conditions and offer treatments. Ask mechanics. They fix your car. These are all things unique to those professions. So what is the unique social work contribution…. because there will be one. But, when asked, it’s hard to put your finger on it. Don’t you think? And maybe it’s good that it’s hard to put your finger on.
So what do we do? Well, we communicate? Yes, indeed, as do all other professionals. We solve problems. As do other professionals. We offer advice. We offer support. We offer guidance. We offer knowledge. We offer ourselves. ……..and that, for me, is where it is….. that’s it…. that’s the thing. Don’t you think?
But still, I think it’s more than that. I don’t think our unique contribution is what we do. I think it’s how we do it. Because good social workers do all the things they need to do from a position of ‘offering themselves’. This is why the job is draining. This is why looking after self is so important. Because social workers routinely give of themselves in a way that other professionals don’t routinely do. It’s the core component of our way of professional ‘being’. It’s our unique contribution. And that is why, when stuck behind a desk doing the paperwork, rather than being sat in front of people, social workers become…. well you insert your own word… disillusioned, stressed, disenfranchised, demotivated. The big question is how do we put social workers in front of people rather than behind a desk more… because only then can they make their unique contribution.