When I first created Social Work Helper, I was surprise at the number of emails that I started receiving. Maybe, the name gives the impression that I have the power to help the oppressed and the distressed from a social work perspective. However, what troubles me most are the emails/messages I receive from students and practitioners who feel distressed and oppressed in their own social work environments.
When I first started receiving them, I was fresh out of graduate school as a non-traditional, single parent student. At the time, I was experiencing my own bitterness towards graduate school and the profession. I reached out to another well established social work print publication asking for advice on what to do with these letters and messages I was receiving from students and new practitioners. Unfortunately, I received the response that I have experienced many times while working in the profession which was “none”.
I tried to be empathetic and provide a sounding board as best as I could during this period of time, but at the same time I was also looking for an escape plan from my chosen profession. Having both my bachelors and masters degree in social work, it did not provide me with many options. My options after graduate school was equating to licensure and doing therapy. However, after my first internship in grad school, I needed therapy and wanted nothing to do with social work. Having to quit a full-time job as a social worker to work for free full-time as a social worker/student intern hurt me emotionally, physically, and financially. I went back to school because I wanted a promotion, and I didn’t think it was possible with a BSW.
Through Social Work Helper, I try to tell people stories and create awareness on issues because sometime we tend to evaluate and analyze policies/issues using only the lens of our own experience or people we know. The oppressed are suffering in silence and fearing retaliation for speaking out against their oppressors. Some might say why didn’t you complain, and my answer is complain to who? I worked over a 1000 free hours within a year while earning my advance standing macro degree. A failing grade for field practicum means you don’t graduate or may have to leave the program, so I suffered in silence until I earned my freedom. Essentially, I feel like I went in debt in order to pay someone to abuse me, and I was told by my field placement instructor that students couldn’t learn unless it was painful.
A couple of days ago in response to the petition I created requesting internship reform, a student sent me an email asking that I share their story, but asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation. It’s important for me to note that I would have never shared this story without being asked to do so. Here it is as follows:
I saw your petition online and wanted to take the time to thank you most sincerely for your efforts. I wrote a comment to attach with my signature, but it was too long for the section to submit in full. I’m sending it now from my old high school email address as I do not wish to be singled out by my current university.
I will be the first person in my entire family to attend and graduate from a four year college. While my parents were scrimping and saving to afford tuition, I have worked tirelessly to attain and retain admission to my state’s most prestigious public liberal arts college. When I learned earlier this year that I would be paying several thousand dollars of my parent’s hard earned money to work an internship not of my choosing, comfort level, or skill set, I was devastated; I feel as though I’m being forced to pay to change fields. My internship is at a privately owned nursing home conglomerate where I have the barest minimum of face time with residents and have absolutely no role in contributing to the helping process; I’m an un-glorified pencil pusher. I feel stuck, and have regularly asked to complete my internship somewhere else, anywhere else; unfortunately, my requests have always been denied due to a scarcity of qualifying internship sites.
Thus, I’m left feeling out of touch and disenfranchised; my experiences are never relevant to my classes’ discussions, and I’m frustrated that I’m lining the pockets of a corporation instead of meeting the needs of clients through a non-profit agency setting. I feel angry with the School of Social Work, and have come to resent my decision to purse a life in the field of social work at all. I always knew that such a degree would entitle me to the potential for poor pay and emotional hardship, but I expected to be rewarded with a sense of self and purpose that I’ve yet to find in my senior year in the field. Instead, I feel taken advantage of, cheated, manipulated, ignored, and lied to. I’ve been told not to complain and that my feelings will only help me to better empathize with future marginalized clients. I disagree; any potential for empathy has turned to resentment and my passion to repulsion in the face of their subterfuge.
At the beginning of the year, 2/3 of my classmates (about 40 people) were preparing to take the GRE and begin scouting for graduate schools. Now, though? We have maybe 8 people still intending to pursue going straight through to get their MSWs. Most people too aren’t even looking at jobs in the helping professions for after graduation; almost everyone I’ve talked to about career plans has spoken of taking a year or two off and working minimum wage jobs at restaurants and retail stores just to get away from the stress that our internships have taught is all that we have to look forward to as professional social workers.
I hope my story can be helpful in substantiating the need for reforming social work internship requirements.
Join us tonight at 9PM EST for the #Macrosw chat which is a collaboration made up of community practice organizations and individual macro social workers. We will be discussing internship reform and the public commenting period for the Council for Social Work Education. The collaboration consists of ACOSA @acosaorg by(Rachel West @polisw), Network for Social Work Management, Deona Hooper (Founder of Social Work Helper @deonahooper), Karen Zgoda (PhD Candidate at Boston College), The University at Buffalo School of Social Work and the University of Southern California School of Social Work. Each member of the collaboration will take turns moderating the #MacroSW chats. The #MacroSW twitter chats occur on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of each month. The full archive of this chat can be viewed at https://storify.com/SWUnited/internship-reform-and-macro-practice.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mary Kay Victims