We all know that social work is a versatile field. There are many opportunities within the field to do a variety of things on a variety of levels. We all should know that all levels of work are necessary in order to successfully implement the mission of social work. Even though all levels of social work are necessary, many schools and social workers tend to put efforts into micro-level initiatives. There is certainly a need for these initiatives, but focusing the majority and almost all resources on micro efforts can be a struggle for many macro students. Without proper support and resources, macro students can have a hard time during their time in a program.
Here are some of the examples of struggles I have come across and discovered for macro students. These struggles complement and repeat some of the issues released in the Rothman Report, which you all should read if you have not had the chance.
- Forced Micro Experiences: Everyone knows that every social work program has some forced micro component. There are some programs implementing macro components in requirements, but it is predominantly micro. This probably has to do heavily with state licensure exams content and schools accommodating to their requirements. If a student knows they want to do macro work, why are they forced into micro opportunities? Yes, there are skills that all social workers need to know, but schools can certainly accommodate the needs of macro students. Social work is what you make of it, and you can’t make much of the opportunities if you are forced into certain ones
- Minimal Exploration Opportunities: While you are a student, you should be exploring the career fields you would like to pursue. Since social work students have a short amount of time to obtain their degree, it is hard to explore various macro opportunities if you spend half the time in a micro setting. Trying out new experiences if how we learn and how we develop our career aspirations. Without time to explore, schools are feeding us down a certain path.
- Lack of opportunities with Social Work Programs: There are numerous opportunities out there macro students and in some ways more flexibility, but social work program tend to focus their efforts on micro students based on the overwhelming amount of micro students and faculty. Micro classes are offered more often and micro opportunities are encouraged.
- Quality of opportunities: With a micro focus, many schools focus their resources on those opportunities and the macro courses suffer. This causes many macro students to go outside the program to search for quality education and opportunities or not even enter the programs. I know my decision to enter my social work program was based on macro education, and I dismissed many schools with poor macro concentrations.
- Trouble with post-graduation employment: Since the quality of macro education are many times sub-par, the students leaving the programs are then sub-par and may not be able to attain the macro job opportunities they desire and have to settle for a micro job. If a student has a primarily micro background, then they won’t be qualified for macro jobs without proper experience or if they obtained the job, they perform poorly. Macro students are losing positions to other professionals because their programs are preparing them better and allowing for flexibility.
- Risk of Being Classified as an UNFIT Social Worker: This is an interesting point, but also sad at the same time. I will repeat myself again that not all social work is focused on clinical intervention, and if we only focus on clinical treatment, societal problems will not be addressed. Micro work is not for everyone. I certainly do not want to perform therapy, and I should not feel incompetent as a social worker because of it. I have heard of incidences of macro students being kicked out of their programs because they do not want to perform therapy or asked to do micro work and their field supervisors claim they are unfit social workers. There is even a person in my school that tells students to withdraw from the program if they do not want to do therapy in their field placements which is ridiculous. I don’t have to be a good therapist to be a good social worker.
- The Constant Questioning of Goals/Intentions: Every student gets asked “What do you want to do with your degree?” This is a reasonable question to engage in conversation and learn about the individual, but for macro students, it can be a challenging subject. Many experienced social workers constantly suggest ideas and have an expectation of social workers that they force on current students. Macro social work sometimes does not cross their radar as “real” social work. Also, a micro focused curriculum and field experience forces do not help students pursue macro social work. If macro students are constantly being told what they want to do is not social work and being forced into opportunities they do not want to do, then why should they pursue a social work degree?
- The Struggle to Stay Motivated: As we all know, social change takes a long time and a lot of effort. If macro students who desire to pursue social change are surrounded by people who do not want to contribute or are too burned out from their clients, then macro students can struggle with staying motivated to want to implement change. Instead of giving support, micro social workers can limit macro students’ perceptions of social workers and diminish their motivation.
There are ways that each one of us can help continue to promote macro social work and encourage students to pursue this tract. Here are some ways EVERYONE can help:
- Never limit your definition of social work: Social work is what people make it, and as long as it is promoting social justice and ameliorate society, then it should count as social work. Never tell someone their work does not matter nor it’s not social work because you don’t think it is.
- Ask to Help rather than give Advice: This is an issue in many fields, especially social work. Experienced social workers and fellow peers should be asking students how they can help them, rather than giving unsolicited advice. Of course, advice that is welcomed is very useful, but don’t just assume a student wants or needs to hear your perspective on social work. It can be more harmful than helpful.
- Start Connecting: I wrote in a previous article that all social workers need to be networking! If we keep connecting people with each other, then people can find support and resources in ways they could not have on their own.
- Unite together: I know this may seem cheesy, but many students think doing stuff on their own is easier and shows strength, but asking for help sometimes is necessary. Getting together with fellow students or asking alumni for support could be really beneficial. If students are having problems, people should offer to help or at least provide support as much as they can. A unified front is stronger than several smaller individual ones.
- Encourage instead of Discourage: Discouragement is definitely a struggle for many macro students, and it is important to support them in their exploration process. Remember, all levels of social workers are needed, and we need to ensure all are supported through their education process.
- Challenge and Help Change: If you think your program does not do a good job supporting macro social work students, speak up and ask for the reasons. Sometimes it’s intentional, and sometimes it is not. If things are about be better, try to offer solutions or create a task force that could help. Change doesn’t happen without a challenge first.