Quick thought…

I’m reflecting on the idea that social work should be more about creating tools that empower people to help themselves rather than helping people directly. Not sure I can buy into the NASW slogan of “Help starts here.”  Should social work focus more on empowerment rather than helping? Or do I just have a negative attachment to the word “helping?” It just seems so paternalistic.

4 thoughts on “Quick thought…

  1. Hey, just wanted to chime in, came across your site from NASW twitter feed.

    I see what your saying about social work taking on this paternalistic position with client populations, especially when you look at the roots of social welfare and “friendly visitors”, yet I can’t help but think that “empowerment” can be used as code for “self determination and pull yourself up by your bootstraps” that undermines social welfare. I think Dass&Gorman’s book How Can I Help is a good example of how “help starts here” and it starts with compassion and that we all fall down at times. If we view IFG’s in a communal context that we are a part of the whole then i think “help” can lose its negative connotation.

    I would argue that the issue that social work faces is not the ability to help, but the ability to discern our own motivations and self-interest to help. I also think that many social work schools justify helping as important only to the lower economic strata of our society instead of help for all or how our ‘diversity’ iniatives does not leave room for political or religious conservatives…

    this is an tangent.. but thinks for bringing this statement forward.

    i’m a 2nd year MSW at syracuse

  2. Mo,
    You make an excellent point. It’s always something I struggle with this idea of “professional altruism” versus my own passion to create a world I want to live in.There is a lot of area to explore in our ideas of diversity. However, I think we need to be careful about allowing oppressive forces rule in favor of appearing diverse. I’m not sure if that makes sense.

    Thanks so much for your comment and tangent. I hope you’ll be back.

    Enjoy your second year at Syracuse!

  3. “I think we need to be careful about allowing oppressive forces to rule in favor of appearing diverse”

    I am in total agreement with that statement! Great quote too!

    I mean if someone is planning to work with a client population in an attempt to convert or destruct where the client system is at, that is not cool. For example, in class the other day a peer wanted to remove ALL children whose parents have committed a crime and put them with “safe” homes.
    On the other hand, I’ve been in grad classes where it was sanctioned for faculty and peers to pretty much relegate faith communities as superstitious resources to be used and not acknowledged. I’ve also seen a woman who never said that she would tell a client her opinion share that she was Pro-Life and get lower grades as a result. I’m saying that to paint helpers in broad strokes of republican or democrat may cause us to miss the opportunity to engage in valuable heated conversations.

    • Yep, I have heard similar happenings with more conservative students. As a teacher and a student, I think it is important to be honest about my politics in order to not hide my feelings when it comes to “hot button issues.” I think it is also a way to keep me honest about my disagreements. A wise professor here at Minnesota made a comment during a conversation about prelims, he said something to the fact that: good scholars appreciate and understand various points of view. So, I take that to mean it is okay to have an opinion and to take a stand, but it is also important to find value in other opinions. We live in this world full of “us” versus “them” and issues are made to be black and white, and the thing I love about social work is that things are never that easy. There are multiple systems, values, beliefs, environments, etc that are involved, so to simply dismiss a future social worker because they have more conservative values is a mistake. Rather than dismissing, what needs to be brought to light is how can client dignity and self-determination be maintained within a conservative value system? How can someone with a pro-life value work with clients who may choose abortions? Those are the conversations we should be having during our education when we explore how our values and beliefs work within the Social Work Code of Ethics. Then as a larger society we need to re-learn how to have civilized debates about tough issues rather than turning to arguments that promote fear and hate.

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