Getting satisfaction from a job is an important factor of any career decision and ‘wanting to help people’ is an oft-quoted reason for wishing to enter the general ‘social care’ arena. All good things – but this isn’t altruism. Not as far as I’m concerned. I am being paid for my job and to have a job that is satisfying and interesting is a lot more than some people have.
I read an article called ‘Do you need to be needed?’ by Carol O’Dell on Mothering Mother and More a while ago and I was drawn back to it recently. It talks about the need of the carer, professional or not, to be needed and what gaps the position of caring might be filling in that person’s life.
It’s something we spoke about with a fair amount of regularity when I was doing my initial social work training and it’s a thought that has flitted in and out of my mind ever since.
Looking around the people with whom I trained – there were a few who had been users of services, some with good social workers who they wanted to emulate, some with horrible experiences of social workers which they wanted to combat from within and prevent others having the same experience that they had had.
Some were completely oblivious to what social workers actually did on a day-to-day level and just kind of stumbled into it.
Others had family members who were social workers so just as there are families of lawyers and doctors, they were doing what their mother, or sister had done before them (among the people I know, it’s always female family members – it could well work the other way round!).
I think there is an inherent ‘need to be needed’ though. By running around dealing with other people’s problems, how much are you able to avoid dealing with your own?
It’s something I’ve thought about and considered for a while.
I am aware that I gain some kind of personal satisfaction from working in a ‘helping’ profession and I hope that by acknowledging that, and reflecting on it, it is allowing me to focus on the needs of those for whom I work, rather than my own needs.
But it would not be honest to pretend that those needs do not exist. It is a basic human condition to want to be liked or wanted or needed, perhaps respected. Without acknowledging what I am gaining personally through my role, I am not being honest in my undertaking of it.
Reflection is used a lot in practice learning and extensively in post-qualifying training. Where I thought at times, it was a bit vague, ‘soul through a lens’ stuff, I can see that it is the best way of keeping yourself in check through the work that you do. As a result I think reflective practice and constant and consistent reflections on motivations is one of the most valuable skills I learnt through my training – particularly since qualifying.
If I am aware of my own weaknesses and prejudices, I am much better able to nullify and combat them in my working practice.
And to quote Confucius
By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.
So really, as there is nothing new here. It just takes a while to come round to it although accepting that I am helping myself through my work – but I would honestly hope that this is never at the expense of those for whom I am paid to help.