Dear social worker,
There is something that’s been on my mind for a while. Some of my co-workers call themselves social workers when they aren’t. As social workers, we work really hard and make so many sacrifices to get our degree. I don’t want to be rude, but I have to say something. What do you suggest I do?
Thank you for your question. That’s the myth, is it not? Anyone who works in social services, child welfare, benefits eligibility, or case management is automatically a social worker. Of course, not true! A job is not a profession.
I agree, becoming a social worker is challenging! First, we must be accepted to an accredited social work program. Then, follow a plan of study, earn a number of academic credits, complete hundreds of hours of field practicum (mostly unpaid), submit and pass a culminating experience project such as a portfolio or capstone, and keep above a certain grade point average (GPA). Not to mention licensing... and all while working and fulfilling other family responsibilities. I do not have to tell you about the sacrifices; you lived it! I get how insulting it could be when someone mistakingly, and confidently, calls themselves a social worker.
Keep in mind, it is not always the right time and place. Sometimes we are not the right person to address it. Let us pick our battles. In my view, to protect our profession it is important to educate; however, if we want to be heard we must not forget to validate their work and authentically respect it. I’ve forgotten this… it did not go well.
This is ideally how I approach it. I don’t guarantee pleasant results. Even if it does not work out initially, at least, it gives them something to think about. I lean into the discomfort and work through it. My relationship with them often allows me the space to clarify. Let’s role-play a bit!
Co-worker: I've actually been a social worker for ___ years.
ME: Neat. What program?
Co-worker: What do you mean?
ME: From what school did you earn your social work degree? I earned both my Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and my Master’s degree in Social Work from ASU.
Co-worker: Oh no, I have a degree in __ (not social work)__. I work in the social work field though.
ME: I see, that’s a common misconception. Social work is not actually a field (medical, education, gerontology, etc) but a profession like a doctor, nurse or lawyer. A lot of people don’t know there is actually a ton of requirements to meet before one can apply to graduate with a social work degree. ****You are a case manager though and that’s a very challenging job! I respect your experience as a social service professional- we can learn from each other. Social workers work with all kinds of professionals.
Co-worker: I didn’t know.
ME: I know. Sometimes it’s hard for me not to take it personally or feel disrespected. Obviously, you weren’t trying to impersonate a social worker.
Co-worker: I wasn’t!
ME: Thank you for staying with me. These convos can get awkward. It means a lot to me. (smile politely)
Great question. Hope that helps!
Nina the Social Worker
Founder and Admin of the Arizona Social Workers Facebook group
Founder and Owner of Arizona Blossoms