SWM17: Social Workers Stand Up

Happy Social Work Month!

This year’s theme from the NASW of “Social Workers Stand Up!” is a call to action to the field and the general public to account for the significant and meaningful contributions made by social workers to the greater society.


One of my favorite lines from the proclamation is, “WHEREAS, Social Workers work in all areas of our society to improve happiness, health and prosperity, including in government, schools, universities, social service agencies, communities, the military and mental health and health care facilities.” WOW! We are everywhere. Sometimes it feels like there isn’t a single system social workers don’t touch or play a role in. What a big responsibility and privilege to be in service of others in such a huge capacity.

But this also begs the question of why social workers are only portrayed as child protective services workers in the media and in the mind of the general public? If we are so far reaching, how is it that we lack representation as varied and broad as the profession itself? What role are we playing in that dynamic? If we want our image in the media to improve, we need to take steps to take ownership over our profession and its representation.

Within your social and professional networks, do you identify yourself as a social worker or something else? If you are using a different title, like:  therapist, psychotherapist, case worker, case manager, community liason, substance abuse counselor, etc – Why? Does your agency misnomer you or do you choose a different title yourself?

If you are working within your own business or have the ability to choose your own title, consider why you chose to use a title other than Licensed Clinical Social Worker. If it was because of concerns about being associated with your colleagues in the social services area, then you have a great opportunity to help do your part in broadening the perception of what the social work profession does.

If your agency misnomers you, talking with the people who have decision making power over your job title might be a way to gain understanding as to why that is. If there is a reasonable explanation as to why your title needs to be something different than “[Clinical] Social Worker”(i.e. you’re in a role also staffed by people who have credentialing other than MSW/LCSW (like RN or LMFT/LPC)  perhaps explaining to your clients that you are a social worker in the role of a “case manager” would be a good place to start. This distinction is important.

Certainly it is true that a social worker can also be a case manager or a psychotherapist, but so can other professions. A social worker in a hospital case manager role is going to approach the patient’s needs differently than a registered nurse in that same role. A psychologist is going to approach the therapeutic session differently than a social worker. That distinction is important.

We need to keep in mind what sets us apart from other professions working in similar capacitates; our unwavering commitment to social justice by ensuring that all people, especially the most vulnerable, have access to their basic needs and are treated with dignity and worth. We are trained to see people through a lens of how various social constructs shape the world and how access to resources impacts quality of life. This distinction is important.

Take pride in your extensive and expensive training. You have invested the time and energy to earn the privilege to call yourself a social worker and I hope that you do.

Julia Harr, LCSWA is a clinical social worker at WakeMed Rehab Hospital in Raleigh, NC.  She serves children and adults recovering from a variety of physical illnesses including stroke, surgery, paralysis, and traumatic brain injury. She is the Chair of the NCSCSW Communications Committee.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by the NCSCSW

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