… on social work

it is often said that social work is a pretty thankless job.  and even though i am new to the profession, i have seen this to be fairly true. when people are in a crisis, psychotic, being hospitalized for severe symptoms, or unable to meet their most basic needs, i am guessing that the last thing on their mind is remembering to say thanks.  and i can assure you that when working with someone who is in a crisis, being admitted to a psychiatric hospital, or does not have a place to sleep or clean clothes to wear, the last thing i am concerned about it getting a ‘thank you.’

i know that the same can be said of many other professions and that a lot of our work today is challenging and testing.  i didn’t choose this profession so that i could be thanked, nor do i assume that i deserve anything for doing the job i am paid to do. but in a profession where you are constantly giving of yourself– your heart, your energy, your love, your education, your best attempts to help–it’s nice to have your ‘cup’ refilled, if you know what i mean.



and today i was given the best thank you i’ve ever received.


her story is not mine to tell, but what you should know is that, like many other people who have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness, she spent a significant portion of her life hospitalized. over medicated.  incorrectly diagnosed. in a fog. homeless.  accused of using illicit substances. she has been receiving mental health treatment for 30+ years which has included visits with several psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors, nurses, social workers, policemen, therapists, and case managers.  she has been tested on several anti-pyschotic medications that did not help, and finally found one that did.   and because of the symptoms of her mental illness, her life has been hard.  she’s had to give up on old dreams and find a different way to live.


we’ve been working together for around six months, and i can remember the day we first met as she told me about the one person who has made a difference in her life.  the psychiatrist that was there for her when it seemed as though no one else was, the only person she felt that had provided her with any kind of real help. i remember being both happy and sad after she told me that.  happy that she had received some help, but sad that she could recall just one person out of all the people who had been involved in her treatment.

as our session was drawing to a close today, we began discussing symptoms of her diagnosis and how far she has come.  i am always fascinated by our conversations and the insight she has to offer regarding what it feels like to be psychotic, to hear voices, and  to live with a mental illness. i find myself constantly humbled in this field of work; while i can understand the symptoms and different approaches to treatment, what i know is that she is the expert.  she is the one who has lived with the mental illness.  she knows what it feels like.



‘i’ve had a lot of therapists and hospitalizations in my lifetime’ she explained, ‘and i’m not really even trying to compliment you when i tell you that you’ve surpassed them all.’  she continued on to say that i had out-shined the psychiatrist she had spoken so highly of on our first session and that she couldn’t believe  a ‘twenty-something’ year-old girl had something new to offer to make her feel like herself again.

i asked her what she considered to be helpful.  what felt different.  and what specifically about our therapeutic relationship seemed to be working. she had three specific responses-all of which are applicable reminders on how to treat one another:

  • “1.  you stay focused. you hold me to high expectations.
  • 2. you treat me like i matter. like i’m not a mental illness or burden on society, but rather, a person.
  • 3.  you’re genuine.”

she didn’t mention the therapeutic approach i utilized, or my improved understanding of the purpose/dosage of each of her 16 medications.  she didn’t say it was because i completed a treatment plan on time or gave her the best advice.  she didn’t talk about arriving on time for scheduled appointments or my knowledge about mental illnesses. that stuff didn’t even matter.


i will never forget the way her eyes watered up just a smile was spreading across her face.

 “Don’t lose your heart” she said, “because it’s changing mine.” 





the field of social work is challenging and trying.  there are catch-22’s and ethical dilemmas.  there are problems with no solutions. and there are answers but no short cuts.  there is stigma.  there is giving up and being frustrated.  there is a past to overcome and a future to find. and too much paper work.  there are long work weeks and emotionally challenging situations. obstacles to overcome, bridges to build. barriers at every corner.

 and then there are the people.  and they make it all worth it.


4 thoughts on “… on social work”

  1. I am thrilled to read this thread and to have randomly come across your blog when searching for something on the world-wide web. I left social services after 3.5 years of giving selflessly and it hurt my heart in many capacities to know i was leaving as one of ” the good ones” one of the ones that sounds like you have mastered the art of. Now that I am now in Medical Sales, many a day goes by that when i am searching for that uplifting moment that reminds me of who i am and the purpose for things, I reach for my scrapbook that is called “mk’s brag book” i would totally and 100% recommend you being in this line of work making a brag book. It is not often that someone in my role nor yours get such amazing compliments, so as a probation officer/counselor i found that my juveniles would leave me with notes, cards, emails, and letters during or after we closed their file. some of these letters are among the most cherished items i posses in my life (seeing as that its not always that often that you have kids that essentially i control their fate with the law and def make their life much harder at times, are not so prone to write you a letter of appreciation, thanking me for caring, telling me that I was the first one to care in a system that they have been apart of for the better part of their entire lives or since they were adolescents, however i complied 35 plus notes in 3.5 years ) SO after reading this blog I oh so commend you from one social service worker to another and say that i hope you keep fighting the good fight and that you remember on those very hard days, to reflect back on your brag book to help you remember why you are there daily doing what you do. I appreciate you without knowing you and it ws the hardest thing i have ever done leaving that job for a job of more financial means because that job had such the ability to add so much to my worth and add much meaning to who i am. keep up the good fight and remember when or if you feel somewhat burned out, like your lighting your candle from both ends, read some of those letters or your own testimonies and the flattery that you have complied and written out out to remember what your doing, why you’re doing it, and to help you keep doing it, or take a mini mental health leave for a quick long weekend vacation or a pampered spa day at your local school of beauty. godspeed!
    love and light
    mary katherine tegano

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