It’s hard to believe that my first year of graduate school in social work will be over in just a few short weeks. It has been quite a journey thus far, one that I never could have predicted, but also one that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
When I first began this journey in August of last year, I was excited, but also nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. With just a bachelor’s in psychology under my belt, I hadn’t had much exposure to social work. Therefore, the thought of jumping into a field placement during my first year in the program was terrifying. Not to mention, I had just moved to a new city and knew no one, so the weeks leading up to the start of my master’s program were filled with uncertainty.
However, now having a year under my belt, I can proudly say: I made it. Don’t get me wrong. All the anxiety and uncertainty I had in the beginning lasted quite a while, and I spent many months of this past year wondering if I had made a horrible mistake. There were nights when I wondered if I was cut out for this work, and times in which I wondered if I should knowingly set myself up for such an emotionally difficult career. However, there were also good days too: the day when it finally hit me that I am destined to be working at a children’s hospital as a medical social worker, and the day when I began to trust myself and the knowledge I was gaining as a social worker.
Needless to say, I have learned so much throughout this past year, about myself and about the profession of school work as a whole. So, here are the five main things my first year of graduate school in social work has taught me:
- Self-care is incredibly important. Many of us enter the field of social work because we have a strong desire to help vulnerable populations. Some of us may have even been one of the vulnerable populations at one time. In my case, living with a disability has been challenging, but has helped me to recognize the barriers individuals with disabilities still face today. Despite that passion to help others and cultivate change, we still need to remember to take care of ourselves, both mentally and physically. Personally, I’ve found that what helps me most is listening to music, writing, and a massage every month.
- Sensitivity is just as important as assertiveness, if not more so. One of my biggest struggles this year has been reaching a point where I feel confident in myself and in my abilities as a social worker. Early on, I was under the impression that social workers had to be really assertive, and that was something that worried me because I’ve always been very sensitive and have had a difficult time asserting myself. After all, how was any kind of change ever going to occur if there wasn’t a social worker who was assertive enough to make that change happen? However, I’ve come to realize that sensitivity is just as important, if not more so! Because if you can’t be sensitive enough to empathize with your clients and meet them where they are, then change definitely won’t happen.
- Confidence comes with time and PRACTICE. Since I came into my MSW program with a bachelor’s in psychology as opposed to a bachelor’s in social work, I was worried that I wouldn’t be cut out for jumping right into a social work field placement, and I was concerned that the courses would be too new and overwhelming. My first semester was definitely challenging, mainly in terms of getting accustomed to a new discipline and trying to take off my psychology-focused hat. Additionally, my first semester was also the time in which I wondered if social work was really for me (since the courses affected me more emotionally than I thought they would). However, now that I almost have two semesters under my belt, I know that the emotional piece is what I love. It’s what drew me to social work in the first place.
- I’m becoming the person I’m meant to be. It’s safe to say graduate school has changed me. I am definitely not the person I was when I started my MSW program. Over the past year, I’ve been forced to be critically introspective and to examine my own reasoning behind certain beliefs, values, and opinions that I’ve had for much of my life. Even though it’s been difficult, it’s been even more rewarding. I’m happy to say I’ve addressed many different internal attitudes I’ve wanted to work on for quite some time, and I think it just took some poking and prodding from professors as well as support from my fellow graduate students who are going through the same thing. And honestly, the thought that I am finally moving towards the kind of person I’ve always wanted to be is incredibly satisfying!
- Helping myself will increase my ability to help others. You know how the saying goes: you can’t adequately help someone through something until you’ve dealt with your own issues, and while I don’t necessarily believe that, I do know that working through your own issues will definitely allow you to connect with your clients on a deeper level than you could before. Personally, I know I have tons to still work through, but the wonderful thing is that now I have fellow students and professors to lean on for support when I need guidance.