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Social Worker Identity: A Profession in Context

thinkstockphotos-507003890Social work is such a broad field, encompassing micro-, mezzo-, and macro-practice, that it can feel like it lacks a unifying professional identity. What are the underlying values and concepts of social work that delineate the profession, and how can these values and concepts help social workers frame their identities and situate themselves as professionals?

An article in a recent issue of the NASW-published journal Social Work delved into the issue of social work professional identity, and elucidated several themes around social work concepts and values. The writers conducted interviews of social workers in order to identify common concepts and values of the profession. In doing so, the writers arrived at a list of connected themes in the social work profession.

Social workers talked about the breadth of their profession, and how practice can scale from the micro (individuals and families) to the mezzo (neighborhoods, affinity groups, towns), to the macro (public policy in cities and nations). Social workers emphasized empowering their clients and their clients’ social world for positive change. Social workers use a common language, emphasize social justice, especially for marginalized groups and clients, and prioritize empathic listening as part of their practice.

Social work, regardless of the particular area of practice (e.g., clinical, oncology, child services, etc.), emphasizes the person-in-environment perspective, and seeks to empower the individual to navigate the challenges within and external to a person.

At the same time, social work’s emphasis on social justice prioritizes affecting public policy for maximum humane benefit.

Indeed, the profession is broad, but highly impactful, and social workers see themselves as working toward positive change on all levels from the individual to the societal. More broad studies of social workers and social work can help individual social workers in their building professional identities.

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