And Then the World Turned Upside Down

Feb 19, 2021

By Nicole Adelman, MSS, LCSW

Last year, at the beginning of 2020 Social Work Month, I acknowledged my colleagues and the profession that I love on social media. The year before, I noted that everyone’s been touched by a social worker, more times than they could probably count, but never knew. Because we’re everywhere.

And then the world turned upside down. Health care, education, the economy, restaurants, small businesses, social services, families, children, our aging population. Nothing has been spared. Racial injustice was broadcasted again and again.

Social workers were at every corner. We still are. We will continue to be.

My colleagues in health care, education, child welfare, juvenile justice, law enforcement, with substance use programs, working with LGBTQ+ communities, responding to crisis calls, in private practice, in every sector of social services you can imagine showed up.

The emotional toll of the pandemic has affected everyone. When in a position to help others, while also taking care of one’s own families and needs, the emotional toll is even greater. Colleagues have lost family members, friends, and neighbors. We talk about self-care, but if not practiced, the outcome can be devastating.

Social workers hold space for others. Being able to listen to stories of trauma, while also experiencing our own trauma, takes courage.

Countertransference can take hold and triggers are inevitable which makes peer support so very valuable. I’ve witnessed beautiful strength and resilience from my colleagues as they continued to care for others. We must be able to grieve and feel supported in order to continue to do the work we’re trained to do. I return to theory to understand human behavior and remind myself we’re all doing our best. Other professions have had to do the same in the last year. We community organize, we plan, we uncover resources, we ask questions, we advocate, we poke holes until we find answers. Because there’s no choice but to keep going.

For our clients, patients, and individuals we serve. For our communities, families, and profession. I’ve had the great pleasure of working alongside an incredible health care team, and group of social workers, as well as a team of college administrators, faculty, and students. I’ve watched graduate students show up for their education and their field placements, all while caring for their own families, dealing with personal losses, and many with full time jobs. This profession, along with the Council on Social Work Education, has responded to the need to recognize the racial bias that exists within our own field and make changes.

While there is no doubt the vaccine has helped us turn the corner, I’m also positive in the ability of our profession to help others as we take a strengths-based approach to life. We start where people are. We provide unconditional positive regard and empathetic listening. We self-reflect, practice self-awareness, and encourage each other. I’ve never been more proud to be a social worker after watching the events of the last year unfold and seeing my colleagues and my friends step up in ways most people do not know at all levels…micro, mezzo, and macro.

We use our code of ethics to guide us and trust in the process when faced with ethical dilemmas. This is not a profession known for accolades. We put our head down and keep going. We know the essential work we do, and more positions are being highlighted in the public sector.

The theme for Social Work Month 2020 was “Social Workers: Generations Strong.” It’s the generations who have come before us, and those who continue to forge ahead, who enable us to continue the essential work we do. The theme for 2021 is Social Workers are Essential.

We are. Because we choose to be.

Nicole Adelman, MSS, LCSW is a social worker living in Philadelphia.

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