You will reflect on your lived experiences, values, personal beliefs and their connection to your growing professional identity as a social worker. The purpose is to develop a critical self-awareness through reflection. The other aim is to identify visible and invisible forms of oppressions and privilege that shape our values and approaches to issues of racial and ethnic oppression, social and economic disadvantage, gender and disability.
Social work is a unique ad noble profession in that it involves serving other people and the society. According to the International Federation of Social Workers, social work is “an interrelated system of values, theory and practice”. The social workers hence, have the unique job to consider all aspects of a problem – individual, societal, psychological and political. Some common ways to provide social work include counseling providing, education, therapy and associating clients with other appropriate private or public resources. It is important hence, for the social worker to reflect upon her or his life experiences that would provide insights into the problems of the people with whom they deal. I believe it is important to be aware of one’s own identity first in order to understand and help other individuals and the society as well.
In this essay, I shall reflect upon my lived experiences, my personal beliefs, values, ethnicity, culture and faith as social workers require these experiences to be applied at work. The paper also aims to identify tangible and intangible forms of privilege and oppressions that shape our approaches and values to ethnic and racial coercion. In addition, these values and beliefs also shape our views towards economic and social disadvantages, disability and gender. I will also include valid sources that would provide authenticity and credibility to my views and arguments about social workers and social work.
I hail from an Asian background that has been living in Australia for the past five years and hence, my beliefs and values are different from other Australians. In these five years and the years preceding those five years, I have had many experiences that has helped me develop as an individual. I came to Australia to pursue my higher education and was fortunate to meet people from various backgrounds. The experiences allowed me to have a clearer perspective of the world and the people. I decided to take up social work as my subject because I wanted to help people especially those belonging to the marginalized class. As an Asian in Australia, I have had to face many problems because of my ethnicity, language and culture. In addition, I have also seen others face the same.
When I was in my first year of college, I had little knowledge about the culture and tradition here and that made me rethink about the country’s stand on equality. I found that there were different groups in the college that comprised people from different community. A group of Aboriginal students was there, another groups was of Asian students and so on. I found it troubling because there was no interaction amongst those groups and the rest of the so-called white Australians. I asked some Aboriginal students as to why such a trend is here, he replied that they are not welcomed and so they formed their own group. Similar was the case with the Asian group of students of which, I was also a part. I observed that these students had a preconceived notion about the white Australian students that they are bullies and would not accept them. Although they were right to some extent, but generalizing it was not correct because I had met some students who were excited to see students from other communities and ethnicity join the college.
Oppression and privileges in both visible and invisible forms
The one thing that I took from that experience is that we should not form preconceived notions about people based on single incident or experience. As Craig and Muskat (2013) note, social workers must have complete awareness about their preconceived notions when they deal with clients. The client might make the social worker uncomfortable with her or his behavior, the social worker might not agree with her, or him but that must not come in the way of their work. Another lived experience that helped me situate myself personally within the context of social work practices was a recent incident. One of my Aboriginal friends and I were having a conversation in the campus regarding our respective backgrounds and families. My friend then shared something that shook me and I did not know what to do. She told about her physical intimacy with a person and that she did not know he was HIV+. She incurred the same due to the intercourse and now she could not understand what she should do. She could not tell her family about it as it is against acceptable traditions to have sex at this age and even incur HIV. I faced an ethical dilemma because I wanted to help her but without her family’s consent, it was not possible and I could not tell her family as well. The incident raised a deep question that I believe every social worker goes through while working with different clients, which is whether to follow the ethics of the practice or own moral principles. According to Thomas (2013), one’s own moral rules must not come in way of practicing social work and adhering to the code of ethics required in this field.
Apart from the lived experiences, our personal beliefs and values also influence the way we approach the social work practice. I come from a family that has strong traditional roots and attaches extreme significance to relationships. I have learned from my parents that we should respect people irrespective of their age. In our culture, it is a required gesture to bow down to the elders while greeting them or fold our hands. In addition, we also have the tradition to welcome our guests with our hands folded irrespective of their cultural or ethnic background. Further, our community values helping others with anything we have on different occasions like festivals. This could be through providing drinking water or juice to the pedestrians or offering free meal to those who visit our holy shrine.
The above are the values and beliefs that I have inherited from my cultural lineage. However, I have some personal beliefs and values, which I have incurred through my experiences and observations. During my early years in my home country, I have observed that discrimination in the name of caste is done almost every day in every sphere of life. In fact, some people are not even allowed to drink water from the same well where so-called high caste people have water. I found the thinking very regressive and wanted to do something about it but I was helpless. I took social work course because I knew that my personal beliefs would help me abide by the ethics and principles of this practice. Nonetheless, as Bleakley (2013) suggests, social workers have to ‘unlearn’ many things when they enter the practice because only having a strong sense of justice and equality would not be enough. One has to apply the ethics of social work depending on the client and the situation as well, they further add.
I found the work of Beddoe, Davys and Adamson (2014) quite interesting because it focused on the personal needs of social workers while providing services to people. They observed that social work practitioners demonstrate resilience while supporting and encouraging others. The authors conducted interviews with a sample of practitioners and found that three resilience aspects enable them to go on. These three aspects include “core attributes within the individual, the practice context and a series of mediating factors”. Their study further suggested that the the resilience of social work practitioners need supervision and collegial support, which are vital components. I have mentioned their work because I hold the belief that we should be individually resilient first to help and support others. Personally, I am quite emotional but as a social worker, we have to balance our emotions do the thing that is best for our client.
Oppression and privileges in both visible and invisible forms also shape our values and beliefs especially regarding issues that concern ethnicity, racism and disadvantages of social and economic nature. Visible forms of oppression include discrimination or unjust treatment by government or private organizations based on gender, class, race, color, look, size, ability, age and so on. Invisible oppression involves, as Fabrizio (2014) notices, institutional and structural discrimination, based usually on the lifestyle people follow or the way things turn out to be. The author gives example of the LGBT community in the United States who are given preferential treatment because of their sexual preferences. The preferential treatment is an invisible form of oppression because giving preferential treatment to them makes it legal that they are marginalized due to their sexual preference (Case, 2013). While growing up, I have seen visible oppressions in the form of discrimination based on gender mostly in my society. I have seen that my grandmother and mother always had the subordinate role to loom after the kitchen only. I used to see my mother serve food for all the males in our house and she only used to eat after the men were done eating. I found that very regressive and always wanted to change that scenario. Social workers have to remember that their client might have faced oppression of both the kinds and hence, they must not judge them. Mattsson (2014), advices that social workers should make use of intersectionality. The author asserts that it is “a usable tool for critical reflection, which as a part of the critical social work tradition aims to challenge oppression and inequality” (Mattsson, 2014). Using an intersectional approach, social workers would be able to focus on the complexity and interplay between sexuality, gender, race and class.
Privileges are also found in both visible and invisible forms, as these become the cause of oppression. Privileges mean the special advantage or right and immunity allotted to, accessible to only a specific individual, or group. The established frameworks formed in a society normalize these privileges and some individuals and people think that it is their deserved right (Craig, Betancourt & Muskat, 2015). Visible forms of privileges are the ones enjoyed by the male gender, the white population, the so-called upper race, and physically able ones, people with high socio-economic status and so on. Invisible privileges are those that are not realized by the ones who enjoy these privileges. To cite the same example as oppression, the non-LGBT people do not realize that they enjoy many privileges not available to the LGBT people. The non-LGBT do not have to face those awkward looks, those awkward questions when they stand in some queue or use public transportation or go on a beach with their intimate partner. Witeck (2014) states that more than 60% Americans support marriage equality for gay couples as well but that also indicates the invisible privilege enjoyed by the non-gay Americans. As a social worker, if I try to help an LGBT person from my perspective, as I am a non-LGBT, I might not be able to provide proper help.
Personally, I confess that I also enjoyed invisible privileges as a male and I did not realize it until I learnt deeply about it. I never realized that some girls in my class used to be late because of their own problems and added responsibilities. It took me years to realize that being a male I had to perform no household responsibility. These invisible privileges also influence our attitude towards clients who are being oppressed based on gender. Hicks (2015) states, “social work should adopt a focus on gender as a practical accomplishment that occurs within various settings or contexts”. I feel the author is right in stating social work practice should focus on gender but I would like to add that gender must not only mean the female gender. Often, I have seen that the men are sometimes given too harsh a treatment just to pretend that they support women empowerment. Social workers must keep aside all such biases and privileges while attending to their clients. Van Boekel et al. (2013) direct their attention towards the stigma some healthcare practitioners associate to patients with substance use disorders. The healthcare professionals that were studied for this research “perceived violence, manipulation, and poor motivation”. Similar is the case with social work practitioners as well.
Although I am aware of the visible forms of oppression and privileges, the invisible privileges and oppressions are the ones that might cause trouble for me while working as social worker. In case of assisting people with disability, my values and beliefs shaped by these privileges and oppressions could come in way of providing adequate care and support. In the views of Boxall and Beresford (2013), it is important to integrate the two separate fields of social work and disability studies to understand clearly, the tensions and possibilities underpinning the two.
It is also important that we, as social workers, keep aside our biases regarding people’s socio-economic status and age as well. To be a social worker, it is important that we clear our perception regarding these issues because giving help and care requires a broader view. One cannot be a social worker if he or she is selective about who to help and who to not. Scharlach and Lehning (2013) talk about the efforts people need to give to ensure that social inclusion is guaranteed for ageing people as well. This could be possible, they state, through better infrastructure in both social and physical area that would allow the older people to “pursue lifelong activities, meet their basic needs and maintain significant relationships” amongst other things. Social workers play a vital role in making this possible.
As Greene (2017) states, it is important to learn about human behavior to be able to correctly disseminate social work services. I completely agree with the author because learning human behavior helps us understand the kind of service they need and when they need it. However, I must also state that it is not enough only to learn human behavior as it is only a part of the broader spectrum that includes everything discussed above.
As evident from the above discussion, my critical self-awareness has helped understand the requirements of the social work field in a much better way. From the analysis, I could say that my perception about many things has changed. The discussion mainly focused on my lived experiences, my personal beliefs and values that situated me both personally and professionally in the social work practice. I have learned through the analysis that we must have an overall connection – social, emotional and cultural – with our clients to serve them better. I was not completely aware of many things prior to taking up this course. Although I had witness numerous situations that shaped my views on other people, some sort of vagueness was still there. I realized that the invisible privileges that I had as a male, blurred my vision of understanding the problems of other genders. I have discussed about these topics in details above and I found that to be a social worker, I must be clear in my head. Social workers, as I have discussed earlier, must not possess any bias against any client irrespective of ability, gender, race, age, culture or ethnicity.
Beddoe, L., Davys, A. M., & Adamson, C. (2014). ‘Never Trust Anybody Who Says “I Don’t Need Supervision”’: Practitioners’ Beliefs about Social Worker Resilience. Practice, 26(2), 113-130.
Bleakley, A. (2013). Working in “teams” in an era of “liquid” healthcare: What is the use of theory?. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 27(1), 18-26.
Boxall, K., & Beresford, P. (2013). Service user research in social work and disability studies in the United Kingdom. Disability & Society, 28(5), 587-600.
Cabrera, N. L. (2014). But we're not laughing: White male college students' racial joking and what this says about" post-racial" discourse. Journal of college student development, 55(1), 1-15.
Case, K. (2013). Recognizing privilege by reducing invisibility: The Global Feminisms Project as a pedagogical tool. In Deconstructing Privilege (pp. 135-151). Routledge.
Craig, S. L., & Muskat, B. (2013). Bouncers, brokers, and glue: The self-described roles of social workers in urban hospitals. Health & Social Work, 38(1), 7-16.
Craig, S. L., Betancourt, I., & Muskat, B. (2015). Thinking big, supporting families and enabling coping: The value of social work in patient and family centered health care. Social work in health care, 54(5), 422-443.
Fabrizio, M. (2014). Abundantly Invisible: Fat Oppression as a Framework for Sexual Violence Against Women. Spaces Between: An Undergraduate Feminist Journal, 2(1).
Greene, R. R. (2017). Human Behavior Theory and Professional Social Work Practice. In Human Behavior Theory and Social Work Practice (pp. 31-62). Routledge.
Hicks, S. (2015). Social work and gender: An argument for practical accounts. Qualitative Social Work, 14(4), 471-487.
Mattsson, T. (2014). Intersectionality as a useful tool: Anti-oppressive social work and critical reflection. Affilia, 29(1), 8-17.
Scharlach, A. E., & Lehning, A. J. (2013). Ageing-friendly communities and social inclusion in the United States of America. Ageing & Society, 33(1), 110-136.
Thomas, J. (2013). Association of personal distress with burnout, compassion fatigue, and compassion satisfaction among clinical social workers. Journal of Social Service Research, 39(3), 365-379.
Van Boekel, L. C., Brouwers, E. P., Van Weeghel, J., & Garretsen, H. F. (2013). Stigma among health professionals towards patients with substance use disorders and its consequences for healthcare delivery: systematic review. Drug and alcohol dependence, 131(1-2), 23-35.
Witeck, B. (2014). Cultural change in acceptance of LGBT people: lessons from social marketing. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 84(1), 19.
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