As part of my readings for my social work classes I had to read a few articles describing the shift in the social work profession. The writers invariably expressed outrage that the profession had shifted away from promoting policy change and instead focused on direct practice (ie therapy). They think that therapy produces no useful results in the long run and that social workers need to focus on making life better for communities. In fact, many writers critique the practice of therapy on the grounds that it caters to middle class clients, and creates an environment of dependency on the therapist.
These articles were hard for me to read because I believe so strongly in therapy and because, well, that’s what I want to do when I graduate.
I don’t want to go into policy change. I’d rather stay far away from policy. I just don’t have the drive in me to make big changes socially. Am I fed up with some things? Yeah, but not the ones that everyone else seems to care about. Poverty, racism, drug addiction epidemics… those are all problems that I care about in the sense that I would rather they don’t exist, but I’m not going to fight them tooth and nail.
Maybe that’s a bad thing. It seems like social workers are mandated to hold certain political views. Like we’re not allowed to express anti-welfare sentiments. We have to care about every single issue and we have to take the side of the needy no matter what we actually think. I can tell that I’m going to be the bigoted conservative one in my classes, even though in the larger community I would definitely count as liberal or at least moderate.
Anyway, I don’t think psychotherapy is useless. My first reason for this is my own personal experience with it. I can guarantee that if I had never gone to a therapist I would be throwing up probably every day of my life. A therapist allowed me a safe place to talk and process my issues, which I’d never had before. Bad therapists really don’t make much of an impact, but I think they’re still helpful to their clients just as a face to talk to.
My second reason is that therapy allows others to reach their full potential. And when people reach their full potential they do good in the world and can reach out. So even if social workers aren’t directly helping tons of people, indirectly they’re very important for their communities.
My third reason is that there are some problems that can’t be eliminated. Poverty is never going to go away because there’s always going to be a lowest earning income bracket. You can succeed in helping individuals or small groups, so why not focus on those efforts rather than failing to help everyone?
I have a feeling my opinion will change by the time I graduate from this master’s program. But those are my feelings now.