The Other Side of Social Work: Micro Misconceptions and Macro Opportunities

What's the first thing that comes to mind when someone says "I'm a social worker?" If you get a visual of a licensed professional working in child welfare or a therapist helping people solve problems, then you're right. But, what if I told you that "I'm a dual-degreed social worker" who is not a therapist, has never worked in child welfare, is not licensed and has spent my entire career working on large scale issues of equity, charity and social justice. Does that broaden your view?

The global definition of the social work profession adopted in 2014 by the International Federation of Social Workers states: "Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility, and respect for diversities are central to social work."

This broad definition shows that there are endless opportunities for the field. So why is the common view of social work still so narrow, with a major focus on solving "micro" problems on an individual level versus some of the world's largest social justice issues? The social work profession developed out of social action, organizing, and movement building. There's a need to share the diversity of roles for social work professionals that create social change.

I made a professional choice not to pursue my license when I completed my Masters of Social Work (MSW). At times, early in my career, I felt the pressure to align myself with many of my social work peers and become licensed. But I had a career vision that didn't require licensure. I knew that the key to solving issues like poverty does not only lie in assisting those who struggle to meet monthly obligations. There's value in tackling laws and societal constructs in housing, education and infrastructure that were created to keep certain groups in poverty. As a "macro" social worker, I learned that social justice can be created through community organizing, nationwide program design and strategies to create social policy.

Often, the curriculum in many MSW programs places a strong focus on the micro lens of social issues with an emphasis towards direct practice. Students are often encouraged to pursue a license and to bolster their direct practice skills for future employment. For students like me, who have a broader view of their ability to make an impact, they are often left uncertain, discouraged and in the dark about what opportunities exist outside of a clinical role. To address this in the field of social work and to follow the standard definition, there needs to be equal emphasis on topics like community organizing in the curriculum, academic faculty with a stronger management professional background and even more macro field placements.

I found a way to assist in addressing the need for macro field placements in social work when I started The SISGI Group, an organization focused on capacity building for mission-driven work. I am extremely proud that for the last five years, MSW students have seen how their career can evolve outside of direct human services or licensure through our internship program. I also have a chance to remind them that social justice work and capacity building in organizations is as much social work, as child welfare and individual therapy.

The original social workers took on large scale issues of poverty, social justice and inequality and created social welfare policies to change the way we viewed, dealt with and legislated around these issues. In honor of Social Work Month, let's celebrate our roots. Since we know there is value in having licensed clinicians and global changemakers in social work, let's use our collective power to effect long-term, sustainable solutions to social issues - big and small.

The SISGI Group is holding a Twitter Chat and Social Media Blast on March 31st at 12 noon Eastern to highlight the opportunities for those looking to focus on broader issues in social work. Help us spread the word that policy makers, executive directors, consultants, community organizers and other macro roles are also Social Work. Join the conversation by following us on Instagram @sisgigroup and Twitter @sisgigroupand @notenoughgood and use the hashtag #AlsoSW to add your voice to the conversation.