Reflexive Account of My Social Work Identity
Societies in the modern world strive for wellbeing and prosperity, find ways of improving life in all its manifestations, and establish the type of relations where tolerance and justice prevail. However, multiple forces and factors, such as inequality, social injustice, discrimination, poverty, and others cause significant obstacles for achieving the goals of ultimate welfare. For that matter, social work is aimed at breading the gaps between social advantage and disadvantage to ensure that vulnerable populations receive necessary support and guidance on their way toward improved life. The whole sphere of social work is essentially comprised of individual professionals and organizations who work directly with clients to resolve their life challenges. Therefore, it is only natural to claim that social worker personal identity plays a decisive role in the effectiveness and quality of the services provided.
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Social worker identity is a complex phenomenon, in which personal characteristics, biographical events, and professional development are closely intertwined. Judging from my experience, some significant episodes from my biography have marked my career path choice, my personality, communication style, and the overall attitude toward the society and how it should be improved. In my life, personal life events, family life, upbringing, education, and multiple interactions with people were indicative and representative of the world around me. That is why my professional attitudes were formed in the context of my biographical events, worldview, and the perception of social privilege, power distribution, and disadvantage. In this reflective paper, I will draw on my social work identity representation to explain and discuss how my professional identity is a result of the intersectional relationship between my biography, worldview, and education and professional achievements.
Explanation of Social Work Identity Representation
The image that has been presented at the beginning of this paper has been chosen deliberately, with an intention to represent my social work identity in its complexity and anticipated fullness. A large brick house with a stone foundation, the lights on, welcoming warmth of the interior, and decorations represent my social work practice as a place and framework, where it is safe. To analyze this visual representation, I should start with a foundation. Indeed, the stone basis of the house is strong, stable, and sealed with concrete. It provides solid support for the whole construction and it establishes the connection with the ground.
The basis of the house implies my values, ethical principles, and professionalism inherent in theoretical guidance, which provide the stability and reliability of my practice. The values inherent in my identity are respect toward human dignity, integrity, justice, solidarity, and tolerance, which are considered essential in social work (Frunza, A., & Sandu, 2017). These values give the foundation for my following development represented by the construction of the house once the basis is established. The connection with the ground represents the placement of my social work practice in a bigger social context of the society which I am going to serve.
The house is built of bricks, each meticulously and deliberately placed in a particular order and place for the building to be habitable, safe, stable, and secure. The bricks represent all different elements that constitute the multifaceted structure of social work identity. In particular, the bricks or elements of my identity are my theoretical knowledge, learning experience, research, practical skills and competencies, as well as character traits that have been developed throughout my life. The bricks also represent my experiences, both personal and professional, which is why the achievements and learning episodes of my life are built into my identity as bricks are built into the house.
The lights are on in the house, it is light, warm, quiet, welcoming, and safe inside. The atmosphere inside the house represents the comfort and security that my clients are granted once entering this home or once I start working with them. My identity consists of these fundamental traits, including kindness, compassion, empathy, ability to listen, help, and support with understanding. This house is a shelter for those without a home, it has plenty of food for the hungry, it has books for those lacking education opportunities, and it has comfort to heal mentally. In my practice, I am willing to provide the people I serve with light that will guide them out of the darkness of the problems they are in and toward their bright future. I am going to provide them with an atmosphere where they will feel well and empowered to cope with challenges in their life, knowing that they have this safe place to return to.
Importantly, the decorations of the exterior of the house are also representative of my social work identity. The flowers near the foundation of the house represent my striving to help people appreciate and notice the beauty of life where there is no under privilege, discrimination, and disadvantage. The compass on the pediment of the house shows the orientation in the cardinal directions. This decorative element is very important in the visual representation of my social work identity as it implies that my practices serve as a guidance in my clients’ search for direction in life. Finally, the roof protects the house from external factors and bad weather. In the same manner, the roof represents such elements of my professional identity as advocacy, protectionism, intersectionality theory use, and lobbyism. Using these practices and theory, I will ensure that the interests of the population I serve are prioritized, and their concerns are addressed at individual, community, and legislative levels. Overall, it is in my identity to promote justice, equality, and welfare for those who have been exposed to social unfairness.
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The Role of Biography in Social Worker’s Identity
Any individual’s personality consists of some innate qualities and acquired ones. It is the acquired knowledge, experience, skills, and traits that are formed by people’s environment, society, community, and family. Therefore, the events in one’s biography are inherently intertwined with their identity. In my opinion, my social work identity has been largely influenced by my childhood experiences, upbringing, education, career, and family life. Overall, my biography contributes to the way I am as a social worker.
The things I learned about how the world works in my childhood have become an intrinsic lens through which I look at society today. When I first learned about privilege and disadvantage, I did not know what these phenomena were called, but I could grasp the gist of it and observe how it works in the real world. Being born into a nice family of reliable parents, I had a good home, tasty food, attended school, had nice clothes, and was a happy child as once should be. I took it for granted until one day, at a playground, I met a kid who lived not far from our neighbourhood. Later I learned that she was from a family of immigrants and her parents were unemployed. The day we met, I noticed that she did not look very clean and asked me if I could share my apple with her.
My first reaction was to refuse, thinking, “My mother gave me this apple; if you want one, you should ask your mother.” Luckily, my mother observed this interaction and had a talk with me explaining that it was not my achievement that I had a nice home, parents, family, safety, and that apple to eat, but it was given to me and it was not my choice. In the same manner, it was not that little girl’s choice that she was born into a vulnerable family who suffered from continuous discrimination and social injustices. That was the moment I understood my privilege; at present, I observe the issues of uneven social power distribution on a daily basis and my goal is to stop them from happening through social work.
Privilege and power occur systematically under the influence of a large number of factors. There is a significant gap between privileged and underprivileged populations, where underprivileged individuals and groups are disproportionately exposed to prejudiced attitudes (Conley et al., 2017). People who represent the majority and whose life contains all necessary elements for their welfare and human dignity are privileged and, therefore, more powerful since they have means to overcome obstacles in life easily. However, when any of the elements that create welfare and dignified life or a person is exposed to injustices due to factors that are beyond his or her control, discrimination and social injustice occurs. In particular, people in an underprivileged position might include a child who loses parents, an unemployed veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, a single mother without stable income, or a son struggling to assist his aging father. Such categories of people are in a vulnerable position in life and cannot achieve welfare due to the lack of some essential elements in their lives.
Moreover, people who represent minorities and vulnerable population groups due to their gender, sex, ethnicity, religion, or health are also exposed to injustice without any guilt on their side. Given that atrocities and injustice result from events or circumstances that happen involuntarily, privilege is created where welfare is achieved naturally and effortlessly. In the US society, white privilege has been identified as a significant factor in social welfare. People of color are exposed to discrimination and are considered a vulnerable population, while white people do not perceive their whiteness as privilege but rather a normality.
Returning to the discussion of the intertwined nature of biography and professional identity relationship, I should refer to my education and career. During my years in higher education, I learned much about society in general, and children in particular. Since I majored in early childhood education, which is my current job, I was able to witness the injustices that the most vulnerable populations, the children, face on a daily basis. Poverty, parental neglect, and many other factors deprive children of mere human dignified existence. Now, I envision myself as a social worker working with children and youth, as their issues have been so vividly introduced to my life. Similarly, being a parent of three children, I understand the scope of concerns that both parents and children might encounter when burdened with social injustices. Thus, my educational and career experiences were essential in shaping my professional identity
Social Work Skills and Theoretical Basis as Informed by Social Work Values
Given the complexity of issues that become the cause of social injustices, including gender, religious affiliation, race, ethnicity, income, and others, I prioritize a holistic theoretical approach in my practice, which is the intersectionality theory. According to scholars, “gender, race, class, and other signifiers of identity cannot be examined in isolation from one another [as they] interact and intersect in individual’s lives, society, and social systems and are mutually constitutive” (Almeida et al., 2019, p. 152). Thus, using this theory, I can ensure that my clients’ circumstances and identity are viewed as a unified system of factors where multiple issues cause social injustice.
Moreover, in addition to the experiences and acquired knowledge, my personal characteristics and skills, both innate and developed, are representative of my social work identity. To name several pivotal elements, I should identify such pillars of professionalism in social work as communication, empathy, advocacy, critical thinking, objectivity and unbiased attitudes. My ability to engage in active listening, rapport establishment, cultural sensitivity, continuous learning, and self-care are also essential elements in the framework of my professional skills.
In summation, this reflective essay has introduced my perspective on social work through the lens of my social work identity representation. Using a brick house as a metaphor for my identity and practice, I was able to conceptualize my values, theoretical guidance, skills, and attitudes toward the influence of biography on professionalism. This reflective experience has contributed to my self-perception as a social worker and has given me an opportunity to integrate the multiple aspects of social work practice into one coherent framework.
Almeida, R. V., Werkmeister Rozas, L. M., Cross-Denny, B., Lee, K. K., & Yamada, A. M. (2019). Coloniality and intersectionality in social work education and practice. Journal of Progressive Human Services, 30(2), 148-164.
Conley, C. L., Deck, S. M., Miller, J. J., & Borders, K. (2017). Improving the cultural competency of social work students with a social privilege activity. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 37(3), 234-248.
Frunza, A., & Sandu, A. (2017). Ethical values in social work practice: A qualitative study. Journal of Social Work Values & Ethics, 14(1), 40-58.
McCarthy, B. F. (2019). Traditional exterior [Photograph]. Town-n-Country Living.