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Social Worker Stories: From Attorney and Activist to Social Work Intern

As the newest social work intern to enter the doors of Bread for the City, it’s my pleasure to wish you all: Happy Social Work Month!

In January 2019, I left my job as government affairs director of a national nonprofit. Putting my life as an attorney and activist to the side, I embarked on a new journey to impact change: I went back to school to become a social worker. With a love for helping people and a desire to engage in direct services, I decided to move from the macro work of federal advocacy and grassroots engagement to the micro level of helping individuals with a holistic, empowered approach to wellness and healing.

In January, I began an online accelerated Master’s in Social Work program at Simmons University. For my Foundation Year field placement (aka the first of two internships in grad school), it was important to me to learn from dedicated mentors who could teach me how to be a great social worker. With my goals of pursuing trauma-informed clinical social work, Bread for the City’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Randi Abramson, who I knew personally, said: “I think Bread for the City might be a great place for you.”

Living in DC for over a decade, I was elated at the suggestion. I already had a deep respect for BFC’s work and knew that, if I want to uphold social worker values of dignity of the person, social justice, and respect, this is the place for me to learn.

I started on January 30th. Immediately, one of my favorite things about working at BFC was the integrated behavioral healthcare system, where medical, behavioral health professionals, and social workers work together to provide collaborative, patient-centered care. As a student of social work, everything I do with Bread for the City’s clients and staff is a learning experience. Part of a standardized social work education process is the “process recording,” which is a tool for students to learn and refine interviewing and intervention skills.

My first encounter with a client was in the medical clinic, while shadowing a social worker in the Health Resource Room, which is a drop-in center with various social services and health information so that patients have the support they need to care for themselves. Here’s a peek into my interaction with Joe, through the lens of a process recording:

First, I write an introduction about who participated in the session and the meeting’s purpose. Here’s an idea of what this looks like, edited to protect confidentiality:

The client, Joe, is an 82-year-old man who has multiple health conditions, including dementia and has had multiple strokes. Joe was referred to the Health Resource Room by the behavioral health specialist for assistance connecting with a pro bono agency for legal assistance with creating a will and calling his pharmacy to confirm his medicine will be ready for pickup once he receives his money at the end of the week.  Joe is a gentle man, very polite, and open to receiving help. He struggles to find his words, but is patient with himself in order to communicate effectively.

Second, I have to identify my learning goals for the session:

My goals were to learn from Brittany F. [the social worker I was shadowing] how to best serve the client, including how to interact with clients, particularly older adults with mental health issues, and how to interact with third party providers on behalf of the client.

The third item is the toughest, yet most important, one: the actual process recording. It’s broken up into 3 columns: 1) the student attempts to record as much student/client interaction and dialogue; 2) rationale for interventions and space for self-reflection; and 3) constructive comments from the student’s supervisor. My process recording for this interaction was many pages long, and helped me look through the conversation and reflect back on why I made the decisions I made during our interaction.  

After completing the recording, there a few more steps, including meeting impressions, questions for supervisor, and a section where we reflect on policy, research, or social identity. If you didn’t know how dedicated social workers are to your well-being, here’s some proof from our training! This is the “impressions” section:

I felt like the interaction went well. The client is getting the assistance he needs and left feeling like we worked through his goals for that meeting. I understood my role to be as more of an observing one, while also being attentive to the client. As an intern in my first week, I aimed to follow the social worker’s lead and feel good about the interaction, since the client seemed very satisfied.

Here is the final section, where I opted to reflect on the question: How do aspects of social identify impact your work with this client?

In this case, I thought about my being able-bodied and also able to communicate however I want, as opposed to the client being an older adult struggling to get around and struggling even more to communicate. It made me really want to help him. I could feel his struggle with finding his words. I also felt deep respect for him since he was an older adult, who additionally survived so much.=

I’m pretty sure I’ll always remember this encounter with Joe, even if he does not. His charming sense of humor, patience when approaching his own limitations, and openness to receiving help are virtues I think we all can learn a lot from.

To all the social workers, who inspire me and teach me each day at Bread, cheers to you! Happy Social Work Month!


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