As someone with a family services, program management, and personal/professional development background, as well as an MSW, I've had the pleasure of working with a wide range of people, both self-aware and otherwise. A question that often crossed my mind as I worked with social workers is whether they understood the importance of self-awareness in social work. It's vitally important for social workers to possess a high degree of self-awareness because it directly impacts their clients. I'll share some real-world examples of social worker behaviors that are both self-aware and unaware. Here are some things social workers who lack self-awareness do:
- They become enmeshed with clients to the point that they hamper the client's progress.
- They are unable to determine where they end and the client begins due to a lack of healthy boundaries.
- They aren't aware of how their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors affect them or their clients.
- They function based on the need to dominate or control instead of facilitating.
- Their self-esteem is derived from their clients liking or looking up to them.
- They enable their clients' less-than-positive behaviors.
- They prolong the worker/client relationship way past its expiration date.
- They make clients dependent on them.
- They are in constant conflict with co-workers, subordinates, and colleagues.
- They make things more difficult than they have to be.
- They refuse to work with other professionals due to their own personal issues.
- They work out their personal issues on their clients.
- They lack empathy.
- They like power a little too much.
- They make things difficult for others, often acting as a gatekeeper.
- They yearn for public recognition.
- They set up fiefdoms and zealously guard their power.
- They haven't healed their own hurts before trying to heal others.
- They're personally unhappy.
Although these behaviors are common in many fields, they are especially counterproductive in client/worker relationships because the client's wellness and success in life is at stake. On the other hand, social workers who possess self-awareness do things like:
- Constantly work on healing their own hurts so they can be as healthy as possible for their clients.
- Establish and adhere to healthy boundaries.
- Do things that encourage collaboration with other professionals to help the client.
- Possess empathy.
- Are deeply aware of and are able to manage their own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors and understand how they affect their clients.
- Are not interested in power, control, or having to appear special in some way.
- They make things easy for people, going the extra mile to be helpful in a professional way.
- They understand clients' issues are not theirs.
- They have healthy, professional relationships with clients.
- They facilitate the process of clients' finding their own answers.
- They know how to help someone and get out of the way.
- They're balanced, happy, healthy people.
- They enjoy healthy personal and professional relationships.
- They understand, value, and possess self-awareness.
One of the main reasons I write this blog is that I've seen my fair share of people damaging other people and I told myself many years ago that I would do what I could to help people become more aware of what they were feeling, thinking, and doing so they could live positively and build a better world for everyone. Ultimately, the importance of self-awareness in social work is that it greatly increases the well-being and chances of success for the social worker, the client, and the world.