Why my opinion on social work changed

Once you’ve enrolled in the Bachelor of Social Work, one of the most commonly asked question is, “Why did you choose to study social work?” It’s even used as an ice-breaker in tutorials for almost the whole first year of the course. Turns out there is a good reason for this - we (students) must be able to articulate, understand and reflect on why exactly we want to be a social worker. In my experience, the responses vary, ranging from very personal reasons where students reflect on difficult pasts, to having previous positive experiences with social workers, and the most common response, “I want to help people”. In this blog, I will explain my reasons for initially starting the Bachelor of Social Work and explain why my reasons for continuing are not exactly the same.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of it, I think it is beneficial for me to give you a bit of background on what I call, my ‘educational career’. In both primary and secondary school, I had been subjected to a number of experiences of bullying. For this reason, I did not particularly enjoy going to school and I certainly wasn’t an A+ student. I graduated year 12 with an OP18, which simply fuelled my notion that I was not ‘university material’. I think it is important for me to mention this because, if you too graduated with a less than perfect OP, don’t despair. Your grades are not a reflection on your intellect.  

After working in administration, I decided to study a Diploma of Youth Work at TAFE as my pathway to get into university. This was a great experience and reacclimated me with studying again. Once completed, I still had the difficult challenge of deciding what to study at university. The decision was between studying teaching or social work. To help me decide, I did some research into both subjects and found that social work was very diverse in regards to career paths after graduation. What stuck in my head, and ultimately helped me make my decision, were the core values of social work - respect for persons, social justice, and professional integrity. These values and all that they encompass, connected with me and my personal values. With this information taken into consideration I felt that social work would take me to a career I would be interested in and passionate about.  

In my first year, when I was asked, “What led you to study in this sector?” I usually replied with the typical response, “I want to help people”. This response was 40 per cent true, however, the other 60 per cent of it is that I grew up in a family that experienced some dysfunction and my aim was to help those going through similar situations to mine. In my very first lecture, Introduction to Social Work, I will always remember Dr Deborah Walsh’s piece of advice - “Don’t come into this program with the mindset of rescuing yourself, your friends, family or loved ones through your clients”.  I now understand what she meant by this. A client may present to you similar traits to your loved ones or they may be in a similar situation that you or your loved ones have been in, however, it’s important to remember that every client is a different person and what helps one person does not mean it will necessarily help everyone. You can’t rescue yourself or someone else through them, and the interventions that helped yourself or others may not work for that client. Deborah’s advice was the first of many that started me out on my current path and changed the direction of how I viewed social work.

My other reason for coming into social work, as I said before, is that I wanted to help people. Through my eagerness to help clients on placement, I figured out that my helpfulness extended to the point of disempowering the people I was trying to help. For example, one elderly client I was seeing needed to make some calls to various agencies. I would, without thinking, offer to dial the number for them and even offered to call and talk to the agency staff myself. Purely because I wanted to do whatever I could to help the client. After many discussions with my very patient supervisors, I started to understand that sometimes to truly help someone you can’t do everything for them. This then enables the client to develop the tools or confidence to be able to do such things themselves later in life. So if your main reason for wanting to study social work is to help people, really think about what that means to you.

My version of helping has changed from wanting to do everything for a client, to encouraging a client to help themselves. It’s about walking with the client and not carrying them. Making a sustainable change in a client’s life, really helping them, is assisting them to be able to be independent for when you aren’t around. There is a joke in our profession that part of our job is to essentially make ourselves redundant. Of course, I do recognise this is subjective and depends on the individual and the situation.

Changing my view of helping others and recognising that clients are individuals only touches the surface of the reasons I love social work, however, they’re two big learning experiences I have had in my three years of studying. I have been very fortunate through my studies with many encouraging and patient mentors in the form of lecturers, tutors, field educators and my peers. Many have gone above and beyond for me and have inspired me through their own passion for the profession. I also want to point out that this article is just my personal experience - yours might be very different - and I’m sure my peers' experiences would also be different. The main message I hope you will walk away and consider is; reflect on why you want to study social work and be open-minded to everything you might learn as you develop your knowledge within this rewarding industry.

Check out our live Facebook Q&A and study page for more information on studying the Bachelor of Social Work (Honours) at UQ .

Meet the author...

My name is Erikka, I am a third year social work student interested in the health and ageing field. On a personal note, I am a serial TV show watcher and a crazy crocheter.


Last updated:
7 November 2016