10 Lessons I’ve Learned (and Continue to Learn) in Social Work



Celeste Clarke, Ph.D., LCSW, Corporate Vice President and Director of Human Resources at Independence Plus, in her office.

This blog post is written in honor of Social Work Month by Celeste Casey Clarke, Ph.D., LCSW, Corporate Vice President and Director of Human Resources at Independence Plus.

I love social work! While the work can be frustrating and sometimes thankless, it is (almost) always interesting and challenging!

As a kid, I was fascinated with people and wanted to make a difference in other people’s lives. I wanted to be the nurse, the nun, the teacher, the counselor, and the doctor.

Being the second of seven children and having a significant speech disorder until I was 8 years old, I had the perfect social work laboratory for listening and observing problems. I noticed that the “presenting problem” was rarely the “underlying problem” nor was it the best issue to “target” when people wanted real change.

My multiple career aspirations all merged into a social work major during my freshman year of college. (My 8 year old self would be proud!) Social Work was a perfect fit and over the next fifteen years, I acquired my Bachelor’s and then my Master’s and Ph.D.

I “cut my teeth” in community mental health. I went on to teaching undergraduate and graduate students and providing individual, couple, and family psychotherapy where I enjoyed more flexible hours while I raised my four children. For the past twelve years, I’ve been working at Independence Plus, a home healthcare company specializing in the treatment of medically complex, technology-dependent patients.

The 10 lessons I’ve learned (and continue to learn) in social work are:

  1. Problems can come from anywhere—but so can solutions! Be observant and curious.
  2. Honor others: your clients, their support systems, the multi-disciplinary team, and the larger network of resources—and let your behavior communicate your respect. When you start paying attention, you’ll notice that people are more similar and more unique than you would ever imagine. Wisdom is everywhere.
  3. Look for the strengths. This can be the “secret sauce” for a lasting resolution.
  4. Don’t be intimidated by strong feelings. Often, it’s a symptom of passion or fear and taking it personal is a major mistake. (This is true for both “negative” and “positive” feelings.)
  5. Problems in the economic and political system cannot be underestimated. State budgets and insurance company’s decisions destabilize the strongest of us.
  6. Center yourself and your work with core values. Core social work values of Human Dignity and Worth, Self-determination, Integrity, and Competence continue to ground the best and most satisfying work.
  7. Search for, attract, and accept the expertise of others. This can come from the “Greats” who came before us or from the wisdom of the people involved. Sometimes the social worker’s job is simply to keep everyone working together with some synchronicity.
  8. Keep your humility. People almost always forgive honest mistakes, provided you are straight with them.
  9. Learn lessons from clients. They have much to teach us and we’ll learn it easier and faster if we don’t allow ourselves to get in the way or pretend that we’ve “seen this before.”
  10. Develop and trust your skills (and let others see your competence and knowledge). Social Work has a long history of looking out for others but not necessarily claiming our success. As you develop expertise, look for appropriate venues to speak up, write, and never stop learning!

The National Association of Social Work is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year and March is designated as Social Work Month. For more information, go to: http://www.naswnc.org/.




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