There was a day during my final semester in graduate school where this question was asked twice, in two different classes.
Both times it was a part of a joke but the context and result were incredibly different. I like to tell this story because I think it illustrates just how vastly different two people with MSWs can be.
The first time I heard the joke I was in a class whose name and instructor I can’t remember — it was pretty unremarkable. Neither can I remember how we got onto this topic but a classmate of mine was talking her field placement/internship, something all MSWs must have, and how they have a saying where she works: “How do you know if your client is lying? …..Their mouth is moving”
Cue really inappropriate laughter and unnecessary stories “supporting” this joke/saying. Our instructor even laughed and then just moved on. I was a
little bit a lot horrified.
I know that not all clients are honest. There are a lot of nuanced reasons for this, some innocuous, some serious, some that need some major following up. There was probably even an interesting conversation worth having about what is wrong, on a macro level, that would contribute to clients’ lying. But no such thing happened. The idea that there was an entire agency or department that went around casually throwing out a saying that legitimized staff, who were in a helping position, to disbelieve their clients above all else, was really messed up. It’s like the exact opposite of everything social work is. Including our super defined Code of Ethics.
So, fast forward to my next class - our professor was telling us a story about an interaction with a colleague. The colleague had asked her what classes she was teaching that semester and she responded with Drug & Alcohol Intervention (the class I was in) and her colleague then responded with a joke. “How do you know if an addict is lying? …. Their mouth is moving.”
In this case though, my professor had such an extraordinarily different reaction to it than my first class. Instead of laughing about it, she went on to explain the thousands of different ways that it was inappropriate to say or even believe such a thing. We’re in the business of helping others - its not always going to be easy and clients are going to make things easy for us. But to have start at the gate believing your client is a liar or will be a liar is a complete disservice to all involved.
Even now, I am still amazed at the stark difference in that day. Chatting with another tumblr-er about issues at work reminded me of that Thursday and all that it has come to mean in the three years since I graduated. Having an MSW doesn’t make someone a good social worker, that much should be clear. I know lots of people who have no degree, or an unrelated degree who make such better “social workers” than anyone with an MSW.
I can’t account for the motivations of everyone getting their MSW but there are some people for whom it should never have been an option. Like, its an embarrassing that we have the same professional title. (part of the reason I find this comic funny) I’m referring to anyone who maybe has said things like “I don’t want my clients to smell,” “I wouldn’t feel comfortable serving a gay client” or, I don’t know, “I think my client lies to me everytime s/he opens her mouth.”
Unless the NASW starts figuring out a way to test people’s characters (not going to happen and probably a bad idea), there isn’t going to be a good way to root out the folks who are just crappy at being good human beings and good social workers. But, I think that making ourselves the best social workers we can be: continuing our education not because we need CEUs but because we actually want to be better and know more, advocating for our clients and ourselves when necessary and providing services without judgment or prejudice is a good place to start.