The Goals of Social Work: The Hope Kaleidoscope
We can think about the goals of social work – whether clinical, community, advocacy, or teaching – as a mutually transformative process. No matter the scope of your social work specialization, what we do impacts the world around us and subsequently ourselves – it both emanates and returns to us.
When we can deliberately engage in reflection upon our work and experience, we can open ourselves to the possibility of integrating our experience, our intent, and our impacts into our identity. The following is my attempt to do just that; to touch upon the pulse of my own process.
What is the Hope Kaleidoscope?
Each client is a fragment, if you will, of humanity that comprises the rich mosaic of our microorganism, wondrous and humbling. And within each fragment, a kaleidoscope.
I am reminded of those I met along the way: The 91-year-old man with advanced dementia on the brink of hospice who could no longer recall his own son who lived with and cared for him. I remember the one and only time he laughed with me; it was like emerging into an open-air concert after talking underwater.
The chronically, debilitatingly depressed middle-aged woman emerging into her substance use recovery while facing her new HIV status, feeling every day the excruciating reminders of why using was for so long an option but who, after weeks of crumbling into our conversations says, “today, I’m going to see what it feels like to believe that I don’t have to suffer forever,” and that belief carrying her to a group.
Each opening, each willfully shared moment and memory, no matter the content, released a note of significance – like light particles, like some sort of psycho-luminescence. I found myself wrested by the wonder: have I -or perhaps not even me, but the matter in the moments between us, the material of willfully shared humanity- provided any kind of anchor, clarity, or relief, if but ephemeral?
Was it me, or was I just some persistent, lucky witness?
Promoting Positivity and Hope is One of the Goals of Social Work
With any relationship, we risk conflating our own significance with another’s own pulse of being. Perhaps I am prone to projecting the swell of my own hope about another person into our proximity. Maybe we do it because we believe in them.
Maybe we do it to protect them from that greatest of social work adversaries: hopelessness. Maybe we do it to protect ourselves; desperately bellowing the flames to keep the shadows at bay. Perhaps, though, sometimes, what someone needs is another to sit with them in the darkness.Whether the process could be measured as success or failure, I wonder if I will ever permit myself more than a tentative belief in my identity as a helper.
I am balanced precariously between understanding that people need help, but that help often requires the belief that a person already possesses within them the strength or source to live the helpful change. I am recognizing that I am vulnerable to and should be wary of, both how I view myself with relation to the change sought and made, and what I look for in the client’s own accounting of that change.
Our written words are our footsteps along the journey of becoming professional healers, helpers, advocates, and witnesses. This was one stop along the way for me – one turning of the kaleidoscope of hope and the true goals of social work. I hope you will find the time and turn to capture and share your own.