“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words or never sings at all.” – Emily Dickinson
Social work awareness month occurs yearly in March in recognition of people that have chosen to help others through trying times. For social workers, dealing with crises is an average day’s work. Due to the complexity of situations their clients face, social workers must be emotionally stable, objective and sensitive to people and their problems. They must be attentive and work well both independently and with a diverse group of clients and coworkers.
Perkins employs 21 social workers over several programs: Behavioral Health (our outpatient clinic), the day school, the child and adolescent residential school and adult services. Perkins’ social workers provide a wide range of services from case management to group therapy, and they often find hope in the midst of challenging problems.
Hope is a necessity when working with people who are struggling. It connects us as human beings and teaches us to appreciate all that is good in life. Perkins social workers embrace the above quote with every fiber of their being. They seem, simply, to embody it and carry it for their clients and each other when the burden is too heavy to carry alone
“Social workers advocate, enable, and support people to make positive changes in their lives. They are central to the team of people involved in a client’s life bringing together the hope and support necessary for client’s to sustain growth and make changes,” Perkins Clinical Director Terri Philbrick said. “We see people at their worst and at their best, some clients bless us and others challenge us, we never lose hope and we never cease to be amazed at people’s capacity for courage, endurance and change.”
Dianne Walsh, an LICSW at Perkins speaks about the one client she will never forget, “This woman came to me with so many issues and she was simply out of hope,” Dianne said. “I remember telling her I would hold her hope for her until she was strong enough. Over the course of our time together – she worked so very, very hard – and now, at the end of five years she is getting ready to discharge. Occasionally, in our time together she would jokingly ask where I was keeping her hope, but I knew her last session had arrived when she looked at me and said she could hold her own hope now.” It is this success that keeps Perkins’ and all social workers going even when times are tough and it seems the end is nowhere in sight. “We are grateful to have the skills to help those most in need,” stated Terri.
For Perkins social worker Ergon Gjika it was Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning that inspired him to forge a career in helping others. “The idea of finding meaning regardless of the situation is something extremely powerful and I feel directly fuels the concept of hope: if there is hope, there is motivation, and if there’s motivation there’s progress. Being able to provide a sense of hope, while highlighting meaningful life experiences regardless of challenging circumstances, definitely was the motivating factor to work within the mental health field. “
Both Ergon and Dianne have been with Perkins for more than a decade and both find that establishing a strong, genuine and meaningful rapport with the students and their families is critical. “It is very easy to get caught up in the daily challenges and problems of a case, and at times it becomes very difficult to remain focused on the big picture; however, in order for the students to experience success we, as the professionals, should always look at treatment and progress through the big picture lens,” Ergon said. “This is the kind of difference social workers make.”
Forging solutions out of challenges is the theme for social work awareness month, and Dianne, Ergon and Terri, along with all of Perkins social workers, believe that hope and strong relationships is the key to forging solutions. “To me, social work is about relationships. Connection is what makes us human,” Dianne said. “Connections to hope, staff and clients are what makes everyone involved thrive.”
Perkins values the work of each social worker and sees daily the positive outcomes as they work together as a team. Ongoing consultation with fellow social workers makes identifying solutions to given challenges much easier and effective.
No matter whom walks in the door and what they are currently facing, Perkins social workers reach out and grab hold of their hands, their hearts and their hope. Sometimes they carry the burden for their clients and sometimes they share the load, but one thing all human beings know to be true is that the load is always lighter when someone is walking beside you. Perkins social workers don’t follow, they don’t lead, they simply walk alongside and befriend the struggling – a rare calling, indeed.