Should I leave social work?- What’s next?

Discussion in 'Mental Health and Social Welfare' started by MHK2017, Apr 25, 2018.

  1. MHK2017

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    Hi,

    Before I ask the quearions in the post title, let me give some background on my qualifications and career path up to this point.

    I have wanted to be a therapist since I was in high school. Since then I have always openly explored my options and challenged that career goal as I was in college surrounded by other options and I wanted to make sure it was the right field to choose for me. I got my undergrad degree in counseling from a good school, I worked in a local community mental health center as a youth attendant care worker during college and then as a case manager once I graduated. During this time at this agency I became burnt out- not majorly because of the clients, but because of my coworkers - many of them gave into the pressure and were working 50+ hours per week, we were the epitome of under paid/ under trained/ and under appreciated. When some of us went to a state wide training, other employees from other agencies actually expressed that they felt sorry for us. All in all- I was going to get burnt out there sooner or later.

    Now Im 24 and accepted a new job a month ago in the city I am beginning graduate school for my MSW in the fall, with a goal of being a LCSW.

    My new job is as a case manager in a WONDERFUL agency. Better funding, better programming
    and resources, they train their employees well and treat them like they are comitted to both keeping them around and advancing their careers. This is a fantastic job, and the MSW program I have been accepted to is the best in my area. So I currently have a lot of really good things going for me.

    However, I still feel burnt out. I genuinely enjoy my new job but the idea of goimg for my masters degree and then getting stuck in a case management roll afterwards makes me feel sick.
    Legitimately the only sort of career that semi appeals to me in the LCSW world is going into private practice - which I know is its own can of worms.

    Im at a pivotal point in my carer. Once I get my master’s and invest that money I know I wont feel right going back on it and I am afraid of getting stuck in aomething I will grow to resent.

    My main issue is I feel like I have put all of my eggs in one basket. Undergrad degree in counseling and theology- internships in hospitals and social service agencies- lots of clinical work experience. My resume says I am cut out for one thing and that one thing is the thing I am growing to resent.

    I know no random stranger on the internet is going to be able to make the decision for me. However after reading these forums for quite a while, I have read stories of many of you who have gone through the same thing with different outcomes- sticking with it and rocking it or regretting it , changing careers and creating a whole new beginning for yourself, etc.

    So if you’ve read this and in any way relate to the struggle of asking if you should quit social work, and if so what’s next for you, I would GREATLY benefit from your stories and advixe.
     
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  3. aftermidnight

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    Hi there, I'm an LCSW. It was my second career so to speak (though the first was quite brief and I am only 30 now). I have a few thoughts. I'm wondering what has made you so interested in being a therapist? Why did you ultimately choose to stick with that career goal up until now despite exploring other options? You also say you're working in a much better organization now but you're still burned out. Any sense about what's still missing for you? Any sense about why that burnout is still lingering? If you can get closer to those answers it might help you decide whether this is a temporary feeling or something deeper about whether this is a profession you really want to take on.
    As far as earning an MSSW and ending up in a case management role, it's certainly possible. I'm working as a therapist now but before that I worked several masters-level jobs that were clinical in nature but not therapy per se (ex. crisis intervention). I often worked alongside other disciplines in those roles including LPC, LMFT. I don't have the stats on this, but I would say the majority of people who earn MSSWs (or other licensed eligible clinical masters degrees) don't end up in private practice. Certainly many people do that, but if that's really the only thing you could see yourself doing within the field, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment. It's common for mental health professionals of all stripes to work in all kinds of settings like college counseling centers, community mental health agencies, hospitals, A&D facilities, the Veteran Affairs administration and more. I guess I wonder why you would only consider private practice, as that could also be telling as to whether the field is a good fit for you overall. I don't think it's wrong to want to do private practice but I'm curious as to why it feels like the only acceptable endpoint.
     
  4. MHK2017

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    Aftermidnight, thank you very much for your thoughtful reply! The questions you asked are ones that I have been asking myself a lot lately too. To answer those (to the best of my ability at this point)

    What made you interested in becoming a therapist in the first place?
    I learned about the history of mental healthcare and how neglected and stigmatized those who suffer from mental illness had been in the past and continue to be today and wanted to be a part of the people who move to stop that.
    I also feel I am someone who pays attention to conversational detail well and feel that is a valuable attending skill when providing therapeutic services.


    Why did you choose to stick with it despite exploring other options?
    This is a question that I'm still trying to figure out. There are definitely two possible answers. Because I'm good at it and deep down I love it, or because I am good at it but deep down I am afraid it is the only thing I'm good at and don't want to jump into other territories where I have to start from scratch to be good.

    As far as what's missing for me/ why this burnout may still be lingering goes:

    I think there are a few factors. The first being that I'm feeling residual burnout from my last job and so much at my new job reminds me of that residual burnout (nothing bad, it's just doing case management again and going through the motions and expecting to be treated poorly). This is something I know will just take time and I am at peace with working through this.

    One big factor is the financial factor. And I know, I know, people say do what you love and don't worry about the money. But my fear is I am going to be paid so low (like in my last job) that I begin to truly resent who I work for and the work I am doing because I don't really get paid a living wage or a wage appropriate for the work that I am doing. As I get older (mid twenties) my altruistic professional goals are shifting into more altruistic personal goals. I'd like to have a family, I'd like to be a foster parent, I'd like to be that person in the community that has the means to help others out in their times of need both emotionally and financially. Life is more than work, and I would like to be financially stable enough to live mine without constant stress. Oh and I'd like to pay off my student loans. That would be nice too.

    Another thing is that I don't feel like I have produced anything of value in my work. Yes I provide quality services and do my best to help lead my clients to personal change. But part of the reason I am so interested in doing private practice is because I also think the part of it, the building and growing a business and finding quality therapists who share my mission and vision, and then reaching out and engaging the community with that mission and vision sounds awesome. I want something more creative and entrepreneurial. I know that case management is a little bit- you never know what you'll get each day and that can be exciting for sure, however working in so many government jobs has caused me to feel like I have less power and freedom than working in the private sector. I think this is the reason why private practice, despite the risks, seems like the primary option I am interested in.

    I know the first step in this discernment process is self-care. I am still very burnt out from my previous job (as I have only been in this new job for a month now). I need to take care of myself and make sure I am in a place where I am healthy enough to make a big decision like this.

    I'd be curious to hear if you have gone through any of these worries before or if you have questioned going into social work and what that process was like for you?

    Was being a therapist worth all the other jobs you went through first/ were those jobs you had better as a master's level clinician than the bachelor's level jobs that are similar? Or are they about the same?

    Thank you very much for your time and feedback- you have given me some good food for thought!
     
  5. aftermidnight

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    You're welcome. I really like your idea of taking care of yourself and doing some reflection first. I would hate to see you make a decision that comes from a place of being burned out in the moment rather than based on your values and what fits in the long term. I can understand better now your desire to pursue private practice. This isn't a direct response to your questions, but I think when I was in school, I was motivated to pursue private practice more out of a sense of prestige and status. Especially as a social worker, people don't always understand what we do, so I think a lot of us feel some kind of added pressure to prove something. It's just an added professional identity issue, along the lines of, do social workers who are therapists refer to themselves first as a "social worker," a "clinical social worker" or a "therapist."

    I'd be curious to hear if you have gone through any of these worries before or if you have questioned going into social work and what that process was like for you?
    My process was probably a bit different. I hadn't always wanted to be a therapist or anything. In some ways, it was somewhat of a decision from a place of not being sure what else to do and feeling like I could probably have some good funding if I applied to the program I ended up in, based on talking with some people who had been through that program. I really feel that I'm in the right field. There are difficult days (maybe even weeks/months!), including times when I think "If it's always this hard, I don't know if I can keep doing this." Thankfully for a lot of reasons, I think I'll have more balance in my life going forward, and I'll have less of those times.

    Was being a therapist worth all the other jobs you went through first/ were those jobs you had better as a master's level clinician than the bachelor's level jobs that are similar? Or are they about the same?
    I've been extremely fortunate that I've genuinely enjoyed every job I've had in this field. Not every aspect, but I've worked with great people and in settings that I felt were relatively sane/healthy and that I was actually helping people. I do think I had to let go of the vision I had when I first went to school that I'd be in private practice by now, making tons of money. I think I wanted to do that more so because I had a narrower view of what clinical social work can be and how we can use or skills in so many different ways. In some ways, my other jobs were more fun. They were much more collaborative and team-oriented. Being an individual therapist can be very isolating. I don't get to talk and visit with colleagues much. We're all just doing our own thing. On the other hand, I'm making better money and building experience that will be vital down the road if I want to grow as a professional and in earnings. I doubt I will ever leave the field because what I do is so meaningful to me, even if not always "fun." As far as bachelor level jobs, I never had one because I wasn't a social worker or anything before my MSSW. From my experience, there is a world of difference between the jobs I've had with an MSSW and most (though not all) of the bachelor's jobs I was around. My experience was that most bachelor's level were jobs I probably would not want to do, though there were a select few I would have loved -- mainly because these were positons were I saw people actually getting to use some higher level clinical skills and clinical wisdom. But if you told me, "You can stay in this field, and we will even pay you your same salary BUT you will only do bachelor's level work," then personally I would likely do some other kind of work.

    Edit: I recommend this podcast to a lot of people. Here's two really good episodes that might help
    The Social Work Podcast: Becoming a Clinical Social Worker: Interview with Dr. Danna Bodenheimer
    The Social Work Podcast: Psychoanalytic Treatment in Contemporary Social Work Practice: An Interview with Dr. Carol Tosone (because of her discussion on professional identity issues in social work)
     
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  6. MamaPhD

    MamaPhD Psychologist, Academic Medical Center
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    This is a good insight. I would recommend that you seek your own personal psychotherapy.

    Sometimes a job change helps clarify what you want out of your career. You think you are addressing the main problem with your work, but it turns out that it was only masking another concern, perhaps one that is more threatening or unpleasant to think about. This is more common than you might think and, again, something to address in therapy of your own.
     
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  7. Salvador

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    A good time to practice self-care and seek supervision even now.
     
  8. Goobernut

    Goobernut LCSW

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    I'm also a career switcher, and I came to social work very organically. It wasn't my plan at all -- didn't even know what social work was to be honest. I went back to school because I was sick of the work I was doing before (medical billing and coding, claims reimbursement etc) and I realized I needed to get out. I was interested in psychology and knew that I could use it for multiple things if I decided I didn't want to go on to grad school. I said that because at the beginning of my MSW (my undergrad is in psychology) I had a few practicum experiences that made me fear I had picked the wrong degree. Those case management jobs made me feel like, "wow, what a waste of a masters, I was doing this exact work without any degree." However!!!! I now do clinical work in the medical setting and I LOVE IT!!! I do some case management (some months more often than others depending on systemic staffing issues). For me clinical work is just exponentially different than case management. I have some aspects of my job where I perform case management, but I don't mind it at all as long as that's not most of my job.
     
  9. cybertsiren

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  10. chippedlogic

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    MHK2017,

    I am not sure if this thread has died out or not, but I can appreciate Salvador's thought...

    All of us are attracted to this field somehow. Maybe drawn in... or perhaps pulled in...

    I feel that the value of treating yourself first is pinnacle for anyone doing this kind of work. Have you felt that the burnout has been from lack of personal empowerment? I know, at least for myself, sometimes when working for an agency I have found myself at conflict if I felt that somehow I was 'not doing' what I thought I needed to be doing as a professional SW. However, I suggest keeping a fresh perspective, within our own social systems we can only exert so much influence in creating changes or empowerment. Knowing where we begin in our role and where that role ends is important as we carve out other balancing experiences for our life. Even those in private practice, while given lots of freedom to do as they chose, still are confronted with dynamic people and systems that operate separately from our influences.
     
  11. JillSetsSail

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    That's great to hear you are loving it. I've always had it in my heart to be a counselor and feel I have a true gift for it, but now that I'm in my early 40s, it seems like SUCH a very long road to become an LCSW or LMHC. How long did it take you from start to finish to become licensed? I'm very concerned about the salary as well. Did you have to do a long low-pay internship after you finished courses? Did you have to pay to get supervised hours? Thanks for any advice you can share :)
     
  12. Anne02

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    It sounds like getting out of case management (and of course some self-care) would be a good move for now. Then I think you'll have a fresher perspective of the landscape. Try something new for a bit and see how you feel! Perhaps a college admissions advisor or something entry level in business that gives you a greater sense of control and still has meaning because you'll need to see you still make a difference in others' lives. Good luck!
     
  13. tamkim91

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    Exactly
     
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