“Social Workers’ Malaise: What’s Our Mission?”

by | Apr 7, 2012

Just a few final words on this issue.

One of the readers of the blog I posted on March 27 on madinamerica.com identified himself as an experienced social worker working as a program director. In response to the question posed in the post’s title “1984 & DSM5 Re-visited: Where Are the Social Workers?”, he stated that the social workers in his agency were sunk in a funk: powerless and dispirited, unwilling to engage in discussions re. the fatal impact of the atypicals on their clients, re. the long-term import of the new DSM. Their self-identity was that of expendable handmaidens to psychiatry and the biomedical model, and their principal task had become to preserve their precarious status and their jobs.
Sad yet unsurprising and pervasive in an oppressive public mental health system … if its patients – or, more accurately, peer/survivors – can be screwed, so will the staff.

He revealed that he, too, felt powerless and isolated. So I welcomed him to the “Do-the-Right-Thing” Club, told him I had been a career-long member and that I had written the post to connect with other social workers just like him. I could have gone on to tell him something I suspect he already knew … that I was not the founder of the Club, that it had its origins in the one-hundred and thirty year old roots of social work, where those who walked the streets of the country’s big cities and knocked on doors looking to help others were committed first and foremost to those they were seeking to help. Its legacy, signified in modern times by the iconic slogans “self-determination” and “social justice,” has been carefully safeguarded by succeeding generations of social workers – the settlement house workers, the community organizers – and by the Bertha Capen Reynolds Society which, a sign of the times, recently changed its name to the Social Welfare Action Alliance.

That commitment, that mission, of course, has had to co-exist from the beginning with a very prominent social control mandate; taken together, they constitute the dialectic that marks every liberal profession in the U.S. of A. Times change, however, and the country is gripped in fear of “the other”, a phenomenon that has deformed every one of our institutions and their caretakers, including the public mental health system and the social work profession. Social work’s social control function appears to be subsuming its social change mission. Its corresponding embrace of the biomedical model and the DSM, the biomedical model’s principal propaganda organ, has also undermined social work’s psychosocial mission. In sum, wittingly or not, social work is contributing to its own demise … the end of social work as we have known it.

I should have gone on to tell my reader that social work needs a new mission: no longer a commitment to help those in I need but rather a commitment to join with those seeking help in a conjoint and co-equal pursuit of personal liberation. As Franz Fanon pointed out, you can’t help a person if you’re oppressing him or her: your help simply becomes a form of oppression and the price paid by both – loss of self-identity, of who you are – becomes too high. Social work has lost its identity. Reclamation of its sense of self will require more than a simple reprise of what it has customarily done for more than a century. The times have changed. Social work and its members will have to commit themselves to a mission that encompasses a program of liberation; will have to remind themselves that their principal accountability is to their new-found partners; that their chief objective is to develop with them a post-psychiatry, post-authoritarian model of care, collaborative in nature, that emphasizes psychosocial causation and remedies and has as its goal its participants’ reclamation of their community citizenship. What I refer to above as their personal liberation!

I invite all readers, including my social work brothers and sisters, to join the “Do-the-Right-Thing” Club; and, as your first collective act, reject the DSM5 and sign the petition forestalling its publication at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/dsm5/.

And remember! Don’t mourn, organize! Join the May 5 Occupation of the APA Convention in Philadelphia. Details at http://www.mindfreedom.org/campaign/boycott-normal/occupy-apa.

Source: https://www.madinamerica.com/2012/04/social-workers-malaise-whats-our-mission/

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