Clinical social workers can't solve every problem. After earning a master’s degree and putting in up to 3,000 hours of supervised counseling to get licensed, you must still adhere to certain ethical and legal rules that sometimes tie your hands or make you feel like you’re spinning your wheels. To make it in the field, you’ve got to develop a practical attitude and know that while you can’t save everyone, you can make a really big difference for a great majority of your clients.
Take Your Medicine
You’ll consistently work with clients who also see medical professionals for the very same issues you are helping them with. For example, a seriously depressed woman may be under a psychiatrist’s care after trying to commit suicide and then being referred to you for counseling. You have no control over the kinds of medication she’s been prescribed. You’re limited in what you can even advise the client about her meds, whether you think she needs a heavier dose or should be taken off the prescription if it interferes with her counseling. Your best hope is to have an open relationship with her doctor who listens to your recommendations.
Fostering Family Treatment
In working with families who have undergone crisis, you will usually interact with other agencies who have their own agendas. With child welfare, for instance, you may have to deal with the primary intervention agency, typically child protective services, or a health and human services welfare worker. You may have to deal with police and family doctors, teachers and attorneys. As the family's clinical case manager, you are limited by the laws governing child abuse that may require children to be taken from a home you think can be saved. Or you may believe a child is in danger, but are powerless to advocate removal of the children due to the parents' legal rights.
Finding the Funds
In your line of work, chances are you’ll run across people so down on their luck that they need social services for their basic living needs. While you may work closely with a direct care social worker to find the appropriate services for your indigent clients, you also may need to look for resources yourself. The National Association of Social Workers reports that this is when clinical social workers need to get creative. You definitely will be limited by the philanthropy of your community and government funding, sources that often shift yearly.
Keeping Clients on Track
Finally, there’s only so much you can do to help your clients change. You can work with an alcoholic or drug addict, for example, and help her reach the conclusion that she needs to be in treatment. You can even drive her to the treatment center and be there when she’s released. But you can’t make her – or many of your other clients – stay clean. One report in the "Scientific American" indicated that 40 percent of people who attend AA, for example, drop out in the first year. As a counselor, you are limited in how much you can help addicted clients; they have to be motivated to succeed.
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