Why social work? Professionals reveal their reasons for choosing this career path
You’re drawn to the idea of using your career to help people in your community, so it’s no wonder you’re considering social work. But this decision can be intimidating — especially if you don’t fully know what social work entails.
Truthfully, there’s a lot that goes into a career like this, and much of it comes from on-the-job experience. That’s why we spoke to three practicing professionals to learn what drew them to the field, how their careers evolved and how they practice self-care in such a compassion-centric role.
While no two experiences are exactly the same, their firsthand insight can help you gain a better sense of what it’s like to work in this arena. If you’re asking yourself, “Why social work?”, these stories may give you an answer.
Why social work? 3 Inspiring professionals share their stories
Social work is an expansive field that allows you to work in a number of different settings where you can put your skills and empathetic nature toward helping people in need. As you read these stories, consider how your own might unfold.
Turning a personal experience into a purposeful career
When Dr. Kim Bundy-Fazioli, associate professor of social work at University of Massachusetts Global, graduated from high school, she enrolled at a nearby community college. Unfortunately, a serious car accident landed her in intensive care just days after starting her education.
She was in the hospital for several weeks and underwent numerous surgeries. She couldn’t walk without assistance from crutches or a cane for close to a year.
“It was during this time at home, convalescing, that I began to sort through what I wanted for myself,” she recalls. That’s when social work entered the picture.
With time to reflect, she started to unravel a deeper trauma in her past—the divorce of her parents. Without someone to counsel her though it when it happened, she now realized that she could help children in similar situations who needed comfort and guidance.
“I had never met a social worker,” Dr. Bundy-Fazioli continues. “But I understood the pain and grief of a family torn apart.” “I was compelled to learn more and help those who were underserved and struggling.” It was then that she committed to pursuing a path toward social work.
Years later, after graduating with a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, Dr. Bundy-Fazioli’s first job was working in a girls’ residential facility in upstate New York. The facility housed 30 girls from age 13 to 17 who were placed out-of-home due to issues like childhood abuse, sexual abuse and neglect.
“That job was and continues to be the foundation of my career,” she says.
After 17 years working in child welfare, Dr. Bundy-Fazioli was feeling tired and ready for a change. She took some time away from the job and began to train in mindfulness. Dr. Bundy-Fazioli says she wishes she had learned to incorporate this practice as a means of self-care earlier in her career.
Now a practicing social worker, clinical supervisor, educator and trainer, Dr. Bundy-Fazioli makes a point to impart this wisdom upon the up-and-coming social workers she encounters day in and day out.
“We are not immune to life struggles. As social workers, we must be aware and be honest,” she continues. “We must seek out therapeutic services to learn what it takes to build trust, to work on the harder issues of life and to ultimately build our capacity to be the best social workers we can be.”
Transitioning from psychology to clinical social work practice
When Amanda Reineck was preparing to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing. “I knew I wanted to help children, but the thought of administering testing instruments and providing individual therapy didn’t seem like it was enough to fulfill what I wanted to accomplish,” she recounts. “I wanted to have a bigger impact on family and societal issues that influence child well-being.”
After a friend studying social work exposed her to more about the field, Reineck did some supplemental research and was sold. She came to realize the career was different than she initially thought.
“I grew up knowing about social work in the context of people who remove children from their homes. What I had learned, though, was that social workers are so much more than that,” she says. “They’re healers, advocates, helpers, case managers, clinicians and more.”
Reineck was also drawn to the wide array of positions available to social workers. While pursuing her MSW, Reinick was able to experience some of those different roles.
“I had opportunities to help older foster youth prepare for adulthood, navigating their housing, education and employment needs,” she explains. “I subsequently gained experience providing therapy to children and families at risk of child welfare involvement in an effort to help stabilize the home environment and prevent a child’s removal from the home.”
Once she completed graduate school, Reineck followed her heart. She landed a full-time position working with teens and young adults in foster care — first as a case manager, then as a supervisor and eventually as a manager who oversaw the program.
“It was amazing to be able to take my experience in micro practice and translate it into macro-level work,” she notes.
Before long, Reineck made the jump from case management to clinical practice, an area in which she focuses more on the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses. She remains connected today as the clinical utilization manager with Embrace Families. This not-for-profit organization helps Central Florida families overcome the root causes of abuse and neglect through programs that offer case management and other prevention services.
“Although I started my career with no intention of doing clinical work, throughout my journey I ran into opportunities that sparked an interest and ultimately led to a role in which I get to engage in micro-, mezzo- and macro-level practice to facilitate change throughout the entire child welfare system,” Reineck explains.
When offering advice to budding social workers, she draws from her own experience. “Open your mind to a world of possibilities, be creative, stretch beyond your comfort zone, take care of yourself and keep planting seeds of change,” Reineck encourages.
Seeking a meaningful and versatile career
Dr. Ellen Belluomini, assistant professor of social work at University of Massachusetts Global, deliberated a few career prospects before ending up in social work. She considered pursuing physical education and also spent time assisting a physical therapist before coming to the conclusion that she needed more.
“My personality type craves challenges, being creative and having the ability to make an impact,” she explains. “In other words, I get bored easily.”
Dr. Belluomini quickly realized that she needed a career that could grow and change alongside her evolving interests. The diversity a social work career offers is what sold her on choosing to pursue her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in the field.
She began her career in an entry-level position, working overnight shifts as a counselor at an inpatient drug program for women and their children. That progressed to a supervisory role. From there, Dr. Belluomini challenged herself by transitioning to different leadership positions throughout varying social work fields. She enjoys that her career can evolve as she changes and grows.
“Social work never ceases to provide all the challenges I need to be fulfilled,” she says. “Social work is not just a job — it’s my career and my passion. Not many people can say that about their work.”
When it comes to keeping her passion for the field alive, Dr. Belluomini maintains that networking has helped her feel supported in her career. Building professional relationships helps in mitigating the struggles social workers often face.
“Colleagues help fuel new ideas and support me when I cannot see the forest through the trees,” she elaborates.
Dr. Belluomini also suggests that social workers be mindful in approaching the various twists and turns they’ll encounter throughout their careers. She suggests keeping the ageless words of Ghandi in mind.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world. A commitment to self-actualization is not easy, but to be an ethical, competent social worker, you cannot expect something from others that you are not willing to do yourself,” Dr. Belluomini explains.
Discover what social work could have in store for you
Reading through these stories may have been the inspiration you’ve been looking for and the confirmation you’ve needed. Perhaps you even feel ready to take the plunge and launch your own journey into this expansive field.
As you prepare to move forward, you’ll want to be sure you’re doing everything you can to be successful. Find more information on where to start by visiting our article, “The social worker requirements you’ll need to meet in order to serve.”
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